What Is the Difference Between a Townhouse, Apartment and a Condo?, According to Real Estate Experts

Share on facebook
Share on pinterest
Share on twitter
Share on email

What is the difference between a townhouse, an apartment, and a condo?

Let’s hear it from the experts:

Table of Contents

Patrick Freeze

Patrick Freeze

President, Bay Management Group

A townhouse is a house that is attached to another property

The owner of the property is typically responsible for all repairs to the interior and exterior of the property. The owner is responsible for roof repairs, gutters, soffit, fascia, siding, door repairs, appliance repairs, etc.

The owner is also responsible for any landscaping and sidewalk/driveway maintenance. Townhouses, for the most part, tend to have the most square footage between the three (townhouse, condo, and apartment).

A condo is a part of a larger community where the owner shares common areas and spaces with other owners

For example in some condo communities, there are pools, workout facilities, lounge rooms, dining areas, parking garages, etc.. Each of the owners share these common area facilities with one another and pay a condo fee each month for these amenities.

Condo fees also cover exterior work such as roof repairs, siding, gutters, sidewalks, etc. Owners of condos are typically not individually responsible for leaks in ceilings, window repairs, clogged toilets, etc. These repairs are typically paid for by the condo board which in turn collects due(condo fee) each month from the owners). The fee can vary from year to year depending on how many maintenance items/issues the community had the prior year.

The condo owners typically appoint a management company to manage the common area spaces and take care of all maintenance issues along with collecting all of the fees/dues each month from the owners. In return, the management company collects a fee for these services.

An apartment is typically owned by an investor and rented out by a tenant

The owner is responsible for making all of the repairs to the exterior and interior of the building, however if a maintenance issue was caused by the tenant such as a clogged toilet, or a broken garbage disposal because they dropped a bottle cap into the garbage disposal, then the tenant will end up having to pay for this repair the majority of the time.

A person who lives in an apartment typically does not own the apartment, unlike a townhouse or condo where the majority of the time the owner lives in the townhouse or condo.

Leneiva Head

Leneiva Head

Broker | Owner, Welcome Home Realty

These three differ based on ownership

If you’ve ever thought that choosing to buy a townhome meant you decided to buy a condo, or that buying a loft in Manhattan meant you now owned an apartment, please let me clarify.

You cannot purchase an apartment

Some people use the term apartment interchangeably with a condo; however, the ownership abilities are very different. Apartments are a group of residences located in a complex or cluster. An apartment is a property with a landlord that requires you to secure a lease agreement in order to live there.

When you purchase a townhome, you own the property from the roof to the ground below it and everything in between

Townhomes are also used interchangeably to reference condos. A townhome is at least a two-story property that is attached to another. There’s at least one shared wall between your townhome and the one attached to yours.

When you purchase a townhome, your lender will require you to secure a full homeowner’s insurance policy. You may also be responsible for the home owner’s association dues. Townhomes can be purchased or leased depending on the owner’s intentions.

Condominiums and townhomes have similarities which is why they’re sometimes used interchangeably. Like townhomes, condominiums are attached to another unit either on one or both sides.

In condominiums, your ownership goes from the walls in

This means that you don’t own the roof, the porch, the basement, or the yard for example. Instead, there are common and limited common elements taken care between you and the homeowner’s association.

Be sure to review the bylaws to confirm what you are responsible vs your home owner’s association. Your lender will typically require you to get an HO6 policy which is designed for condos. It covers your personal items, the interior, and some structural items (like walls).

You will be responsible for the home owner’s association dues. Condos can be purchased or leased depending on the owner’s intentions.

Benjamin Ross

Benjamin Ross

Real Estate Investor | Realtor | Owner, My Active Agent

Townhomes

Ownership

The word townhouse refers to a style of construction. As with a house, a townhome owner own both the structure and land where it sits. They own the interior and exterior including the driveway, roof, and lawn. Because townhomes share common walls the owners own the front and back yards of their townhome. However, ownership does not include communal areas.

Architecture

Townhomes are contracted in rows. This means every owner will share at least one common wall. Also, it is usually common for a townhome to have two or more stories. Townhomes may share a wall but do not have units above or below them.

Community

Towns homes can be a little more private than condos and especially apartments. It is much like a residential neighborhood except the owners share walls. You don’t see as many big club areas like the condos or apartments have.

HOA Fees

Hoa fees for townhomes are usually lower as compared to a condo. Owners are financially responsible for the upkeep. They also do not pay for exterior insurance through the HOA.

THE HOA fees for townhomes usually include certain maintenance and trash as well as upkeep for the common areas. On the other hand, homeowners insurance is more expensive because the owner must ensure the interior and exterior of the townhouse.

Size

Townhomes are typically bigger than condos or apartments. They can have very large floor plans with multiple stories. So if you want big, a townhome would be the way to go.

Condos

Ownership

Owners of a condo own the interior airspace of the condo. They do not own the land on which it sits or the structure itself. And of course, they can own a percentage in communal areas. However, this is not always the case.

Architecture

Condos come in a wide variety of architectural styles. They are located on diverse platforms. They can be in a skyscraper or on a quiet residential street. I am confident there is a style of a condo that could meet anyone expectations. Two-story condos are not unheard of. They are just not as common as two-story townhomes.

Community

Condos are typically amenity focused as these are their selling points. You will find a clubhouse for parties, golf courses are common on condo sites. Landscaped pools and coordinated activities are also present.

HOA Fees

Hoa fees are typically higher than other types of homes. With condos, there are more upkeep charges not to mention exterior insurance charges collected by the HOA. On a positive note, homeowners insurance is cheaper as the owner only needs to ensure the interior.

Size

Condo’s come in all shapes and sizes. They usually fall in the middle. They are bigger than most apartments but smaller than a townhome on the average. Again, condos can come in 2 story versions.

Apartments

Ownership

An apartment can not be owned by different individuals. They are rented. The owner owns the entire building and rents out apartment units.

Co-op apartments are typically owned by large corporations. Residences there can own but instead of owning structure(townhome) or airspace(condo) they own shares the corporation issued giving them a proprietary lease. A certain amount of shares are assigned to each unit depending on unit size and sometimes location. These are not considered real property.

Architecture

These are large subdivided structures capable of containing many individual apartments. There can be many of these structures existing on one parcel of land. Co-op apartments are usually high rises. Manhattan housing consists of 75% of co-op apartments for example.

HOA Fees

There are no HOA fees for apartments. These costs are included in the rent. Co-op apartments pay a monthly maintenance fee covering insurance, upkeep and employee salaries to name a few. Co-op apartment has more stringent acceptance criteria than a townhome or a condo.

Size

Apartments can vary in size from a small studio variety to a multi-million dollar penthouse. There is something for everyone.

Luke Babich

Luke Babich

Licensed Realtor | Real Estate Investor | Co-Founder & CEO, Clever Real Estate

Townhomes

These are pretty different from apartments and condos. Think of townhomes as a type of architectural style, where single-family homes are sandwiched next to each other and share a wall.

If you buy a townhouse, you own the property the townhouse sits on: this includes the house itself and usually includes a small front/backyard. As the owner of the property, you are responsible for maintaining the exterior (ex: roof repairs, yard care) and interior of the house.

Townhomes are governed by a Home Owners’ Association (HOA), which sets rules for the community and provides general maintenance for common areas. Townhomes are the most private compared to apartments and condos, as you only share one or two walls with your neighbors.

Apartments

Apartments are similar to condos, but the difference is ownership. Both apartments and condo units are usually situated in larger buildings, but condo units are typically owned by the inhabitant and managed by a Condo Association, while apartment units cannot be purchased and are under the management of a landlord.

The landlord manages all aspects of the property and rents apartment units out to tenants, who pay rent and utilities. The landlord maintains the building and is responsible for fixing any problems in the apartments.

Condos

These have more common space, are usually inhabited by the owner of the unit. The owner owns the interior of the condo unit, but the exterior and common spaces are managed by a Condo Association (similar to an HOA).

Condos typically have more common spaces than townhomes: gyms, pools, large lawns, and manicured lawns are common. With these amenities, though, condo inhabitants typically pay higher condo association fees compared to a townhome’s HOA fees.

The condo association, similar to an apartment landlord, maintains the exterior such as the roof and landscaping.

Corey Crossman

Corey Crossman

Broker | Realtor®, Coldwell Banker Advantage

The difference between a townhouse, a condo, and an apartment is really all about ownership

While the three offer similar lifestyles and community aesthetics, the level of ownership and responsibility varies with each.

Apartment

An apartment is usually part of a multi-unit complex wherein an investor or corporation owns the building and rents out the individual units to tenants.

In an apartment, the tenants don’t actually own anything, but rather agree to rent the space by signing a lease with the owner. Most apartments are managed by on-site staff or a management company who will handle all maintenance issues and upkeep of the property.

As a tenant, you’re expected to follow the community rules set forth by your lease, and you generally must keep your unit in good, clean condition, but maintenance, appliance failures, and the like are handled by management.

Condo

A condo looks and feels similar to an apartment, but instead of renting a unit in the building, each unit can be purchased and owned individually. A condo can be part of a larger high-rise complex or can be a unit in a smaller multiplex that shares walls with other units.

The key defining characteristic of a condo is the type of ownership. Here in North Carolina, individual unit owners own everything inside of their units, but they don’t own any part of the exterior unit itself, and they don’t own the land upon which the unit is built.

Those rights belong to the HOA or condo association, who is responsible for management and upkeep of the exterior of the building and all common areas. Condo owners pay a fee to the association to cover the costs of these expenses.

Townhouse

A townhouse is very similar to a condo in that each unit is owned individually and may share walls with other units, but with a townhouse, the individual unit owners actually own their portion of the building and the land upon which the building is situated. Townhouses are usually a row of units with shared walls on either side but no neighbors above or below the unit.

Townhouse owners also pay dues to an HOA that typically maintains the common areas and can sometimes even be responsible for exterior and roof maintenance of the units.

Mike Stewart

Mike Stewart

Realtor, Vancouver New Condos

The differences between condos, apartments, and townhouses are subtle but profound. Let’s start with condos and apartments.

A condo is an individually owned apartment unit with its own individual title of ownership in a building complex

The building complex is made up of individually owned apartments each with their own separate titles of ownership. These condos may be owned by their occupiers, by individual investors, or by one investor who owns them all, but the key thing to remember is that each of these apartments has its own individual title of ownership.

An apartment does not have its own individual title of ownership

The apartment only has one title of ownership for the whole building. An apartment is owned by the person or entity that owns the entire apartment building. There is only one title of ownership with an apartment building for all of the apartments, whereas a condo building has as many titles of ownership as there are individual apartments.

Condos and apartments differ from townhouses in that townhouses are larger house-like ground-level housing units often with their own front doors to the outside. Condos and apartments tend to be smaller and are stacked housing units often in a tower.

Condos & apartments typically have front doors that open onto shared hallways that lead to a shared entry lobby. Townhouses can be titled like condos or they can be part of an apartment complex.

Tamara Heidel

Tamara Heidel

Broker, Heidel Realty

Apartments are not owned individually, but rented

Apartment buildings are considered commercial properties depending on the number of units in a building. Here in the Las Vegas Valley, it was popular for corporations to buy apartment buildings and convert the apartments into condos.

This was called a condo conversion property. (There is a legal process to changing an apartment building into individual units for sale.) Most of the time the units are renovated and slapped with a pretty bow to make them more appealing.

Condo ownership usually means the person owns all the space within walls of the property

Depending on the homeowner’s association and other factors, not all condo complexes qualify for financing. (That is a whole other can of worms for a lender to address.)

With a townhouse, the owner owns all the space above and below the property

The developer of a townhouse community must file the correct paperwork with the government to deed the units as townhouses. Physically, you might assume a property is a townhouse because it is joined by common walls but does not have units above or below.

You have to look at the deed to confirm what type of property it is. So what is the big deal whether it is deeded a condo or townhouse?

Well, as stated above financing can be a sticky wicket for condos. Obtaining financing on a townhouse is similar to financing a single-family home which is easier.

Andrew Helling

Andrew Helling

Real Estate Agent | Owner, REthority.com

Townhouse

A townhome is a multi-level dwelling that shares one or two walls with a neighboring townhome. Bigger than an apartment but usually smaller than a house, a townhome is often owned by its resident and costs are lower than a single-family home due to the lower costs of sharing a wall.

Townhomes typically have small yards and are ideal for cities like Chicago or Washington DC where land prices are high.

Apartment

A multi-family dwelling, often with multiple levels, in which the resident rents an individual dwelling from the building owner, also known as the landlord.

These often have multiple shared walls and common areas such as pools and business centers and may have attached or detached garages.

Condo

A condo is essentially an apartment building in which residents own the unit in which they reside from the studs in. The title is held either “fee simple” (meaning the owner can dispose of the property at will) or “leasehold” (meaning the property is leased for a number of years, often 100) and the owners pay a monthly HOA (homeowners association) fee to cover common area repair and maintenance costs.

Some owners choose to rent out their units, but condos usually make poor investments due to the high cost of monthly HOA dues.

Benefits of owning a condo or townhome

The benefits of owning a condo or townhome are that the HOA covers all maintenance, lawn care, and snow removal.

Many retirees or frequent travelers like the carefree-living these properties afford and choose them over renting an apartment because of the capital appreciation and tax benefits that come with real estate ownership.

Risks of owning a condo or townhome

While it may seem nice to have the HOA manage the common areas, there are also risks. For example, if an HOA is under-funded, they may issue a capital call.

This means that if the building needs a new roof and the HOA does not have enough money to pay for it, they’ll request money from the owners. This can leave you with an unexpected repair bill.

Should you rent or buy?

If you’re deciding whether to rent an apartment or buy a condo or townhome, the decision comes down to what you’re hoping to accomplish. If you value a maintenance-free lifestyle, you’re better off renting an apartment. This way, there’s no lawn to mow and the landlord will take care of all maintenance, both inside and out.

If you’re seeking capital appreciation and tax benefits, but don’t want to bother with lawncare of snow removal, a condo is a way to go.

Mark J. Schmidt

Mark J. Schmidt

Broker Associate, RE/MAX Country, MoveMeMark.com

There are two ways you can look at the difference between a townhouse, apartment, and condo.

The first difference is in the style of the structure itself

A townhouse is traditionally a multi-level home with the kitchen, living room, and dining room on the first floor, and the bedrooms on the second floor. Condos and apartments are traditionally thought of as single-level units with everything on one floor, and people potentially living above you or below you.

The second way to look at them is in terms of ownership

In New Jersey, where I sell real estate, apartments are rented, and townhouses and condos are owned. This type of ownership is known as condominium ownership, where the owner owns their unit and has rights to common elements of the development, such as the parking lot or the playground.

One more thing to consider is that, with an apartment, you’re typically not allowed to decorate or renovate the home anyway you’d like because you don’t own it.

With a condo or townhouse, you have more flexibility to do so because you are the owner, as long as whatever you are planning on doing is approved by the homeowners association. The most important thing is to know what you’re getting into before getting into it!

Jennifer Hupke

Jennifer Hupke

Real Estate Agent, Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage

In our market, an apartment is a rental and you are not the owner, a condo can be many things, but is part of an association and joint ownership of land and common amenities. A townhouse is a multi-level condo that is typically side by side.

Condo

The premise of a condo is that occupants have agreed on shared space. Most people enjoy condos because they don’t have the burden of keeping up with maintenance. However, the downfall is how close your neighbors are to you. Therefore, it is important for occupants to understand that their neighbors may not always act how you’d like.

Empty nesters or retirees are common occupants for condos—condos are viewed as an easy transition when downsizing. Young professionals also gravitate towards condos as they aren’t as well versed in conducting repairs.

Many individuals appreciate condos because of their communal benefits and social aspects. Condos often have community pools and other amenities available for all.

Townhouses

Townhouses are structured to be side by side. The kitchen, dining room, and living room are typically downstairs, and the bedrooms are typically upstairs. Townhouses are most popular among families and the elderly as they provide more room for occupants.

Most townhomes have stairs which also don’t work for everyone. This is why townhouses are more appealing to the younger crowd.

Apartment

Finally, an apartment is a rental and is owned by someone other than you whom you are paying rent in a landlord agrees to. Younger adults and aspiring professionals who are saving up are common renters for apartments.

The drawback to living in an apartment is that you’re technically paying someone else’s mortgage yet you aren’t considered an owner.

Ginna Currie, MAI

Appraiser, CT Appraisals

The differences between a townhouse, an apartment, and a condominium are ownership and construction style

Townhouse

A townhouse is typically a two-to-three story attached or semi-detached row-style home. A townhouse can be owned in fee simple estate, in which one owns the land and the improvements on the land. A townhouse can be divided into condo units. A townhouse can also be divided into apartments.

Condominium

A condominium is a residential unit that is owned, has a deed and is part of a multi-unit condo complex. With condos, the common areas including hallways, the roof, stairs, elevator, and even the land are shared among all the condo owners in an undivided interest. There is a homeowners association that manages a condo complex. A condo can be attached or completely detached dwellings.

Apartment

An apartment is a housing unit that is leased for a period of time by the owner to another. This has no ownership to the apartment unit and occupancy of the unit terminates once the lease expires. A condo can be in an apartment building if the building was converted from a rental to a condominium.

Elizabeth Whitman

Elizabeth Whitman

Managing Member, Whitman Legal Solutions, LLC

The main difference between condos and apartments is ownership and how they are managed

The apartment building or complex is owned by one party. The apartment building’s owner maintains the apartment and the common areas. Apartment dwellers have no say in the building rules. The owner establishes and enforces building rules.

In a condo, a different person can own each dwelling unit

Condo owners don’t own the land underneath their units. The land under each condo and the common areas of the condo building or complex are owned by a condominium association (Condo Association). Each individual condo owner maintains their own condo. The Condo Association owns and maintains the common areas.

Whey they buy a condo, owners automatically become subject to a Condominium Agreement (Condo Agreement). What’s included in the Condo Agreement will vary depending upon state law and on the condo building or complex’s needs. The Condo Agreement nearly always will describe how owners can elect a board to run the Condo Association.

The Condo Agreement usually states how condo fees may be assessed. The condo fees paid by the owners cover the Condo Association’s costs, including maintenance of common areas. The Condo Association board also enforces the Condo Agreement. The board may also adopt additional Condo Association rules which each condo owner must follow.

Unlike condo owners, townhouse owners own the land under their townhouse

They also usually own the land immediately adjacent to their townhouse.

Another difference between condos and townhouses is the construction style

Although condos can be in high-rises, side-by-side buildings, or even separate buildings sharing a common area, townhouses always involve side-by-side buildings, which share a common wall.

Townhouse owners, like condo owners, must maintain their dwelling units. Townhouse owners also usually must maintain any land they own adjacent to their townhouse. That may involve mowing a small law, sidewalk repairs, or snow removal.

Similar to condos, an owners’ association (usually called a homeowners’ association or HOA) owns the common areas of the townhouse complex. As with condos, townhouse owners automatically become members of the HOA and are subject to the HOA Agreement when they buy their townhouse. HOA members also elect a board, which collects HOA fees, maintains common areas, and establishes and enforces rules.

Sacha Ferrandi

sacha-ferrandi

Founder and Principal, Source Capital Funding

Though apartments, condos, and townhomes tend to be similar in their structural design, the key difference is ownership

Apartment

The main difference that sets apartments apart from condos and townhomes is ownership. Where townhomes and condos can be owned, individual units in an apartment are most often rented.

Apartment buildings typically have one owner and each unit is rented out. In an apartment, there can be rules and regulations, depending on the owner. Since you do not have ownership of the unit, you usually are not able to do any renovations or updates, and all required maintenance is done by the owner.

Apartments sometimes have common areas and amenities for residents on-site, and walls and ceilings are typically shared between other units.

Condo

Condominiums are similar to apartments, but individual units can be both rented and purchased. If you are renting a condo, the owner has ownership of that specific unit, as opposed to the entire complex, like apartments.

In a condo, you usually have to pay an HOA fee. The HOA, usually run by other tenants, handles all required maintenance, upkeep of common areas, and sometimes enforces rules and regulations.

Townhouse

On the other hand, a townhome is usually owned. A townhome is a single-family style home, usually two floors, that shares a wall with the attached home beside it.

When owning a townhome, you have complete ownership of the home and the land it sits on, as opposed to a condo, where you own the individual unit but share ownership of the building with the other units. Similar to a condo, you may be required to pay HOA fees when owning a townhome.

Elisa Uribe

Elisa Uribe

Real Estate Agent, Golden Gate Sotheby’s International Realty

Layout

A condominium is commonly referenced as a condo and can have a unit above or below your unit. A townhome will usually have a shared wall, and depending on when the property was built, there may be more insulation between the shared wall.

Both condominiums and townhomes have a homeowner association that can cover the roof, water, garbage and other amenities such as swimming pools and a clubhouse or gym for all the residence to use. The homeowners association needs to be carefully reviewed to not only find out what is covered in the monthly fee but if there are enough current funds, also known as reserves to cover future expenses.

Ownership

Besides the layout of a condo or townhome, another big difference is when you are buying a condo, you are buying the interior walls, the airspace inside the walls, whereas buying a townhome, you own the land the unit is sitting on. Whereas, usually, you are looking for an apartment when you are looking for a place to rent.

Both townhomes and condos require homeowners insurance and you should speak to your local insurance company for a quote and more information.