Condo, Townhouse, Single-Family Home, Mansion: What's the Difference?

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While many people dream of being homeowners, that dream looks a lot different for everyone. On the Upper East Side of Manhattan, a townhouse is on many residents’ real estate bucket lists. Out on the coast of California, a beachfront single-family home is often the goal.

You can purchase different kinds of residential properties, and when the time comes to search for your dream home, you may realize that you have many housing options. If you’re unsure of what type of home you want to live in, or what your options even are, you’ll find it’s helpful to understand what the differences between certain home types are. 

One of the biggest questions you likely have, is what is the difference between a condo and a townhouse? We’ll answer that question, amongst others, to help you gain some much needed real estate clarity. 

Let’s look at some of the most common home types you’ll come across when you search for a new property to purchase. 

What is a single-family home?

A single-family home is what one typically pictures when they think of a traditional home. While many people may just use the term “house” to describe a single-family home, it is specifically a type of residential property that stands alone and is detached from other properties. This type of home won’t share walls or roofs with any other properties. 

When you buy a single-family home, you own the parcel of land the home sits on and you’ll have your own private and direct access to the street. This is unlike an apartment, which has hallways and lobbies that lead to street access. When it comes to utilities, you won’t share them with any other residence. 

Ownership wise, single-family homes are designed for just one owner or family unit to reside in and have ownership over. Because of this, you’ll maintain every aspect of a single-family home on your own. Depending on the neighborhood a single-family home resides in, you may need to pay HOA fees to help maintain landscaping and other community amenities. It’s also very possible to find a single-family home in an area where there is no HOA in place. 

Buying a single-family home is a lot of responsibility, but is a good fit for those who have a large family or pets and need some extra storage space and privacy. 

Pros of single-family homes

  • More private than a townhouse or condo
  • Better odds of having extra storage space, like an attic or garage
  • More architectural variety

Cons of single-family homes

  • More maintenance responsibility
  • Less likelihood of community amenities like pools and gyms
  • Purchase price is usually higher because of land purchase
  • May have to pay HOA fees

What is a condo?

A condo (short for condominium) requires the least amount of work on an ongoing basis, which is a major draw for those who work or travel a lot. When you buy a condo, you don’t own the land your home resides on. While this makes you less independent, it also saves you a lot of money. Because of this, condos are often more affordable than townhouses. Even though townhouses also share walls with their neighbors, townhouse owners actually own the land. 

Because you don’t own the land, exterior parts of the home and the land surrounding it are considered to be a common area, all of which are collectively owned by all of the condo owners in the community. These areas are not your individual responsibility, but you do need to pay for their maintenance. Condo complexes tend to have hefty HOA fees that cover the costs of exterior maintenance for your unit, as well as insurance, landscaping, and services like trash removal. HOA fees also cover costs associated with any community amenities like pools or gyms. 

Condos are a great fit for those who want to focus on their career or need to scale back their responsibilities so they can enjoy a leisurely retirement. 

Pros of condos

  • More hands off when it comes to maintenance
  • Usually less expensive than townhomes and single-family homes

Cons of condos

  • Less privacy as you share walls with neighbors
  • High HOA fees
  • You won’t own the land

What is a townhouse?

Because a townhouse (also known as a townhome) shares a wall with another residence, it’s easy to confuse this type of property with a condo. In some cases, townhouses can look very similar to condos. While townhouses are usually attached side to side and many condos are stacked, you will on occasion come across a condo complex that attaches the properties vertically. 

The reason townhouses are never stacked on top of each other is because when you buy a townhouse, you also buy the land that it sits on. This level of ownership is the main differentiator between a condo and townhouse. With a townhouse, you’ll likely also need to pay HOA fees to cover maintenance costs and insurance for the common area of your community, but you’ll be responsible for maintaining the exterior of your home. 

Townhouses tend to cost less than single-family homes, but are more low-maintenance due to their smaller lot size (similar to a condo). You may find that a townhouse helps you save money, and you get the perks of being a landowner.  

Pros of townhomes

  • You own the land
  • Smaller lot size can be easier to maintain

Cons of townhomes

  • You are responsible for maintaining the exterior of your home
  • HOA fees can be high
  • Shared wall makes property less private

What is a mansion?

So, when is a house considered a mansion instead of a single-family home? That all depends on who you ask. There is no specific set of qualifications that make a home a mansion instead of a normal single-family home. Anyone can claim a home is a mansion, so it’s important not to put too much stock in this term. 

Mansions are usually single-family homes that are large in size — much larger than the average home — and have luxury features such as entertainment facilities, libraries, or home gyms. If you come across a mansion, you’re likely to find lavish landscaping, as well as high-quality appliances and design features used throughout the home. Because mansions are single-family homes, you’ll own the land your property resides on. Similar to single family homes, mansions may come with HOA fees if there is an HOA in that neighborhood, but they also may not. Because mansions have high selling prices, get ready to pay some premium property taxes and property insurance costs.

If you want to buy a historic home, you’re more likely to discover a property with a name that includes a mansion in it, such as Gracie Mansion. This preference by the original owners doesn’t actually have any ramifications today. 

Price is not an indicator in whether or not a property is likely to be considered a mansion. A two bedroom apartment in Manhattan very well may cost more than a sprawling mansion in Indianapolis. Again, it’s really up to you if the home you want to purchase is a mansion to you or not. When it comes to mansions, it’s all in the eye of the beholder. 

Pros of mansions

  • Large in size
  • Private with more space between neighbors
  • Lavish grounds and luxury amenities

Cons of mansions

  • Typically the most expensive type of home
  • Likely to come with high property taxes
  • The larger the home and grounds are, the harder it is to maintain
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Which type of home is right for me?

Now that you have a better understanding of what these different home types are like, here’s a quick review of their most important differences. If you already know what type of home you want to buy, you can tell your realtor which types to exclude from your search. Popular online home searching websites also let you refine your search to exclude certain types of properties. While mansions aren’t usually one of these options, you can typically filter by single-family home, condo, and townhouse. 

Which type of home is the best fit for you will depend on your unique needs and lifestyle. Do you want to own land or do you want a bit less responsibility? Are you on the hunt for a home that can provide a lot of privacy or is your goal to save on property taxes? Don’t let the name attached to the property you want sway you, instead focus on how buying that property will affect your finances and lifestyle.

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