Basic Home Types – A Primer
As you prepare to enter the world of home ownership for the first time, most likely the very first question that needs to be answered is, “What kind of place do I want to live in?” With few exceptions, the answer basically boils down to one of three options – a house, a condominium/loft, or a townhome. A fourth option might be a commune but that’s a completely different story.
Especially for those of you who’s only living quarters – outside of the friendly confines of Mom and Dad’s house — has been of the rental variety, an introduction dealing with basic distinctions between these three types of housing might be in order.
House: This is the most recognizable and perhaps the oldest form of housing. A house denotes a free-standing structure as a dwelling, usually intended to be a single-family residence. The scope of ownership responsibility entails the structure and the land it rests upon, as well as the land which surrounds the structure – up to the limits of the property boundaries. The owner assumes responsibility for the maintenance of the house itself, the lawns, landscaping, auxiliary buildings – such as a detached garage or lawn implement shed – and property taxes.
Condominium: This word has is origins in Latin and means, “common ownership” or “common control.” In fact, the term condominium, more accurately refers to a type of ownership, as opposed to the actual structure.
Otherwise known as a condo, this type of residence is almost indistinguishable from an apartment in that they both comprise a collection of adjoining rooms. And, like a rental apartment, a condo is usually a part of a multi-story building, and shares common walls with other units in the building. Oftentimes, the condo has one outside entrance, although some maintain only an entrance to a common hallway. Like his house-owning counterpart, the condo owner also owns the rooms making up the living space, as well as any attic space, and balcony or porch, if present. As well, the condo owner is also responsible for property taxes.
However, the major difference between a house and a condo – aside from obvious physicality aspects — pertains to ownership parameters. After buying a condo, owners become part of a Common Interest Community in a Planned Unit Development (PUD). As a result, condo owners share ownership responsibilities and costs of ownership with each other. These costs are paid for via monthly condo association fees collected from individual owners, and are usually managed by a management company associated with the condo complex.
Typically these fees pay for the following:
- Maintenance of shared amenities, such as swimming pools, tennis courts, racquetball courts, fitness rooms, saunas.
- Maintenance of grounds, common areas, adjoining hallways.
- Maintenance of outer portions of the building, including roofs.
- Trash removal
- Water and sewage
- Hazard insurance, which covers the building structure.
Townhome or Townhouse: This type of dwelling can be thought of as a kind of hybrid, in that it shares similarities with both houses and condos. The term townhouse refers to the type of dwelling, rather than the type of ownership, as is the case when referring to a condo. Townhomes are usually constructed as a row of connected one-story or two-story small homes, which resemble houses more than anything else.
Like a condo, individual owners share ownership responsibilities with each other in the form of association fees. These fees entitle owners to the use of many of the same kinds of amenities and services condo owners enjoy. Yard maintenance – taken care of by the association — is usually limited to the front yard, though. Likewise, a townhome is also not a free-standing structure, like a house.
As for similarities to a house:
- A townhome usually sports a back yard (albeit, a tiny one), as well as a front yard. There’s no side yards, due to the presence of adjoining townhomes. The exception would be townhomes located at either end of a row.
- There are outside entrances on the front and back sides of the home.
- Most townhomes include an attached garage (usually one-car).
- Ownership includes the ground upon which the home sits. Actually the owner owns from the ground to the sky, unlike with condos, where there can be other units situated on the story above, and the owner doesn’t own the land the condo sits upon – as first-floor units.
- Townhomes can include a basement.
- Oftentimes, a patio is included.
And like condo and house owners, property taxes are the responsibility of the townhome owner.
Loft: This term denotes a dwelling most resembling a condo in its concept and legality. And, like condo and house owners, the loft owner holds title to his or her own living space.
However, there are two major distinctions between lofts and condos:
1. Styling: Many lofts feature spaciousness not found in most condos. Many lofts, in fact, came into being as conversions of former structures originally housing industrial concerns, or historical buildings — in urban, industrialized areas. Thus, lofts often maintain design elements inherent in those buildings – including “reach-the-sky” ceilings, imposing structural concrete columns, and out-of-the ordinary finishes, such as granite, steel, concrete, and hardwood.
2. Zoning: Oftentimes, lofts are zoned with a “live/work” designation, whereby a business can legally be conducted from the home, if that’s the owner’s prerogative. This includes permitting “walk-in” customers, paid employees, and keeping inventories, as well as the other usual elements involved in running a business, just as if it resided in a commercial district. This differentiates them from condos, which are always zoned as “residential”.