A single-family home is just what it sounds like. It’s a separate home meant for only one family. Specifically, it means the house isn’t attached to any others. Certain neighborhoods may have homeowners associations, but in most instances, the owner is responsible for upkeep costs of the home and the yard.
A townhome is similar to a single family home but generally you share a common wall with a neighbor. Townhouses may or may not include attached garages. There also may be shared common areas like pools, parks or playgrounds. You, of course, pay a fee to the association to cover the upkeep.
A condo, or condominium, is a group of homes where the homeowner owns the air between, but not the actual, walls, ceiling or floors of the unit. So this means that usually the homeowners association will be in charge of things like cleaning the windows, repairing pipes and maintaining common areas like fitness rooms. Condo owners share ownership of those common areas.
A co-op is perhaps the most confusing of the options. That’s because co-ops aren’t considered real property. When you buy into a co-op, you actually become a shareholder in a corporation that owns the property. The property is usually a multi-family building and as shareholder, you are entitled to exclusive use of a unit in the property. The board of the co-op has a lot of control over decisions relating to the building, including often approving potential new owners before allowing them to buy in.
How much space do you need?
You may need to look for a big place if you have a lot of pets or children. In most places around the country, this means a single-family home. If you don’t need a lot of space, or you’re willing to trade some square footage for the perks of city living, consider a condo, co-op or town home.
Are you DIY-obsessed?
With a co-op, condo or townhome in an association, you’ll be limited in the changes you can make to your place. You’ll need to get approval for any construction you do, which can be a hassle. If you’re dying to unleash your inner home improvement guru, a single-family home is your best bet.
Can you handle co-op board drama?
When you interview to join a co-op building, they will ask you many questions such as whether or not you have a pet, if you stay up late, whether you have any children, and if you make lots of noise. The approval process for these buildings is notoriously tough. It isn’t unheard of for sellers to sue their building’s co-op board for rejecting too many applicants and holding up the sale of a unit that’s on the market.
Even people with plenty of money get rejected. When a co-op board rejects your application they don’t have to tell you why, and unless they’re careless enough to give you a reason that’s outright discriminatory, you won’t have legal recourse. For further reading, see the 4 Types of Houses You Can Buy, and read about 8 Questions That Predict What Types of Houses You’ll Buy.