What is a townhouse?
When choosing a home, it can be easy to get lost in real-estate jargon. Townhouses, single-family homes, condominiums, and co-ops can all seem similar but have key differences. Townhouses combine the best features of condos and single-family homes, providing residents with individually owned property, shared amenities, and affordability. Dating back to the 17th century, townhouses are often older homes that boast character and old-school charm.
Townhouses are narrow, vertical homes that generally share one to two walls with a neighboring unit. Townhouses originated in London or Paris in the 1600s and created space in densely populated urban areas for families to live in close proximity. Townhouses today are not limited to these European cities – they have become ubiquitous in America, most notably in heavily populated areas like New York City. Townhouses are also sometimes called “rowhouses” or “brownstones,” though these two words actually represent subsets of townhouses. Rowhouses specifically refer to townhouses that are built in a “row” on one block, and “brownstone” refers to a subcategory of townhouses made of brick and masonry, often associated with New York City and, more specifically, Brooklyn.
Bed-Stuy is a neighborhood in Brooklyn known for its townhouses, and the origins of the townhouses there date all the way back to 1870 when the Brooklyn Bridge was constructed. Developers were eager to accommodate the wave of new commuters and built test rowhouses, and as the bridge opened in 1883, developers continued to build more elaborate and ornate townhouses to cater to wealthy residents. Today, the neighborhood still boasts a massive collection of townhouses that date back to the Victorian era.
Though townhouses are popular in New York City, they can be found all over America. Townhouses can be commonly found in downtown areas in cities such as Boston, Los Angeles, and Houston. Townhouses in cities like these can be a great way to purchase affordable real estate in expensive and heavily populated areas. Townhouses are also popular in small cities and suburban areas, where homeowner’s associations will govern a group of townhouses to keep things neat and tidy.
Townhouses vs. single-family homes
Though townhouses and single-family homes have some similarities, they have key differences that are important to know when choosing a home. Historic townhouses are similar to single-family homes in that they are independently owned. Both single-family homes and townhouses can also be part of homeowner’s associations, which can place restrictions on renovations. Single-family homes can sometimes sit close together, but townhouses sit side-by-side with the neighboring units, sharing external walls. This means townhouses have less privacy than single-family homes and can be prone to noise pollution.
Townhouses vs. apartments
Apartments refer to a single unit within a larger building or complex that is rented to the resident. As a result, residents will often share one common entry into the apartment building. In comparison, Townhouses are generally individually owned by the resident, who will have their own private entrance into the townhome. This holds even if the resident shares a yard or amenities with neighboring units. These two types of real estate are similar in that neither has the privacy of a stand-alone unit, but townhouses provide residents with more ownership over the real estate and a single entrance.
Townhouses vs. condominiums
While condos and townhomes are owned individually, a condo is more like an apartment. Condos are also in larger buildings or complexes, with units above, below, or neighboring them. Condos are often smaller than townhouses, though they often have shared amenities such as pools, fitness centers, or shared workspaces. Additionally, a townhouse can function like a condo if it is part of a condominium community or a planned unit development.
Pros and cons of townhouses
- Townhouses are cost-effective. Townhouses are less expensive than detached, single-family homes, even if the two pieces of real estate have similar square footage. When buying a townhouse, you only pay for the interior (rather than a sprawling yard), so you can get more bang for your buck.
- Townhouses are easy to maintain because they have little to no yard space. When the townhouse is part of an HOA or condominium community, the HOA may also take care of general upkeep like roof repairs, siding cleaning, or window washing.
- Townhouses are economical in size, making them easier to furnish.
- Though limited, most townhouses have balconies or patios. Unlike some apartments that may lack any sort of outdoor space, townhouses can be a great choice for residents who like to enjoy a nice summer day.
- Townhouses share external walls with the neighbors, which can lead to noise from nearby residents. When touring townhouses, be sure to listen for noise from neighbors.
- Most townhouses are built vertically, having two or more floors. While this vertical living can be great for some, it lacks accessibility and can be unsuitable for others.
- Not all townhouses are part of a homeowner’s association, but for someone looking to renovate heavily or who wants unrestricted access to their real estate, this could be unideal. Homeowners associations place restrictions on buildings and charge monthly fees, sometimes offsetting the money saved by choosing a townhouse. Be sure to check when looking at townhouses whether or not the building is a part of a HOA.
Townhouses in New York City
To find townhouses in New York City, filter by “townhouse” in your search results.
- This unit at 132 East 38th Street is a Murray Hill townhouse boasting three bedrooms and three bathrooms. At just under 2,000 square feet and with amenities like a wine fridge, top-of-the-line appliances, a roof deck, and a fireplace, this townhouse offers luxury at a more affordable price than a single-family home.
- Though townhouses are known for their affordability compared to stand-alone homes, some townhouses in New York City offer the height of high-class living. This townhouse at 241 West 4th Street is 5,000 square feet and could be split into multiple apartments by an investor. Built-in 1828 but renovated beautifully, this townhouse is an oasis in the bustling city.
- At 352 East 69th Street, residents can purchase a three bedroom, two and a half bath townhouse just a few blocks away from Central Park. With three floors of living space, a chef’s kitchen, and a landscaped garden, this home is perfect for a New York socialite or family.
- 227 Edgecombe Avenue is a pre-war townhouse that has been split up into rental units. These units have updated appliances, natural light, and a quick commute to midtown on the A, C, B, or D lines.
Is a townhouse right for you?
Townhouses offer the “best of both worlds” when it comes to owning real estate without the maintenance or steep price of a single-family home. Townhouses are often owned by the resident, allowing residents to make the space their own and even renovate as they please. For those willing to compromise on outdoor space, square footage, and noise pollution, townhouses can provide amenities, community, and affordable prices. If you dream of the homes in movies like Notting Hill or of a beautiful Brooklyn brownstone, a townhouse could be the perfect fit for you.