A townhouse is defined as a multi-story attached single family home with joining walls with one or more similar units.
Defined as attached, single-family properties, townhomes offer a level of privacy not seen with lofts or apartments (there are no upstairs or downstairs neighbors!), as well as affordability not possible with full-scale single-family homes.
For buyers looking for a great location at a great price in Chicago, townhouses are often a great choice. Keep reading to learn why.
All About Chicago Townhouses
Townhouses typically span from the basement to the upper floor, though they share walls with other units. Most are built on lots larger and more spacious than single-family homes and condo properties.
Types of Ownership
There are traditionally two types of ownership arrangements on townhomes, and understanding these – as well as how they will affect your budget – is vital before choosing to buy a townhome in the area.
- Fee simple townhome ownership:With this arrangement, the owner pays a fee to the townhome community for upkeep of the land and shared spaces, though they’re solely responsible for the upkeep of their own unit and its exterior. Insurance will need to cover the exterior of the home as a result.
- Condominium Townhome ownership:Similar to how condos work, the owner will pay a monthly or yearly fee to the townhome association. Those fees will help cover all exterior maintenance on the land, the shared spaces and each individual unit. The owner’s insurance only needs to cover the interior of the home and any belongings.
In the long run, fee simple townhomes have a higher cost if they require lots of exterior upkeep and maintenance. These townhomes also aren’t best if you’re looking for a low-maintenance, hands-off property you can leave unattended for extended periods of time.
Condo-style townhomes will likely have lower maintenance costs, but that doesn’t mean they come free. You’ll want to check the community’s reserve balance, just as you would when buying a condo, and you should ask to audit previous association meeting minutes to be sure there’s nothing maintenance- or fee-related that’s unexpected. You’ll also want to understand the details of the association and make sure there are no internal problems that could affect your unit or your ownership.
Townhouses vs. Single-family Homes
Think of a townhouse as the child of a single-family home and a condo. It’s a little of both, offering the privacy and space of a single-family home, without all the upkeep or costs.
Generally, when compared to single-family homes, townhomes have:
- Lower maintenance costs, especially in condo-style townhomes
- Less maintenance requirements, making for a more hands-off living experience
- Lower insurance requirements
- Lower prices for comparable locations and square footage (often 10 to 20% below single-family prices)
- Private gardens, balconies and other spaces ideal for families
Townhouses vs. Condos
Townhomes are an upgrade from condos size-wise. They offer more space and are generally better suited for families. They often have a garden and private balconies, and they don’t come with neighborhoods above or below the unit. The one disadvantage is that townhomes are typically more expensive than condos, particularly in in-demand areas.
- More Space
- Garden, balconies
- No neighbors above or below
Who Are Townhouses Right for?
Townhouses are ideal for buyers looking for a property in a specific location, but without the budget to purchase a detached, single-family property in the area. They likely want more space than a condo can afford and are therefore considering alternative options like townhomes and lofts.
Townhouses buyers typically aren’t first-time buyers and usually fall into one of three categories:
- Condo upgraders – These buyers are upgrading from a condo to a townhome to add more space or to accommodate their growing family.
- Location seekers – These are buyers tied to a very specific location but who are unwilling to make the sacrifices that buying a condo or other smaller property would require.
- Budget buyers – These buyers want a spacious property in a certain location but cannot afford the price point of a single-family home in the community. They might be tied to an area because of the school district, aging parents or other family obligations.
What to Expect When Buying a Townhome in Chicago
Chicago’s top areas for townhomes are Logan Square and Lincoln Park, though you can find properties spread across the city in all styles, price points, ages and designs.
No matter where you start your search, you’ll want to make sure to follow these tips while evaluating potential townhomes:
- Keep your eyes on the exterior. There’s a good chance you might be responsible for that exterior, so make sure it’s in good condition. Pay attention to details: are there shingles missing? Is it discolored? Are the gutters intact? Remember, if it’s a simple fee condo, you’re on the hook for any repairs – and the insurance on that exterior. You want to be sure it’s in top condition before you invest.
- Peek at parking. Where is parking for the unit? Do you have a dedicated space or do you share it with the community? Can the parking be used for other purposes? Even if the parking situation doesn’t bother you now, could it bother a future buyer down the line? Keep in mind the long-term value and marketability of the property before making a decision.
- Be sure about the bathrooms. Sure, a property may say “2 bath,” but if one is in the basement and one’s in the kitchen, how convenient is that to your lifestyle? Make sure the layout of amenities like the bathroom, washer, dryer and other must-haves fits with your needs and preferences.
- Enlist a townhome inspector. Do your research now to find an experienced townhome inspector in your area, and ask them what red flags you should be looking for. Once you’ve settled on a property, have them do a full-scale inspection and break down any deficiencies to you. These will need to be addressed by the seller before you buy (or you can negotiate a lower price to help cover them).
Townhomes can be a great compromise if you’re looking for a roomy, spacious property without the high price of a single-family home. Just make sure you’re fully aware of the ownership arrangement a property offers, what you’d be responsible for as an owner, and how it could impact your finances before moving forward.