House, Townhouse, or Condo: Which Is Right for You?

low angle shot of an art deco opera facade
Photo by İrem Nur on

When you decide to buy a house, it’s a big decision. You want to choose the right style of house, one that fits your lifestyle and one that’s within your budget. A big part of this will depend on the style of house you choose. The main options include a single-family house, a townhouse, or a condo. 

There are similarities and differences between each. 

For example, if you’re looking for townhomes for sale in Fairfax, VA, you might have decided that a single-family home is out of your price range. Price, however, is just one thing that can make these home types distinct from one another, and we explore what you should know below. 

Buying a Single-Family House

A single-family house is one that’s on a foundation and is a standalone building. You don’t share common spaces or walls. You’ll have a yard as well, of some type, even if it’s small. 

Two reasons that someone might want a single-family home instead of another option could be the privacy it affords and the freedom and flexibility you get to make it your own and do with it what you want, within the limitations of any HOAs or local ordinances. 

Outside of a potential HOA or local ordinance, you aren’t told what you can do with your house. 

You’re likely to get the most space with a single-family home, but these properties are also the most expensive of the three options we’re talking about. In 2020, a single-family home sold for $58,000 more on average than a condo. 

You’ll not only pay more upfront, but it’s probably going to cost you more over time too. When you own a house, you’re responsible for your lawn care and all your maintenance and repairs. 


A townhome can have some hybrid features that put it somewhere between a single-family house and a condo. A townhouse can be cheaper and sometimes significantly cheaper than a single-family house. Your townhome may have a small yard or patio, but you’re going to share at least one exterior wall with your neighbors. 

A townhome usually has an HOA, so that means fees and rules. You will have more freedom and flexibility than the owner of a condo, but you’ll still have to get certain decisions approved by the HOA. 

If you move into an older townhome community, your maintenance fees are probably going to be higher than they are in a newer community since the communal areas of the property, like roofs, siding, or pools, have to be repaired and eventually replaced over time. 

Townhomes are usually fairly spacious, with multiple stories in a lot of cases, and you don’t have to do the actual work to maintain the exterior. The potentially lower price is also an upside of townhome living. 


Condominiums, or condos, are units that are within a larger community. Condos may be in mid- or high-rise buildings, but they don’t have to be. If you don’t want a lot of maintenance to worry about, a condo could be your first choice. 

These work well for first-time homebuyers, people who travel a lot, single people, or older homeowners. 

Condos have similarities with apartments because you’re probably going to share multiple walls.  

The big difference is that you own your condo, whereas you rent an apartment. 

When it comes to maintenance, of the three types of homes we’re discussing, you’ll be responsible for the least if you buy a condo. 

Some condos have amenities like doormen and security. 

You’ll pay HOA or condo fees to cover maintenance costs and the amenities. 

You’ll be very restricted by condo association rules in exchange for the perks of this low-maintenance lifestyle. 

You might not be able to customize your unit, and you could be prevented from renting it out. 

The communal areas could be problematic if you’re someone who values your privacy because you’re going to be sharing things with other people. 

It can be different to get a mortgage on a condo too. It tends to be more complex to finance a condo compared to a house or townhome. You’re buying a piece of a community. That community has rules and fees, and your lender is going to look at not just your finances but the finances of the condo community. 

You can typically use the same loan program that you’d use for a single-family house, but there are differences during the underwriting process. 

The mortgage lender wants to know that you’re buying in a community with strong financial health. They’ll be looking at how it’s run and owned, and they’ll consider the number of units owned by investors, the number of units purchased, and how many lawsuits involved the condo association. Other factors in the underwriting process are the number of owners who are delinquent on their dues and any upcoming special assessments. 

A warrantable condo is one that’s eligible for a conventional loan based on rules from Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. The lender is doing the assessment of the finances of the condo community to make sure it’s a warrantable condo. That’s what they want. They want to ensure that they aren’t taking unnecessary risks lending you money for a condo. 

A non-warrantable condo wouldn’t follow the rules of Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac, so you can’t get a conventional loan to finance the purchase. A non-warrantable condo could have 20% or more units owned by one entity, an HOA that’s involved in litigation, or other problems. 

Finally, some people confuse a condo with an apartment, but an apartment is a residence that’s located inside a building where units are rented instead of being sold. Like a condo community, an apartment community will have shared tenant amenities. 

When you rent an apartment, you don’t have to deal with the responsibilities of homeownership, but you’re not building equity like you do when you purchase a single-family home, townhome, or condo. An apartment also limits any changes you can make to the unit, and your landlord can determine whether you’re allowed things like having a pet in your home. 

Was it worth reading? Let us know.