Condo vs. Townhouse: Understanding the Key Differences

Condo in Downtown Raleigh & townhouse in Clayton

Choosing the right place to call home can be both an exciting and daunting task, especially when presented with various housing options. Two common choices for urban and suburban residents alike are condos and townhome. At a glance, they may seem similar, but dig a little deeper and their differences emerge, buying a home whether it be a townhouse vs a condo vs a single family home all require a good understanding of the process and the responsibilities involved with each. Let's dive in to understand the unique attributes of each. A condo or a townhouse is very different to a single-family home but many homebuyers are starting to consider a condo or townhouse when they are priced out of the single-family home market. As with any type of property there are pros and cons to each and the decision to buy a condo or townhouse should only be made after carefully understanding the differences between condos and townhomes. First-time homebuyers are often drawn to this type of home as condos tend to have less maintenance but as townhouses typically more resemble a single-family home depending on the type or style of property being considered.

1. Structure and Ownership Difference Between Condos and Townhouses

Condominium (Condo):

  • Structural Characteristics:

    • A condo can take various forms – it might be part of a multi-story building, a unit in a low-rise complex, or even resemble a townhome in structure. However, what defines it as a condo is the ownership model.
    • Condos in high-rises often have shared hallways, elevators, and possibly shared utilities. Those in low-rise complexes or those that appear more townhouse-like might have individual entrances and standalone utilities.
  • Ownership Model:


  • Interior: When you buy a condo one key difference between condos and townhomes is that  you're specifically purchasing the space within the walls of your unit. You have the liberty to change and renovate the inside of this space, but always with adherence to the HOA rules.
    • Exterior and Shared Areas: In a condo community the exterior walls, the land the building sits on, the hallways, elevators, amenities, etc, are owned collectively by all the unit owners. This collective ownership means every condo owner has a stake in these shared spaces, but individual changes or renovations to these spaces aren't typically allowed.
    • Air and Subterranean Space: It's also worth noting that condo owners typically don't own the air rights above their units or the ground beneath. This aspect can become relevant in discussions of building expansions or mineral rights.


  • Structural Characteristics:

    • Townhomes, also known as row houses or terraced houses in some regions, are distinct multi-floor units that share one or two walls with adjacent units. Unlike condos in multi-story buildings, each townhouse has its direct access to the outside, often with a front and back entrance.
    • Most townhouses feature a more homely design, with multiple stories and sometimes a small yard or patio. They often resemble traditional houses in design, just attached in a row format.
  • Ownership Model:

    • Interior and Exterior: When you buy a townhome, you're purchasing both the interior space and the exterior facade of the unit. This ownership typically includes any yard, garden, or patio that comes with the unit. So, if you wanted to paint your front door a different color or plant a tree in the yard, you usually can, unless there are HOA restrictions.
    • Land: A significant differentiator to owning a townhouse is that townhome owners also possess the parcel of land on which their unit stands. This ownership can influence decisions about landscaping, gardening, or even certain types of renovations.
    • Shared Areas: In townhouse complexes with shared amenities or common spaces, these areas are collectively owned by all the townhome owners, similar to the condo ownership model.

2. Which Is Cheaper Townhouse Or Condo 

Condominium (Condo):

  • Initial Investment:

    • Down Payment: Purchasing a condo typically requires a down payment, the percentage of which can vary based on your loan type and creditworthiness. The price of condos can range widely depending on location, amenities, and size, affecting the initial outlay.
    • Closing Cost calculator
    • Closing Costs: These can include various fees such as loan origination, appraisal, title search, and possibly more. When buying a condo, it's essential to factor in these additional costs.
  • Other Expenses:

    • Condo Association (HOA) Fees: These monthly or annual fees cover the maintenance of common areas, amenities, and sometimes utilities. Condos, with their shared structures and facilities, often have higher HOA fees than townhouses.
    • Property Taxes: Condos might have lower property taxes compared to townhouses, primarily because you're not owning the land or the building's exterior. However, tax rates can vary by location and the unit's valuation.
    • Insurance: Condo owners typically need a specific condo insurance (HO-6 policy) that covers the unit's interior and personal possessions. The HOA generally has a master policy for the building's exterior and shared areas.
  • Equity and Appreciation:

    • Condos can appreciate in value, though this is influenced by factors like the property's location, the overall real estate market, and the health of the HOA's finances.


  • Initial Investment:

    • Down Payment: A townhouse's down payment might be more significant than a condo's, reflecting the fact you're also buying land. The townhouse's price can also fluctuate based on size, location, and features.
    • Closing Costs: Similar to condos, buying a townhouse comes with various closing costs. These can differ slightly depending on local regulations and the specifics of the transaction.
  • Other Expenses:

    • Homeowners' Association (HOA) Fees: Many townhouse communities have HOAs, though the fees might be lower than those of condos because there are generally fewer shared amenities.
    • Property Taxes: Townhouses often have higher property taxes than condos, reflecting the ownership of both the structure and the land beneath it. Again, exact rates vary by location.
    • Insurance: Townhome owners typically require traditional homeowners insurance, which covers both the interior and exterior of the home. This policy might be more comprehensive (and possibly more expensive) than condo insurance.
  • Equity and Appreciation:

    • Townhouses, with their land ownership component, often have the potential for more significant appreciation. This appreciation, however, is still influenced by the local real estate market, location, and other macro factors.

Takeaway: The financial dynamics of condo and townhouse ownership are multifaceted, encompassing more than just the initial purchase price. Understanding the ongoing costs, potential for appreciation, and nuances of insurance and taxes is crucial for making a sound, long-term investment. It's always wise to consult with a financial advisor or real estate expert to get a comprehensive picture tailored to your situation.

3. A Condo And A Townhouse Have Different Maintenance And Responsibilities

Condominium (Condo):

  • Exterior Maintenance:

    • Common Areas: Typically, the homeowners association (HOA) manages maintenance for hallways, lobbies, and shared amenities. This includes tasks like lawn care, snow removal, roof repairs, and more.
    • Building Exterior: Maintenance of the building's exterior (like facade repairs or painting) is usually the HOA's responsibility, which means individual condo owners won't need to concern themselves with large-scale external projects.
  • Interior Maintenance:

    • Responsibility: The owner is responsible for everything within their unit's walls, which can include appliances, plumbing, electrical systems, interior walls, and flooring. If a leak or internal damage affects neighboring units, it can also be the responsibility of the origin unit's owner.
    • Flexibility: While the owner can choose how to maintain or upgrade the interior, they must still often adhere to HOA guidelines. For instance, certain types of flooring may be prohibited to minimize noise transmission between units.
  • Utilities:


  • Condos usually  have shared utility systems. In such cases, utilities might be covered by the HOA fees, and the HOA would be responsible for the system's maintenance. However, if utilities are individually metered, owners are responsible for paying and for their maintenance within their units.


  • Exterior Maintenance:

    • Individual Responsibility: The townhome owner is typically responsible for the maintenance of their unit's exterior, including tasks like painting, roofing, and lawn care. However, in some communities with strong HOAs, certain aspects of exterior maintenance might be managed collectively.
    • Shared Walls: It's worth noting that any maintenance or repairs concerning shared walls (those walls between adjacent townhouses) usually require coordination with the neighboring unit and adherence to any HOA guidelines.
  • Interior Maintenance:

    • Similar to condos, townhome owners are responsible for maintaining their unit's interior. This includes everything from internal systems like plumbing and electrical to aesthetic considerations like paint and decor.
  • Utilities:

    • Townhouses often have separate utility systems, meaning each owner is responsible for the entirety of their utility maintenance. This includes things like HVAC systems, water heaters, and individual water and sewer lines.
  • Yard or Garden:

Townhouse Garden

    • If the townhouse comes with a yard or garden space, the owner is typically responsible for its maintenance, from mowing the lawn to tending to plants. In some communities, the HOA may regulate the appearance or upkeep of these spaces to maintain a cohesive look.

Points to Ponder: Maintenance responsibilities influence not only your budget but also your time and effort. While condos generally offer a more hands-off approach with the trade-off of higher HOA fees, townhouses provide owners with more autonomy at the expense of more personal involvement in maintenance tasks. It's essential to evaluate your lifestyle, willingness to handle chores, and financial readiness for unexpected repairs when making a choice.

4. A Key Difference To Owning A Condo Vs A Townhouse Is What You're Allowed To Change.

Condominium (Condo):

  • Interior Customization:

    • Personal Space: Within the confines of their unit, condo owners generally have the freedom to customize — this could be painting, changing floorings, updating fixtures, and more.
    • Restrictions: However, the HOA often has guidelines or restrictions. For instance, hardwood flooring might be restricted due to noise concerns, or there might be specific colors you can use for window treatments to maintain a cohesive exterior look.
  • Exterior Customization:

    • Limited Freedom: Since the condo exterior and common areas are collectively owned, individual owners typically can't make unilateral changes. If you're in a condo and you'd like to change something like your window or door, you'll usually need HOA approval.
    • Balconies and Patios: Some condos come with private balconies or patios. While this is your space, there may still be restrictions on what you can place there or how you can decorate.
  • Structural Changes:

    • Making structural changes inside a condo — like removing a wall — can be more complex due to shared walls and building systems. Such changes often require HOA approval, and in some cases, may not be permitted at all.


  • Interior Customization:

    • Greater Flexibility: Townhouse owners generally have more leeway when it comes to interior modifications. Whether it's a significant renovation like changing room layouts or simpler updates like paint and decor, there's more freedom compared to condos.
    • Restrictions: While there's more flexibility, it's still crucial to ensure any changes, especially structural ones, don't negatively impact the adjoining units. And, if there's an HOA, you might have specific guidelines to follow.
  • Exterior Customization:

    • Controlled Autonomy: Townhome owners typically own the exterior of their unit, which can mean more freedom to change aspects like paint colors or fixtures. However, HOAs in townhouse communities might have rules to ensure a consistent neighborhood aesthetic.
    • Yard and Garden: If your townhouse includes a yard or garden, you'll generally have the freedom to landscape or garden as you wish. Yet, here too, some HOAs might have guidelines about plant height, fence types, or other aesthetic concerns.
  • Structural Changes:

    • Townhouse owners generally have more freedom to make structural changes, but shared walls can still present challenges. It's essential to ensure the structural integrity of both your unit and adjoining ones. Hiring a professional for such tasks is always recommended.

Reflection: When considering customization and freedom, potential homeowners should reflect on their priorities. If having the autonomy to make significant changes to your space is a top concern, a townhouse might be more suitable. On the other hand, if you're content with interior customization and prefer a more hands-off approach to exterior upkeep, a condo could be a better fit. Always review any HOA guidelines or restrictions before committing, so you're aware of what's possible in your desired space.

Balancing your desire for customization with the responsibilities and restrictions of different housing types will ensure you find a space that truly feels like home.

5. Living In A Condo May Provide More Amenities Than Townhomes

Condominium (Condo):

  • Common Amenities:

    • On-Site Facilities: One of the attractions of condo living is the potential access to a range of amenities that might be cost-prohibitive in a standalone home. These can include swimming pools, fitness centers, rooftop terraces, BBQ areas, movie theaters, and more.

Pool in condo building

    • Concierge & Security: High-end condo buildings often offer 24-hour concierge services and robust security features, including security personnel, keycard access, and surveillance systems.
  • Shared Spaces:

    • Community Rooms & Lounges: Many condos feature communal spaces where residents can host events, parties, or meetings. Some upscale condos might also offer guest suites that residents can rent for visiting family and friends.
    • Landscaped Grounds: While individual garden space might be limited in a condo, the larger development often features well-maintained gardens, walking paths, or courtyards for residents to enjoy.
  • Parking:

    • Depending on the building and location, condo residents might have access to underground or gated parking, often at an additional cost.


  • Limited Shared Amenities:

    • While some townhouse communities do offer shared amenities like a pool or fitness center, they're typically less extensive than what you might find in a condo development. This, of course, varies based on the specific community and its scale.
  • Private Spaces:

    • Yards & Gardens: Many townhouses come with their own small yard or garden, allowing for personal outdoor space. This can be an amenity in itself, especially for those who enjoy gardening or outdoor entertaining.
    • Garages: Townhouses often come with an attached garage, providing private parking and additional storage space.

Private patio

  • Community Feel:

    • Some townhouse developments foster a strong community vibe, with shared green spaces, playgrounds, or communal gardens that residents can use and enjoy together.
  • HOA Facilities:

    • In townhouse communities managed by an HOA, there might be shared facilities like clubhouses, tennis courts, or even small parks. The scale and quality of these amenities will vary based on the size of the development and the HOA's budget.

Considerations: When evaluating amenities, it's crucial to consider your lifestyle and preferences. If you're looking for a low-maintenance lifestyle with numerous on-site amenities, a condo might be appealing. However, if you prioritize private outdoor space or a quieter community vibe, a townhouse might be more suitable.

Furthermore, while amenities can enhance your living experience, they also come at a cost. Condo HOA fees, which tend to be higher than those for townhouses, usually cover the maintenance of these amenities. Before deciding, weigh the value these amenities provide against the associated costs to ensure they align with your priorities and budget.

Amenities, whether shared or private, can significantly influence your day-to-day living experience. Making an informed decision requires considering both the appeal of these amenities and their long-term costs.

6. Privacy and Space Is One Big Difference Between A Condo And A Townhouse.

Condominium (Condo):

  • Shared Walls & Floors:
    • Vertical & Horizontal Neighbors: Condos often have shared walls with neighboring units on either side, and potentially above and below as well. This can result in noise transfer, especially if the building isn't constructed with soundproofing in mind.
  • Unit Size & Layout:
    • Variability: Condo sizes can vary significantly, from studio apartments to large multi-bedroom units. While some might offer spacious layouts, others can be more compact, especially in high-demand urban areas.
  • Balconies & Windows:
    • Limited Outdoor Space: While many condos feature balconies, they're usually smaller and less private than a townhouse yard or patio. Proximity to neighbors and potential restrictions on balcony usage can also impact privacy.
    • View & Exposure: Depending on the condo's position within the building, your view and natural light exposure might be limited, especially in densely populated areas.
  • Amenities
    • Shared Facilities: With shared amenities like gyms, pools, and lounges, you might encounter more residents, which can reduce the feeling of privacy, especially during peak usage times.


  • Shared Walls:
    • Fewer Shared Surfaces: Townhouses generally share one or two walls with adjacent units, but not floors or ceilings. This can lead to less noise transfer from neighbors, particularly overhead noise which can be a concern in condos.
  • Unit Size & Layout:
    • More Spacious: Townhouses often provide more square footage compared to condos, especially in terms of vertical space spread across multiple floors. This can lead to a feeling of spaciousness and the possibility of having designated areas or rooms for specific purposes.
  • Yards, Patios & Windows:
    • Private Outdoor Space: Many townhouses feature private yards or patios, offering outdoor space without the direct oversight of neighbors that you might experience on a condo balcony.
    • Better Exposure: With windows on the front and back, townhouses can have better natural light and cross-ventilation compared to some condos.
  • Community Design:
    • Spacing Between Units: Depending on the design of the townhouse community, there might be more distance between individual units or clusters, offering a greater sense of privacy.

Things to Ponder: Privacy and space are deeply personal considerations. Some might find the buzz of a condo building invigorating and enjoy the chance encounters in shared areas. Others might prioritize having a quiet space to retreat to and value the additional privacy townhouses often provide. Think about your daily routines, your need for quiet time, and how you use your living space when weighing these options.

Choosing between a condo and a townhouse requires considering not only the financial and practical implications but also evaluating the intangible aspects of living space, privacy, and personal comfort.

Making Your Decision:

Condo: Ideal if you:

  • Prioritize a low-maintenance lifestyle.
  • Seek amenities right at your doorstep.
  • Are comfortable with more communal living.

Townhouse: Perfect if you:

  • Desire more space and privacy.
  • Want the feel of a traditional home without being completely detached.
  • Are willing to take on some maintenance responsibilities.

Final Thoughts: Whether you're drawn to the community-centric atmosphere of a condo or the spaciousness and autonomy of a townhouse, your decision should reflect your lifestyle, financial situation, and long-term goals. Consulting with a real estate professional can also provide valuable insights tailored to your unique situation and deciding on a townhouse or a condo. 

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This post was written by David O'Doherty, a licensed real estate agent since 2007 helping buyers and sellers in Clayton, NC and the Greater Triangle Area of North Carolina. He is committed to providing his clients with exceptional service and personalized attention throughout every step of the real estate process. If you're looking to buy or sell a property in Clayton, NC, or the surrounding areas or have any questions about the local real estate market, don't hesitate to contact David O'Doherty today. Call or Text (919) 601-2268 or email [email protected]

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