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Questions to Ask When Buying a Townhome

Getting a first-rate townhome means doing your due diligence.

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If you want to buy a house but worry about keeping up with a big yard, you may have thought about buying a townhome. Townhomes, like condos and co-ops, are CIDs, or common interest developments. In a CID, neighbors share more than just a street name – their properties are entwined as well. But unlike the more strictly governed condos and co-ops, the word "townhome" denotes more of an architectural style than anything else.

That architectural style can manifest in a few different ways depending on the region you live in, but the most common physical feature associated with townhomes, also frequently referred to as townhouses or row houses, is that they share a common wall – but not ceilings and floors – with neighboring dwellings. Instead of side yards, townhomes have what is commonly called a "party wall" that runs the length of the house. They also often share a stretch of rooftop with adjacent properties.

Like condos, townhomes are generally owned, not rented. And those owners are typically bound by some basic agreements. For example, if someone owns a unit smack in the middle of a row of townhouses, they can't simply raze the residence and rebuild a smaller, detached house that better strikes their fancy. The owners of the adjacent townhomes have what are known as easement rights. That means that while they don't own their neighbor's half of the party wall, they do have certain rights where it's concerned – and that includes its demolition, which would damage the integrity of their own portion of the wall. The same often goes for stuff like fences and driveways. But unlike condo owners, whose property maintenance is usually covered by association fees, owners of townhomes are obliged to care for the upkeep of the exterior of their homes. So in a way, living in a townhome combines condo living with single dwelling living.

If you're thinking of buying a townhome, you'll need to get a good gauge of the neighborhood, taking a look at everything from crime statistics to tax rates, from schools to accessibility to public transportation, just like you would with any other property. But there are also a few questions specific to townhomes that you should ask before buying one.

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