Comparing the advantages of houses, condos and townhomes

Homes

Many University students find that renting comes with a lot of undesirable consequences, from being rushed to take what you can get, like it or not, to having no control over location, noise levels, rent increases, loud neighbours, and landlords that may raise rents and terminate leases.

In contrast, when purchasing real estate, YOU control what you buy, how much you pay, how you live and your location.  There are laws protecting you, as a homeowner, against noise — a much more difficult problem to manage for property owners with multiple tenants, making it easy for noise levels in dorms and residences to escalate and go unchecked. Many would say the peace that comes from owning your own home is priceless.

While there are both advantages and disadvantages to owning your own home, the advantages far outweigh the added responsibilities of home ownership.  For example, although you will be responsible for home maintenance and repairs, you won’t have to wait for a landlord to get around to it whenever he has the time, and any work will done will be to your satisfaction, not someone else’s. You will also have to maintain the grounds because when you buy a home, you buy both the home and the land it’s on, but many homeowners consider this an asset.

The biggest fear home buyers typically face is selling at the wrong time. The fact that your purchase is near a major University in major urban areas goes a long way toward ensuring there will always be a high demand for rental properties if the time to sell is not quite right.

The advantages of home ownership include:  choice of location, control, privacy, stability, pride of ownership, building a good credit rating, evidence of responsibility and maturity, flexibility, storage space and the potential for your home to appreciate in value and resale for a profit. For all of these reasons, international students and their families are buying more property now than they ever have before. Considering that these are also major real estate markets, the chances are very favorable that you stand to gain on your investment.

What is the difference in owning a house compared to owning a condo or a townhome?

The purchase price may be lower for a condo or townhome, but there are also homeowner association (HOA) fees and restrictions. In reality, they are just different ways of assuming the responsibilities of homeownership. These factors can also have a bearing some of the ways in which you live.

Condos

The words “condo” can apply to many types of homes, including detached, semi-detached, row-houses, stack townhouses, duplexes or apartments.   Almost 20% to 25% of housing in major Canadian cities are condominium apartments or townhouses. They are also the majority of the sales in many metropolitan areas.

The biggest advantage of owning a condo is equity appreciation.  As demand increases, property values steadily rise. Other advantages include unlimited access to shared amenities that typically include pools and gyms, parking, space for large group entertaining, etc.  Some have resort-quality amenities that would be far too expensive to have in a house.  Often chosen for their and convenience and low-maintenance compared to houses, condos are typically preferred by people looking for an urban lifestyle within walking distance to shops, restaurants, cafés, theatres and sites of interest, as well as their strategic location near schools, offices and businesses.

If you want a home but not the upkeep, a condo is your clear choice. While condos offer security and a sense of community, they do have a few drawbacks:  all homeowners are part of the decision-making process with regard to the building, which means that yours is only one voice among many and final decisions may not always be what you voted for. There are also many rules and regulations to condo living that some homeowners find restrictive.

Finally, in addition to your mortgage, you will also be required to pay Homeowners Association (HOA) fees. Condo living doesn’t require any maintenance of the grounds or building itself, which are the expensive components of the structure, as these are covered by HOA fees.

However, since you do own a portion of the common areas, HOA fees cover their maintenance and upkeep. Common areas generally include walkways, driveways, lawns and gardens, lobbies, elevators, parking areas, recreational facilities, storage areas, laundry rooms, stairways, plumbing, electrical systems and portions of walls, ceilings and floors, and other items.

Parts of the common elements may be designated for the exclusive use of one or more of the individual unit owners, in which case these are called limited common elements (or limited common property). In other words, they are limited for the use only of specific owners.

Examples would include parking spaces, roof gardens, balconies, storage lockers, and front and back yards.1  In the end, you are only responsible for the interior of your own unit.  Many find a lot of freedom in this lifestyle and it’s one of the most attractive aspects of condo living.

Townhouses

Also known as “townhomes,” townhouses have been a popular residential option for several decades. The name is derived from “owning a home in town,” so these are the precursors to modern-day condos. Older units have historical roots and charming features not seen in today’s building repertoire, while newer units offer many of the features of modern condos
The basic idea of a townhouse is saving the expense of maintenance and upkeep while also providing recreational facilities and other amenities for which costs are shared by a Homeowners Association.

Many townhouse homeowners’ associations offer luxurious amenities such as swimming pools, community gyms, saunas, hot tubs, tennis courts, playgrounds, clubhouses and even libraries.  While townhouses are generally less expensive than comparably-sized homes, they do have several drawbacks:  First, they offer less privacy than detached houses because they are “attached” homes built in a row with shared structural elements, such as a common wall and/or roof, adjoining other units.  While noisier than detached single-family homes, this would be a minor consideration for students compared to a loud, densely populated dormitory-type residence.

Secondly, townhouses, like condos, share the costs of maintenance of the common areas, such as lawns, gardens, pools, playgrounds, tennis courts and picnic areas. So while this also means added HOA fees, the homeowners association contracts this work to outside firms that specialize in grounds maintenance, thus sparing owners the trouble of carrying out the work themselves.

Third, you will be expected to participate in the homeowners association (for which you will not be paid) and fourth, the HOA creates rules for the development.  For example, if you do not maintain your home in accordance with HOA directives, the HOA can object to the exterior appearance of your home and cause disputes. Yet, many would argue that the advantage of a townhouse community is that the HOA ensures upkeep and uniformity of the dwellings and is responsible for the common areas.

The advantages of owning a townhouse include:

  • more affordable
  • being part of a community
  • typically two-storey units, often with parking and basements
  • living in a development where you have access to all the re creational facilities and amenities
  • more cost-efficient heating and cooling due to the type of construction
  • ability to negotiate with neighbours to split costs for shared features, i.e. roof repairs
  • gated protection and/or hired security (in some developments)
  • more privacy than an apartment building or condo

If you are looking for the space of a house without all the maintenance, a townhouse is the perfect solution.