Everything you need to know when buying a townhouse


Are you considering a townhouse for your next big move? Whether you’re a first-time buyer or new to a townhouse, our townhouse buying tips will help you make the transition. Plus, we’ve included key considerations when buying a townhouse so you can make a confident and informed decision about your next home.

Image courtesy of Getty.

What is a townhouse?

Townhouses (also called townhouses) are individually owned multi-level homes that share at least one or two walls with the adjacent unit. Townhouses typically span two or more units and share similar, if not identical, facades. These side-by-side dwellings are generally narrower than single-family homes. However, townhouses offer outdoor space and, most often, a garage or carport.

Feel a family for less

Townhouses are especially appealing to Millennials and Gen Z buyers, many of whom are first-time buyers, says Zillow lifestyle expert Amanda Pendleton. According to research by Zillow’s 2018 Consumer Housing Trends Report, 15% of these younger generation buyers hoped to buy a townhouse. Millennials are also the most likely to buy a townhouse – 13% do.

“That’s probably because they’re generally more affordable than single-family homes, but offer the feeling of living in a single-family home, with a yard and an entryway,” says Pendleton. “At the same time, millennials want to be closer to city life, and putting them in a townhouse usually allows them to be closer to the city while still being in an affordable location.”

Find the right location

Although developers can build townhouses anywhere, they tend to be more prevalent in areas with more limited space, such as suburbs and fast-growing cities, as Pendleton suggests. According to, townhouses date back to early England, where rural dwellers seeking to socialize in the city bought smaller timeshares in town; hence the origin of the term. Their shared wall design is an optimal way to accommodate more homes on less land.

Being closer to the heart of things like job hubs, shopping, public transport and nightlife is a big plus for many buyers. However, as you get closer to town centers, it can be harder to tell what is and isn’t a townhouse. Townhouses are rows of compact homes sandwiched side-by-side that share a common exterior – it’s no wonder they’re confused with townhouses. These are especially popular in Brooklyn, Boston and San Francisco. Architecturally, townhouses and townhouses may look the same, but their ownership is very different.

What you need to know about homeowners associations

As members of a community, townhouse residents are bound by basic agreements, such as no pets or bold paint colors. Additionally, they pay a monthly fee through a homeowners association or HOA, which manages the community and its upkeep.

Is buying a townhouse instead of a house right for you? Do you prefer complete freedom and full responsibility of a single-family home, or are you okay with a few rules and paying extra in exchange for less responsibility for grounds and amenities? Keep reading to find out what amenities your HOA fees go to when you own a townhouse.

All about amenities

When it comes to the amenities of a townhouse, you get what you pay for. “Town homes are great alternatives to single-family homes because homeowners’ associations typically take care of the outdoors, which is great for on-the-go homeowners with busy lifestyles,” says Debbie Wong, a Best Real Estate Homes and Gardens agent. “Townhouses would have better amenities like water, garbage and cable included in dues as well as repair coverage for the roof and fence, whereas with a townhouse the owner would have to take account for these additional costs of utilities, gardener and regular maintenance.”

Other amenities may include on-site fitness centers and parks, walking distance to shopping, public transportation, walking paths, trails, and community events. Look for a townhouse with high priority amenities on your checklist.

Privacy and personalization

When weighing the pros and cons of buying a townhouse, remember to consider privacy and customization. Having your own space is important, and for some, the ability to truly own it is just as important. Plus, party walls mean more noise, less privacy, and having to deal with unexpected issues like a leak from a neighbor causing water to run into your home.

On the other hand, not having units above or below you, like in condos and apartments, is a definite advantage in minimizing disturbances. Plus, the extra space means more room to customize. Most townhouse associations allow residents to make upgrades because you own the interior, exterior, and the land it sits on. (just look at this before and after conversion townhouse in Atlanta!) You’ll always want to ask about the renovation guidelines ahead of time to make sure you don’t run into any surprises down the road.

Questions to Ask When Buying a Townhouse

Before buying a townhouse, you should know the answers to the following questions. Your realtor, townhouse community representative, and banking representative should be able to provide you with information.

  • What are the HOA fees?
  • What are the HOA rules?
  • What does my HOA pay and what does it fund?
  • Can I see minutes from last year’s HOA meeting?
  • Are there any major repairs coming?
  • Are there any restrictions for pets?
  • Can I rent my unit?
  • What kind of events are there in the community?
  • Do the owners socialize or do they tend to keep to themselves?
  • What noise level can I expect?

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