Although you might hear these terms used interchangeably, there are distinct differences between them and in their forms of ownership.
A condominium, which means "individual ownership of a unit in a multiunit structure or on land owned in common" per Merriam-Webster's Dictionary, means that the owner owns their own individual unit and an additional percentage of their surrounding property. Because there is common ownership of the property and its surroundings, the owners will also typically have more restrictions with which to comply.
A town home or town house, which means "usually single-family house of two or sometimes three stories that is usually connected to a similar house by a common sidewall...forming a continuous group" according to Merriam-Webster's Dictionary, means that the owner owns their own individual unit, the ground beneath it all the way to the roof above it, as with "single-family" property ownership. A town home will in many cases come with its own one or two car garage and even possibly its own small yard.
With both forms of property and ownership, there is typically a monthly maintenance fee which is paid to a homeowners' association. The amount of monthly fees vary greatly as do the associated benefits you receive for that fee. Most fees cover the maintenance of "common" areas or areas where any of the homeowners use, traverse or view (e.g., pond or lake) within that community. Other forms of benefit paid by the fees might also include utilities, cable or satellite, recreational facilities, and various forms of security. For condos, the fee could possibly include the appropriate maintenance and repair of foundation, exterior walls, roof, balconies, patios, shared hallways, carports and parking lots, since these are most likely owned jointly on a percentage basis.
Condos and town homes are wonderful homes to own when you have a desire for expending little time and effort on exterior maintenance, and enjoy the security of having multiple neighbors you can have social interaction with. And therefore, depending on which type of ownership and responsibilities you wish to have, or not have, be certain to clearly specify your desired type of community when beginning a search with your Realtor.
PLEASE NOTE: This information is not intended to serve as legal advice. Your licensed real estate agent cannot give you legal advice. If you have any questions about your legal rights or obligations, you should consult with an attorney.
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