Many folks think condos and townhomes are like po-tay-toe and po-tah-toe. They’re pretty much the same. When actually, they’re more like potato and tomato.
Just because the property sits on the ground and looks like an attached house, doesn’t make it a townhouse. And a condominium doesn’t always look like an apartment. There are condos that look like townhomes and vice versa. The appearance or physical description is not a true verification of the type of property.
Townhouses and condominiums have subtle but distinct differences. The defining characteristic of a property type lies in the ownership, rather than the design. What you own, what you are responsible for maintaining, and what spaces you must share differentiates condos from townhomes.
Both types of properties are attached to another residence and are part of a larger property with shared or community spaces. They both have homeowners associations with dues assessed to owners. While there is a legal definition for each, allow me to add the stipulation that these characteristics are “typical and usual.” There are always a few communities that like to create their own unique ownership rules, restrictions, and covenants.
Features of a Townhome
A townhome is commonly connected on one or two sides with other structures in a complex. The townhouse owner owns the land on which the house is situated, sometimes a small yard, and some or all of the exterior. Each townhome typically has a front and back entrance.
Residents own the inside and usually the exterior walls and roof. Some townhome ownership includes a yard, driveway, and patio. Others include just the land under the unit. A townhome community may include some communal space such as pools, parks, clubhouse, tennis courts, or playground.
The HOA usually covers maintenance and insurance for the community’s common areas and may or may not take care of the yard maintenance, roof, gutters, etc. Some HOAs enforce aesthetics rules, such as the colors of exterior paint allowed and the types of fencing.
The legal description of a townhome typically contains a lot and a block number. Townhome owners usually have at least some responsibility for maintaining the exterior of the structure which may include windows, doors, etc. The extent of ownership an individual has over their townhouse distinguishes it from most condominiums.
What Makes it a Condominium?
A condo is a building or group of buildings with separate units owned by individuals. Condo owners own only the space inside of their unit and an undivided interest in common areas. Condominiums come with no distinctly individual land ownership. In most condos, you may only control what is inside your walls.
The exterior of the units, plus land and any improvements, are considered common areas and are shared and owned collectively by all condo owners in the community or by the association. This includes the walls dividing one condo from another, the elevators, stairways, roof, parking, walkways, fences, landscaping, etc. These things are all owned by the community together.
Since everything outside of a unit is shared ownership, those exterior areas are controlled and maintained by the community. The HOA usually takes care of the entire development including the pool, parking, entrances, laundry rooms, and other shared amenities.
The legal description of a condo usually includes a unit number. The more lengthy legal description may include an “undivided interest” in the common elements of the condo community.
When determining the type of ownership, always check the legal description in the title rather than the exterior appearance. Or just call your title agent for clarification.
The opinions expressed are of the individual author for informational purposes only and not for the purpose of providing legal advice. Contact an attorney for any particular issue or problem.
Lydia Blair (formerly Lydia Player) was a successful Realtor for 10 years before jumping to the title side of the business in 2015. Prior to selling real estate, she bought, remodeled and sold homes (before house flipping was an expression). She’s been through the real estate closing process countless times as either a buyer, a seller, a Realtor, and an Escrow Officer. As an Escrow Officer for Allegiance Title at Preston Center, she likes solving problems and cutting through red tape. The most fun part of her job is handing people keys or a check.