What Is a Townhouse? Here’s Everything You Should Know

updated Oct 22, 2023
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Out of all the different styles of homes out there, townhouses possess a unique charm. As with anything, there are pros and cons to buying a townhouse, and most of them come down to what you, the owner or renter, want out of a home — and what your budget looks like, of course.

Many people who aren’t ready for a standalone single-family house will consider purchasing a townhouse or a condo. Why? Because there aren’t quite as many responsibilities when it comes to owning to either type of dwelling. But there are a few key differences between a townhouse and a condo.

Quick Overview

What is a townhouse?

A townhouse is a single-family home with multiple stories, and shares either one or two walls with another unit. In other words, it’s “attached” to another home. Townhouses are often built in rows, which explains why they’re sometimes referred to as rowhouses. 

What’s the story behind townhouses?

Originally constructed as grand residences in city centers, townhouses can be found everywhere from big cities like New York to smaller, suburban towns across the country. Communities of townhouses are sometimes gated, and tend to be part of a homeowners’ association, or HOA. (An HOA is comprised of an elected board of unit owners that oversees management of the community.)

Many grouped townhouses have similar or even identical architectural styles, but older townhomes — especially in Europe — often look unique from one another. Older examples of townhouse communities are less likely to have an HOA in place, and if they do, their guidelines tend to be looser. 

What do you own when you own a townhouse? 

If you own a townhouse, you own everything inside it as well as out: the exterior walls, roof, and all of the land around it (i.e. the front lawn, backyard, or porch). You’re also responsible for homeowners’ insurance. If you’re part of an HOA, your HOA fee could cover insuring shared spaces (i.e., a community pool, clubhouse, or laundry room). Depending on the agreement, an HOA could take out the trash and cover other sanitation duties.

HOA restrictions and regulations could be a deciding factor when you’re researching for the type of home that’s best for you. For instance, when you live in a townhome community, you’ll usually have to abide by certain aesthetic choices and conditions. You might be limited when it comes to painting the exterior walls (townhouse communities typically adhere to a uniform look), there may be specific rules around landscaping, and you could get a stern letter or email if you’ve kept your Christmas lights up for too long. Other lifestyle choices, like owning a pet, can also be impacted by HOA restrictions.

The bottom line? You get a little more freedom and independence when you own a townhouse, but there are still rules you have to follow if it’s part of an HOA. Overall, though, townhouses are quite different from condos.

What is the difference between a condo and a townhouse?

Townhomes are sometimes confused with condominiums, which are smaller units within a larger building that can be owned. While freestanding condos do exist, most condos are found in complexes. The owner of a condo only owns everything inside the unit, while the exterior of the property (the roof, stairways, hallways, shared outdoor spaces, etc.) is taken care of by the HOA. In a condo, homeowners’ insurance is shared between residents, and is usually factored into the monthly HOA fee.

Moreover, HOA fees are usually more expensive for condos, since they cover maintenance or repairs on more amenities that residents are sharing. With townhomes, you oversee most of your own property and are therefore responsible to upkeep more than a condo owner would, so HOA fees aren’t as high. On the flip side, while HOA fees are higher for condo owners, condos are typically less expensive to purchase than townhomes. 

What is the difference between a townhouse and a house?

A single-family house is a freestanding building that sits on a piece of land owned by the home’s owner. Unlike condos and townhouses, owners of houses can modify the property any way they wish — within reason, of course. House owners are free to choose landscaping, paint the exterior whatever color they choose, swap out the roof, knock down walls, build more rooms (if permitted by city ordinances), install a pool — you get the idea. 

Since a person who owns a house isn’t regulated by an HOA, they’re free to make decisions about their property. In most markets, houses generally are more expensive than condos or townhouses, and can be more expensive to maintain.

Is a townhouse a good investment for a home-buyer?

While it depends on the location and the health of the housing market, real estate professionals generally recommend buying townhouses.

 “A townhouse is always a good investment for a buyer if the house is in a convenient location, close to transportation — especially in a city — and support services, and suits the lifestyle of the purchaser,” says broker Gerard Splendore with Warburg Realty in New York City. 

New York, it turns out, is an especially fortuitous place to be a townhouse owner. 

“Townhouses make very interesting investments,” says Warburg agent Mihal Gartenberg. “As a group, they tend to appreciate faster than other real estate assets in NYC.”

What is a townhouse-style apartment?

In some cases, a townhouse can be a multi-family dwelling if it’s been divided into apartments or condos. This classifies a unit within a townhouse as a townhouse-style apartment. So, it has the look and feel of a townhouse, without any of the benefits of homeownership.

In the end, is a townhouse right for you? That all depends. “Townhouse living is not for everyone, but is a perfect choice for those who want their own, private space,” says Gartenberg. “Many townhouse owners love the amount of room and luxury amenities they can fit into the space,” she adds. But if the idea of not being able to give your property its own unique flair, keep hunting.