Should I Buy a Condo or Townhome and What’s the Difference?

To most people, there’s really no difference between a condo and a townhouse. Aside from the fact that most townhomes are two story units, while condominium units are a single story, there’s seems to be little which separates one property type from another.

The reason for this perception is both property types are attached units, both typically feature amenities such as a clubhouse, a pool, and beach access. Both are generally built right along the coastline of the Gulf or on the bayside.

However, it’s not the “look” which makes the key distinction between a condo and a townhouse, it’s the legal rights of ownership which are key. This is where many people who decide to purchase a townhouse or a condo find facts they never before new and things they’ve not yet considered. Of course, both offer a different lifestyle than a single family residence, but there is so much more to know.


Few people realize that condos–as well currently know them–have only been around for a few decades. The concept which first appeared in ancient Rome reappeared when developers wanted to sell residences to people in highly sought-after locations but without the big price tag. Using the flat or apartment template, and a new form of legal ownership, the modern day condominium was born.

“A buyer of a condominium owns his or her individual unit, plus a percentage of the surrounding property, including land and any amenities on the property. A buyer of a townhome purchases his or her individual unit, as well as the ground underneath that unit. Each townhome has its own roof, in contrast to condominiums.” –-Realty Times

Notice the phrase, “new form of legal ownership” because that’s what a “condominium” really is, a legal term. The real difference in a townhouse and a condo isn’t the physical structure, it’s the ownership. Townhomes are generally sold with “fee simple” rights, while condo units are sold with condominium rights.

A fee simple property is not unlike a single family residence, a townhouse owner has rights to the exterior of his or her unit, as well as the air above the roof and the ground beneath the foundation. Condo owners have right from the “walls-in” it’s usually said. They do not have exclusive legal possession of the exterior, but share ownership of the exterior. So, you can make certain changes to the exterior of a townhome, but generally speaking, not to a condo unit.

This is why both property types are part of a homeowners’ association or HOA. Individual unit owners pay a fee, to maintain the common areas and the community amenities.


To decide which type of ownership best fits you, here are some key distinctions between condos and townhomes:

  • Selling and renting your unit. Like a single family property, you may decide to sell and can do so at any time, regardless if you purchase a condo unit or a townhome. However, there are unique challenges to sell both types of property. Renting out your unit is an entirely different matter. The HOA bylaws will have certain restrictions on renting. Generally speaking, condo rules are more flexible than townhouse bylaws. These rules will state the length of time you can rent your unit, restrict age and pets, and more.
  • What’s yours is yours and you’re responsible to fix it. If you own a condo unit, you own from the walls-in, which means you can remodel your living room, bathroom, and kitchen. That is, provided you’re not tampering with commonly shared plumbing or electrical wiring. If the roof begins to leak, the association is responsible to fix it. A townhome, hower, is a different story. You’ll be free to remodel the entire interior in most communities, but if the roof begins to leak, you’re probably going to be on the hook to fix it.
  • Insurance needs likely differ. Most condo owners choose to get renter’s insurance, even though they “own” their unit because they do not own the exterior. Renter’s insurance covers their personal possessions, so, it’s a reasonable thing to do. If you own a townhome, you’ll need the same type of insurance as a single family property. In addition, if your townhouse is on the beach, you might need additional coverage.
  • The financial health of the association is very important. Regardless of the ownership type, you want to know about the financial health of the HOA because you don’t want to be hit with a surprise special assessment.

When you are ready to purchase a condo, townhome, or even a single family residence here in Sarasota, phone me for a free consultation. I’ll help you to find the right property at the right price. In addition, I’ll help you negotiate your offer and assist you with marketing and selling your current residence.