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Condos, townhouses and apartments have more similarities than differences, at least outwardly. They are all single units in multi-unit buildings or developments. All of them require less hands-on upkeep than a detached single family home — and are usually comparatively more affordable. In most, you're paying for the unit itself, but not the land on which it sits, or the areas that are common to all tenants. All three types of residences often have shared amenities, such as game rooms and community rooms, parking lots, fitness rooms — some may even have community gardens or pools.
On a more practical side, tenants — even condo owners — are generally not responsible for scheduling or performing routine maintenance, such as mowing the lawn or vacuuming the hallways and stairs. The management company or property owner will arrange for overall maintenance, such as trash removal, plumbing and electric maintenance, and pest control. You won't need to keep a rolodex of plumbers, contractors or groundskeepers: the property owner or management company will handle all of that.
Beneath the surface, however, there are big differences that can affect your experience living in one or the other. The chart below lists some of the differences side by side for easy comparison. Following the chart, we'll dive into the pros and cons of each type of residence in a way that will help you decide between condo vs. townhouse vs. apartment for the next phase of your life.
|Definition||A unit in a multi-unit building where each unit has an individual owner.||A multi-story unit in a complex of similar units.||A unit in a multi-unit building or complex where all the units have the same owner.|
|Ownership||You may buy or rent a condo unit from its owner. Ownership is of the unit only, but generally grants the use of common areas to tenants/owners. Condo owners are often part of a homeowners association — HOA — which manages upkeep and maintenance.||May be a townhouse/condo hybrid with individual owners. Most often, all townhouses in a complex are owned by property company, which may manage the property, or hire a firm to manage it.||All apartments in a complex are owned by a single entity, which may manage the property, or contract with a management company to provide maintenance, upkeep and tenant services.|
|Responsibilities||Rent or mortgage, abiding by HOA rules. The HOA manages maintenance and upkeep of the grounds and common areas. You may be responsible for paying for repairs in your own unit if you own it. If you rent it, the owner is responsible.||Rent, any monthly or annual fees. You may be required to maintain the grounds around your unit in accordance with specific guidelines, but the management company will generally maintain all common outdoor areas.||Rent, any monthly fees. Abiding by the terms of your lease.|
|Amenities||Vary widely, based on the complex. Generally, being a resident or owner in a condo will give you access to any onsite amenities. Usually include 1-2 off street parking spaces.||Similar to condos. Being a tenant in good standing in a townhouse complex will usually give you access to any onsite amenities. Townhouses often include either or access to basement or attic storage, or both. May include 1 or more off-street parking spaces.||Amenities vary widely based on the building or complex. May include off-street parking, sometimes for an additional fee.|
|Living in Community||You will usually share some walls, and may have other residents living above or below you.||You will share some walls with units on either side of you, but will have no residents above or below you.||The configuration of apartments can vary greatly, depending on the size and style of the building or complex.|
|Costs||Rent/mortgage, condo fees and/or HOA dues, occasional assessments for capital projects, taxes, any municipal fees.||Rent, and possibly fees for specific amenities, such as parking, storage or use of community rooms for events.||Rent, security deposit, possible fees for pets, parking and extra storage.|
|Your Landlord||If you own, you are your own landlord, but are answerable to the HOA. If you are renting a condo, the landlord is the owner of the condo. Depending on your relationship, they may have some flexibility in matters of rent, changes to the unit or other important matters.||Often, all tenant relations — including rent collection and responding to requests — are managed by a property management company. They will have specific rules that apply to all tenants.||The owner of the building is your landlord. They may contract with a property management company, or manage the property themselves. You may or may not have some flexibility, depending on the individual owner.|
|Best Fit For||People looking to downsize or reduce their home upkeep and maintenance responsibilities, retiring seniors.||Young families, couples and others who want more space than an apartment affords.|
By strict definition, a condominium is a residential unit in a multi-unit building that is owned by someone other than the owner of the building. Many condos are owned by investors who rent them to others, but many are owned by the person who lives in them. Buying a condo gives you many of the benefits of owning property without a lot of additional responsibility. Since you're only paying for your living space and not the land it sits on, buying a condo is often far more affordable than buying a single-family detached home. As real estate prices continue to rise, this can be an important consideration — especially for retirees or young singles/couples who are looking for a starter home.
The Pros of Condo Living
- You own the unit, which affords you any tax advantages of owning your home.
- You build equity, giving you access to home loans for improvements or other uses.
- Your heirs can inherit your property.
- You can make home improvements, such as updating your kitchen or adding a walk-in tub, because you own the unit.
- You don't have to worry about routine maintenance and upkeep, like mowing the lawn, repairing the roof or cleaning the pool.
- You have a voice in any changes, rules or regulations with your membership in the HOA.
- You'll often find condos in high-demand, popular areas of the city. In fact, they may be the only choice in some downtown or waterfront districts.
- Condo buildings often have good security, including intercom systems, security locks and some may be in gated communities.
The Cons of Condo Living
- You have to pay property taxes and may have to pay other municipal fees.
- You will have to abide by condo rules, which may restrict the pets you own, how many guests you're allowed and what you can put on your patio or front steps.
- In addition to your own unit, you also have part ownership of common areas and amenities. You'll pay fees in addition to your mortgage to cover the cost of maintaining and upgrading them. You may also be assessed additional fees for larger projects to improve or maintain the entire property.
- Parking is often limited, which could be an issue if your family owns more than one car.
- Storage space is often very limited.
Things to Consider
Unlike renting an apartment, buying a condo is a long-term investment. It's much harder to move in six months if it turns out you can't stand your next-door neighbors — remember, they're also here for the long term. Before you make a commitment, visit the property at several different times of day and different days of the week. Talk with your neighbors and get a feel for what it's really like to live in that particular condo community.
Townhouses — sometimes called row houses or townhomes — are a midway hybrid between living in a detached single-family home and living in an apartment. They're close to living in a single home, without many of the headaches. Most have two to three stories and may include a basement and/or an attic. While you don't own the land on which the townhouse is situated, your lease may give you the right to garden it or make changes — within reason — to it. Unlike condos and apartments, you won't have to deal with someone thudding around the apartment above you, though you will often be sharing walls with residents on either side of you. Depending on the development, you may even have an attached garage and a nice backyard, both of which open up many possibilities for putting your own design stamp on your living space.
The Pros of Townhouse Living
- More space than most apartments or condos
- No neighbors above or below you
- Access to a yard and garden
- May include an attached garage
- Extra storage space in the basement or attic
- If buying, all the tax advantages of owning a home
- Generally, a property management company handles routine maintenance of common areas
- The property management company may also handle routine upkeep and maintenance in the unit
- Security is generally very good, with many townhouse communities being part of gated communities with limited access to non-residents
The Cons of Townhouse Living
- Multiple levels, so may not be ideal for those with mobility issues
- You may have to conform to HOA-type rules that restrict your outdoor decor and design choices
- You may have limited parking and there may be restrictions on pets and guests
- Generally more expensive than renting an apartment
Things to Consider
As noted, townhouses almost always have more than one level. This may rule them out for retiring seniors who anticipate aging in place, or others who have difficulty navigating stairs. They are also more to be managed by a property management company, which can limit your flexibility in making changes to your living space, or negotiating terms for late payments or breaking a lease. Finally, most townhouses are in communities where most of the buildings look the same. If you prefer some diversity in the style of housing around you, townhouse living may not be the best fit for you.
An apartment is any residential unit that exists in a larger building and is rented or leased to someone other than the owner. Generally, if you can buy an apartment, it's a condominium, though some communities use the terms almost interchangeably. Apartment living gives you the most flexibility in just about every way that matters: shorter leases, many different styles of housing, the ability to rent from a small landlord who may be more amenable to making special arrangements. On the downside, your rent pays for your living space, and that's about it. You get no tax benefits, don't acquire equity in your home, and are subject to changes to your lease, including a decision not to renew it. That said, many people happily live in the same apartment for years, enjoying the flexibility and convenience of letting someone else handle the maintenance, upkeep, and taxes.
The Pros of Apartment Living
- Flexibility. Most lease terms are for one year, though you may also find short term rentals and month to month leases.
- Convenience. You aren't responsible for upkeep and maintenance — no mowing the lawn or even shoveling the walkways in winter.
- Variety. Your rental options are much broader than condo or townhouse options. You can rent anything from a studio or convenience apartment to an entire floor with four or more bedrooms. Apartments come in all shapes, sizes, and environments to suit the needs and tastes of most families.
- No property taxes.
The Cons of Apartment Living
- No ownership, thus no equity. In fact, your rent may not even contribute to your credit score, even if you pay on time every month.
- Less neighborhood stability. Because many renters are transitory, your neighbors may change frequently.
- Rent increases are common at lease renewal time.
- Repairs and upkeep are your landlord's responsibility, which means you're dependent on your landlord to make timely repairs.
- Your lease may limit your choices of roommate, pets, and guests.
- You may have no off street parking at all.
- Storage space is limited.
Things to Consider
Apartment living can be the ideal choice for someone who values flexibility, and doesn't want the burden of doing property maintenance and upkeep. Because available apartments are so varied, you're likely to have a wide choice of styles, neighborhoods, and apartment amenities.
Whether you're moving from a larger house, or starting fresh on a new career, there's a good chance you'll need to downsize and declutter before taking up residence in your new place. Even in a condo, which offers the most storage, there may not be room for your boat, your car or your off-season outdoor decorations. SmartStop offers personal storage units with no long-term contracts in a variety of sizes and styles to suit all of your needs. If you're planning a move, check out our offers for self storage and moving help in your area.