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GloPro's avatar

What are the differences between a condo, a townhome, and an apartment?

Asked by GloPro (8213 points ) May 27th, 2014 from iPhone

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24 Answers

janbb's avatar

A condo is a dwelling that you own rather than rent; an apartment is usually on one floor and you can own or rent it, a townhome is on two or three floors, attached to other townhomes and you can own or rent it. There are more subtleties in types of condo communities but those are the basics.

FlyingWolf's avatar

It is my understanding that It is all about what exactly the owner owns. When we owned a condominium we owned the airspace, that was it, the building was owned by the homeowners association. With a townhome the homeowner owns the building, and the homeowners association owns the land it is sitting on. If I understand correctly though there are some townhomes where the owner owns the land as well, but the buildings are attached. I have never lived in a place where apartments were anything but rentals, but I am guessing that when one owns an apartment, it is also about what part of the residence they actually own.

GloPro's avatar

I’ve rented a townhome long term through a rental agency.

janbb's avatar

@GloPro That’s what I’m saying. A condo deals with ownership; the others are types of dwellings which can be rented or owned. Of course, a condo can be rented from the owner too.

It gets tricky between community types because there are condominium associations and homeowners associations. The main difference is what you own and what you are responsible for.

FlyingWolf's avatar

I have owned condos that I have rented out though. So the person who owns it doesn’t have to occupy the property. I am referring to what the property owner actually owns because I believe that is what differentiates these types of properties for the most part.

Yetanotheruser's avatar

According to this article is in ownership. The major difference is that the buyer of a condominium ”...owns his or her individual unit, plus a percentage of the surrounding property, including land and any amenities on the property”, where the owner of a townhome ”...purchases his or her individual unit, as well as the ground underneath that unit.” Both types of ownership involve “common areas”, but the definitions of these common areas vary greatly according to the contract with the owner’s association (HOA or other type of organization).

Both types of units can be rented by the owner to a third party (subject to restrictions by the HOA).

ARE_you_kidding_me's avatar

There are also planned unit developments or “puds”—not my words. They differ from condos in that instead of owning a share of the development you own the land that your unit sits on. You are also generally responsible for certain upkeep depending on the bylaws. The difference can become important when you want to do things to your house or what kind of insurance you need to get.

JLeslie's avatar

Depends where you live and if you mean technical definitions or how the words are commonly used.

Usually a condo is in a building, similar to a rental apartment, but the condo is owned. However, in NYC apartment is frequently used for any “apartment” whether owned or not. In NYC they technically have condominiums, co-ops, and rental apartments, co-ops are not found in many other cities, but there are many in NYC. With a co-op you own a share, like a share of a business. It’s still ownership when it all boils down to it. Some of the laws governing co-ops are different than what governs condomiums. With a condo you own the unit/apartment and it is not called a “share.”

A townhouse is usually a two or three story attached dwelling. In most of Florida, one story “townhouses” are called villas. Townhouses and villas often have condomiums rules and fees, but not necessarily. Duplexes, which you did not ask about, are like townhouse, in that they are attached, but it is just two houses attached, while townhouses and villas are usually 5–10 in a row. In other parts of the country and works a villa is a single family/unattached house and carries a connotation of a fabulous vacation place.

Going back to the laws, condomiums in FL for instance have strict laws about new buyers being allowed 15 days to review the condo documents, basically the rules for the building. If during that 15 days they change their mind about purchasing they can back out without any penalty. Houses and often townhouses may be part of a home owners association (HOA) do not have that sort of protection, they often are given just 3 days in the sales contract (for condominiums it doesn’t matter what the contract says at minimum the buyer gets the legally enforced 15 days).

GloPro's avatar

And the HOA fees cover landscaping and a general maintenance crew, for both inside and outside issues, or no? Do owners have a voice in landscaping decisions?

JLeslie's avatar

@GloPro As mentioned in my explanation in FL at least HOA is used for houses and Condominimum Association is for condos, but they do basically function the same. Usually a board is voted in and then the board represents the people and makes decisions. Some decisions still need an additional vote by the people who own in the commu it’s and for a vote to count there must be a quorum, which basically mean a certain recent age of owners must be present to vote or no vote can take place. Proxies can be used. Anyway, landscaping, paint colors, decorations, street signs, amenities, can all be voted on.

GloPro's avatar

But the owner is still financially responsible to do the landscaping, paint the house, etc? How long are most terms for board members?

FlyingWolf's avatar

When I lived in a condo and a townhome, the HOA was responsible for landscaping and upkeep on the outside of the building. They also handled roof repair/ replacement and they tented for termites – things along those lines. The owner was responsible for painting and maintenance inside the unit. Typically the board members serve for a year.

JLeslie's avatar

@GloPro It depends on the community. My parents live in a townhouse in MD and they are responsible for painting their own townhouse and taking care of the roof, and mowing their own patch of lawn. The assiciation takes care of the lawn and landscaping in common areas of the community. My inlaws lived in a villa (a one story townhouse) in FL and the HOA took care of painting the exterior the roof and the lawn and landscaping. Now they live in a single family house and the association takes care of the lawn and landscaping, but they need to take care of their paint and roof. This is why reading over the HOA documents are so important, because it can vary.

I am building a house in a small community of ten houses and I am hoping we can vote in law and landscaping to the maintenance fee to make it a sort of maintenance free community and hopefully we can work a good price for ten houses at once. Then all lawns are cut at the same time. People might not be interested in doing it that way though. Right now the HOA will only take care of the common areas. I’ fine if the other home where aren’t interested in doing it though.

FlyingWolf's avatar

@GloPro there should be a management company or someone else who acts as a liaison between the board and homeowners. They field these types of questions all the time and should be able to give you answers to these types of questions pretty easily.

Dan_Lyons's avatar

A condo is an apartment complex where the individual apartments are privately owned.
They started popping up all over the place back in the late 70s.
condos are merely some land developers excellent idea to trick people out of their hard earned money.
And they were very successful as the sheep and robot people flocked to them.

Seek's avatar

The HOA does not maintain your property.

Their job is to maintain common areas and make sure people aren’t parking rusted cars in the front lawn and spraypainting confederate flags on their driveway doors.

They enforce the “curb appeal” of the whole neighborhood, in order to keep everyone’s property value higher.

Skaggfacemutt's avatar

I always thought townhomes and condos were referring to the style, but found out differently when my son bought a townhome, that is really a condo. His place is two-story with a garage, and a private little backyard – typical townhome, but it is actually a condo because of the way the HOA is set up.

@Dan_Lyons Townhomes/condos are the answer for many people. I wouldn’t call them a rip-off. Professional people who work long hours, or go out of town a lot, for instance. For my son, he got a nice townhouse for $105,000 that is fairly new, with spacious grass areas, playgrounds, and a swimming pool and club house. If he had bought a house at that price, it would have been not much more than a shack that needed tons of work and money. He isn’t the type that would enjoy taking care of a yard, and he doesn’t have money to fix up a place that is falling apart, so the townhouse/condo is ideal for his situation.

FlyingWolf's avatar

Depending on how the CCR’s are written and the ownership, the HOA might be responsible for some upkeep and repair. When we were living in a townhome there was a problem with one of our windows and since it was a structural issue, the association fixed it. They are typically not responsible for maintaining things that are considered “exclusive use” such as toilets, sinks, electric, etc.

It is a super complex set up and can vary a lot depending on the CCR’s.

ARE_you_kidding_me's avatar

I’m on the HOA board for my hood. We do certain things like keep up common areas, enforce color codes and approve additions. In the beginning of my neighborhood we did just about everything even roofs. Over the years we have voted with the other homeowners to remove certain things from the HOA responsibility to keep the monthly fees down. We still maintain control of all cosmetic attributes like painting garage doors, ironwork and keeping up the grounds. An HOA will be very distinct for each neighborhood so never assume anything when it comes to your responsibility and theirs. Always get what the HOA and your responsibilities are in writing. People complain about HOAs but just wait until you live in a hood without one.

Pandora's avatar

Two years back, I was on the market looking for my home. It really depends on where you live. In some states there are no HOA, for townhomes and some have them. You can either rent or own a townhome. For my townhome, I only pay HOA fees. I liked the idea of getting a condo (which is more like an apartment). They usually don’t have individual gardens. Sometimes condos can appear to look like a townhome but the lawn surrounding your property isn’t yours. The association takes care of that. Most town homes have a small garden that is yours to decorate and take care of. Anything away from the curb or common areas are taken care of by the HOA.

Condos usually also have a separate association that you also pay fees too. They handle things like pest control, fire insurance and insurance for damages that may come from your home to another property. HOA, usually handles outdoor property maintenance an may include playgounds for the community, a club house and a pool. So for a condo, your mortgage can be sometimes 700 a month and you have an added 700 a month fee to pay that will never end. Even when you pay off your home. These extra cost does not cover your taxes.

Now for an apartment, you simply rent. Unless its a condo you purchased.

Most townhomes only have HOA, and not the other association fees. My HOA covers the cost of my trash removal. Common grounds and has a community center with pool and workout room and a room to rent for gatherings. Also has a large playground and tennis court and basketball court. All of that is included in our HOA fee so it is free for us to use. Only a slight cost for the party room and kitchen.

Just to let you know. An apartment can have all those same things and ask for a yearly fee to access those things. At a much higher cost. At my old place to rent the room for only 4 hours would cost us 500 dollars. No kitchen to cook in and ½ the size. Here. 75 dollar, we can cook in the kitchen, and use the room for a whole day and it even has a beautifully situated outdoor deck for a barbeque.

JLeslie's avatar

A little advice, once in a great while a townhouse development has no association. It’s very rare. I highly recommend you don’t buy one of those. If you are going to be attached to another dwelling you want the other houses to be maintained well. It can compromise the structure of the entire row of houses if they aren’t maintained well, and your property value is more at risk than having a single family house without an association.

Dan_Lyons's avatar

@Skaggfacemutt I’m not calling them a ripoff because they are a bad deal if you can afford them like your son.
Au contraire. I live in condoland and am quite pleased with the studio apt I am renting from my landlady who lives next door in the bigger apt. I love the pool, hot tub, luxury BBQ, fully furnished studio with kingsize bed, wall to wall carpet, sheets and comforters and towels and silverware and flat screen TV included.
I also get free wi-fi and cable (not her doing, but I still get ‘em) All for just under $800 a mo.

No, I am saying they are a ripoff in the same way that nowadays when you buy a gallon of ice cream you only get a quart and a half. When you buy bacon instead of the pound we used to get you only get 12 ounces. When you by TP the squares are smaller.

That’s all. I dig condo life! Especially in a vacation area where there is a large turnover of babes in the hot tub!

hearkat's avatar

I get the impression that there are architectural definitions and legal definitions. We live in a property that is a townhouse style (2 stories plus a basement) but it lists as a condo, because we don’t own anything outside of the house. The interior and its maintenance are ours; but the siding, roof, and even the deck belong to the HOA. We pay a monthly due that includes landscaping, snow removal, garbage, recycling, and water.

Skaggfacemutt's avatar

@Dan_Lyons So if you’re digging your condo, I am not sure what you meant by rip-off, even after your explanation about smaller squares of toilet paper. Ha-ha!

@hearkat Thanks for that – now I remember why my son’s townhome is classified as a condo. He owns everything inside and the complex owns the outside. They maintain all the exteriors of the units. If a window gets broken, or it needs a new roof, they have to fix it. They even change the light bulbs if your porch light goes out. And, of course, landscaping, mowing, snow removal, garbage, water, and pool maintenance.

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