The process of buying a newly built townhome is almost identical to the process of buying a new construction detached home. If you’re shopping for a townhome, here are a few differences that you should know about before you pull the trigger on buying one.
One huge difference is that, with a townhouse, you won’t be able to buy your own lot and contract with a custom home builder to design and build a home specifically for you. Custom-built detached homes are, well, detached from other residences; townhomes are not. When you buy a townhome, you’ll select a location where you want to live and a builder that you like that has built or plans to build townhomes that fit your needs at that location.
“A builder will own the units as a whole as they are all attached by one, if not two, adjoining common walls. Due to this reason, you won’t have a choice of builder as much as you will choose a location,” says Kurtis Forster, a real estate agent and team leader at Nu-Vista Premier Realty in London, Ontario, Canada.
Your Builder Determines the Exterior Aesthetic
If you purchase a new home, you’ll have a say in your home’s exterior architecture and design. That’s usually not the case if you buy a townhome. Since a townhome builder builds all the townhome units in a community at once, because of the shared walls, homeowners do not get to decide how they want to design the outside of their specific unit.
“The builder will have preset the design of the exterior of the buildings down to color and siding options,” says Forster. “This is intended to provide a uniform and aesthetically pleasing building.”
Interior Design Can Be Flexible
When you buy a townhome, you may have more choices the interior than you will for the exterior, but again, your choices won’t be unlimited.
“There may be slight variations available; however, the majority of the rooms and layouts will be standard to each townhouse,” says Forster. “The majority of the options available will be aesthetic only.”
Limited options may make buying and building a new townhouse easier and more affordable than buying a detached new-build home. Even though you have fewer choices during the construction process, you still get to personalize the interior of a townhome. Homeowners often have control of their paint colors, flooring, window coverings, finishes, and fixtures.
What You Need to Know About Townhouse HOAs
Most townhomes are part of a homeowner’s association (HOA), which collects monthly dues from the homeowners in return for managing shared walls, community amenities, and exterior maintenance. An HOA also creates and enforces rules for the community and its homeowners.
Some community bylaws aim to create a pleasing uniformity of homes in a community, the way similar HOA rules operate in new home communities. These rules are called covenants, conditions and restrictions, or CC&Rs. If you purchase a townhome with these types of rules, you may be limited in your ability to remodel your home’s exterior, interior, or both, even after you buy it. In some communities, you may have to submit your plans to a design review board and get their permission before you remodel your residence.
“Typically, condo townhomes offer a more affordable path to homeownership; however, homeowners need to keep in mind the maintenance fees that come along with them and budget accordingly for this monthly expense,” says Angat Saini, principal lawyer at Accord Law in Toronto.
Townhomes can be more affordable, and come with less responsibility for maintenance. The tradeoff is that you have to accept the builder’s choices for your home’s design and be willing to follow the HOA rules when you want to remodel.
If that sounds like a good arrangement to you and you’re comfortable with these differences in the home-buying process, a newly built townhome may be the perfect housing choice for you.
Marcie Geffner is an award-winning freelance reporter, writer and editor in Ventura, California. In the last decade, she has penned more than 1,000 published stories about residential and commercial real estate, banking, credit cards, computer security, health insurance and small business, among other subjects. Editors describe her as “detail-driven,” “conscientious,” “smart” and “incredibly versatile.” Her award-winning reporting has been lauded as “rock solid,” “spot-on relevant,” “informative,” “engaging,” “interesting” and “nuanced.” Her stories have been cited in seven published nonfiction books and two U.S. Congressional hearings.
Prior to her freelance career, Geffner was senior editor of California Real Estate magazine. Later, she became managing editor of Inman.com, an independent real estate news website. She also has prior employment experience in technical writing, corporate communications and employee communications. She received a bachelor’s degree in English with high honors from UCLA and master’s degree in business administration (MBA) from Pepperdine University in Malibu, California. She enjoys reading, home improvement projects and watching seagulls at the beach.