BUYER'S GUIDE FIND A HOME
What Kind of Home?

There are many different types of homes, but the vast majority fit into one of several broad categories. Depending on your particular situation, it may be best to focus on one of the following:

Single-family detached

This can be anything from a 100-year-old handyman’s special to a designer home in the most posh planned community in town. Whether it’s a starter home or a starter castle, it is, by definition, a single house on its own parcel of land.

As the owner of a single-family detached home, you get to make all decisions (within reason) regarding exterior style, yard improvements and household rules (parking, pets, late-night noise, etc.). The flip side, of course, is that you also get to pay for all repairs and routine maintenance.

Condominium

Condos, too, take many shapes and forms attached townhouses, warehouse lofts, high-rise apartments, etc., but all adhere to two basic principles:

  • Each owner owns the interior of their unit — “from the paint in,” as they say — and a portion of everything else from the roof and exterior walls to any communal facilities
  • All owners pay dues to fund a homeowner’s association that handles maintenance, common-area repairs, insurance and unpleasant surprises.

For some buyers, a condo can be an excellent choice. They tend to be more affordable (lower construction costs, shared expenses), require less maintenance (someone else cleans the gutters and mows the lawn) and often have amenities (a pool or fitness center). The downside? More density, which can lead to greater noise, less privacy and potentially, less appreciation when you’re ready to sell.

Co-op

It’s short for cooperative apartment, and although they’re not common (except in high-cost, high-density areas such as New York City), they are an option. They typically resemble condominiums, but instead of owning their own unit, co-op owners become shareholders in the corporation that owns the entire property. The corporation (through a board of directors) assesses monthly dues, manages the property and pays the mortgage and other bills.

More to the point, perhaps, shareholders get to vote on all major decisions, including who gets to live in the co-op. In other words, your fellow owners can turn down prospective buyers based on everything from financial concerns to perceived reputation (although, by law, they can’t discriminate). In other words, getting out (i.e., selling) can be just as difficult as getting in.

Town houses

The term “town house” or “town home” isn’t a legal one, but rather a decorative one. Simply put, it refers to homes that are individually owned (along with the land beneath them) but that also share common walls with one or more neighboring homes. From inner-city row houses (think “Rocky”) to downtown duplexes to golf-course villas, they occupy a sort of middle ground between condominiums and single-family detached homes.

Are they a good idea? It depends on your tastes and interests. Like detached homes, most provide a yard (although usually quite small); like condos, they often provide communal amenities (e.g., a swimming pool, tennis courts) but with the same noise, privacy and stylistic issues. And, assuming you’ll sell someday, it is wise to be aware that, all things being equal, town houses generally appreciate more than condos, but less than detached homes. However, they are usually cheaper than a detached home.

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