What Will It Be - Townhome or Condo?

And, What's the Difference Anyway?

Townhouses and condominiums, more frequently referred to as townhomes and condos, are rapidly becoming the first choice in housing for many people who would not have thought about this style of home in previous years. They offer a number of advantages for certain buyers and a wide range of prices - from entry level for first-time buyers to luxury models for more mature and affluent buyers. 

While these the two terms are sometimes used interchangeably, they actually denote two unique types of housing:

- a single-family dwelling unit
constructed in a series or group of attached
units with property lines separating such units.

- A Condominium or suite of rooms designed for
dwelling most usually similar to an apartment. A
condominium is usually owned and occupied by the
same person, as differentiated from an apartment
which is usually owned by one party (a landlord)
and occupied by another (a tenant). Condominium
actually refers to actually type of ownership (see below).

Townhomes are built as single- or multi-story units - each with at least one separate outside entrance. Condos are individual dwellings within a single building, often multi-story, with several adjoining each other, often with at least one entrance to each from a common hall or entry area.

With ownership, the condominium owner also shares tenancy with other units owners in the common areas, such as the driveways, parking, elevators, outside hallways, recreation, and landscapes areas that the homeowners association homeowners. A majority of states have adopted statutes to cover the issues that are involved with development, construction, management, and taxation of condominium projects.

When we talk about a house, we're usually referring to a free-standing, single-family residence.  The main defining characteristic of a house, besides the fact that it is free-standing, is the extent of ownership responsibility assumed by the buyer. The owner of a house owns the building itself, as well as the land, and is responsible for all upkeep associated with those areas, including lawn and landscape maintenance, painting, repairs and real estate taxes.

A townhouse is like a house in that the owner owns both the structure and the land on which it sits; but it is not free-standing, so "the land on which it sits" is limited to the front and back yards. Townhouses are connected to one another in a row, and are usually two or three stories tall. It is important to note that townhouse refers to the type of house and not to the type of ownership.  The ownership responsibility in a townhouse (townhome) is the same as for a house; however, there may be differing circumstances from development to development, city to city or state to state regarding who owns the outside walls, roof, etc. of the structure which must be verified with local authorities.

Like townhouses, condominiums are attached to one another. If you own a condo, you do not own the land surrounding your living space. A condo owner owns only the unit itself, which is taxed as an individual entity, and sometimes a percentage of the common areas of the community.  It is important to note that condominium (condo)  refers only to type of ownership and is NOT a type of house.

Many people - including some real estate professionals - are not aware of this distinction.  The key is that people often mistake type of house with type of ownership.

Patio homes (sometimes called garden homes or detached townhomes)  are freestanding houses as opposed to townhouses or condominiums. They are often placed in the townhome/condo category because they offer many of the same features as townhomes & condos - low or no maintenance and little or no yard work, and are on a very small lot. This type of dwelling may also be referred to as "zero lot line" because one or two sides are on or very close to the property lot line.

Disclaimer: This information about townhouses, townhomes, condominiums, condos, patio homes, etc. is intended to inform potential buyers as to some of their concerns and options. It is not intended to offer expert legal advise vis-a-vis ownership issues. Please consult a qualified attorney about any ownership, maintenance or property related issues in this area.

What's right for me - townhome, condo, patio home or what?

Townhomes & Condos vs. Single-family houses



  • Exterior maintenance costs may be
  • There will be an Home Owners' association maintenance fee
  • Having attached homes may increase security. Many larger condominium buildings have buildings staff.
  • You will give up privacy as
    compared with a single-family house
  • There may be amenities with the
    community (for example, pool, tennis courts, playground, etc.).
  • Your options for changing the exterior look of your dwelling
    will be limited.

Des Moines Area Townhomes & Condos

Townhomes and condos are being located all over the Des Moines metro area - from downtown to suburbs. Downtown Des Moines is undergoing a housing renaissance with high-rise, low-rise and loft type projects being planned and underway. The Grand Avenue corridor to the west of Downtown has many condo buildings with good access to both the city and suburbs. Infill townhome and condo  projects and being located in all parts of the city and new townhome developments as well as some condo projects are being built or have been constructed over the last few years in nearly all suburban locations and even in some nearby small towns.

If you wish to explore the townhome, condo or patio home options, be sure to utilize the services of a knowledgeable Realtor who can offer you all the options you deserve. Beware of those that may represent only one or a few developers or builders. They will not be able to offer you the maximum number of options. Make sure you learn as much as you can about your alternatives by working with a Realtor that is not limited to representing only one of a few communities.


Carolin works with all developers and builders to make sure you have the maximum number of choices in your search for the perfect townhome or condo.