The world of residential real estate is huge -- if you're in the market to buy a home, it could get a bit confusing. Let's take a look at the five main forms that a non-rental home may take and try to sort out the differences:
When most of us talk about a house, we're referring to a free-standing, single-family residence. There is also such thing as a duplex house -- a free-standing structure divided into two, connected, single-family units.
The main defining characteristic of a house, besides its free-standing nature, is the breadth of ownership responsibility taken on by the buyer. The owner of a house owns the building itself, as well as the land, and is responsible for all upkeep associated with those areas, including lawn and landscape maintenance, painting, repairs and real estate taxes.
Sometimes, houses may be grouped together in a definite community that has shared spaces, such as a pool or playground. These home owners pay a fee to a home owners' association, which maintains the shared spaces and may provide such services as lawn care, landscaping, and security. The home owners' association sets rules and regulations for the community, some even pertaining to the aesthetic appearance of the houses.
A townhouse is like a house in that the owner owns both the structure and the land on which it sits; but it is not free-standing, so "the land on which it sits" is limited to the front and back yards. Townhouses are connected to one another in a row, and are usually two or three stories tall. They share many of the characteristics of condominiums.
Condominiums, Cooperatives, Mobile Homes
Like townhouses, condominiums are attached to one another. If you own a condo, you do not own the land surrounding your living space. A condo owner owns only the unit itself, which is taxed as an individual entity, and sometimes a percentage of the common areas of the community. Condo communities may provide such shared facilities as a pool, gym, tennis courts and clubhouse, all maintained by the condo association, which takes care of all day-to-day management tasks. This is one of the key advantages of condo living -- all of the joy of using the amenities, none of the hassles of maintaining them. Condominium owners pay a monthly fee to the condo association, which also sets the rules for the community.
The main difference between condominiums and cooperatives lies in the specifics of ownership: if you own a co-op, you do not own the unit itself. Instead, you own a share in the cooperative corporation. This share gives you sole right to your living space, but it does not give you ownership of it. For this reason, your real estate taxes may be covered by your co-op membership, because the building is taxed as a whole. Co-op members pay a monthly fee to the corporation, which, like the condo association, maintains the building and all shared spaces and handles daily management tasks. A co-op is generally stricter about screening prospective buyers and has more say in the handling of your own unit. Also, a co-op may be more difficult to finance than a condominium, because co-op corporations may only deal with certain banks.
The clear distinguishing characteristic of a mobile home is that it is, obviously, mobile. Mobile homes are sometimes called manufactured homes. Buying a mobile home is similar to buying a car -- sales tax applies, and you receive a title of ownership. Mobile homes, unlike other forms of housing, depreciate in value, as cars do. If you are using your mobile home on the road, it is, in the eyes of the law, a car. But if you settle in a mobile home park, your mobile home turns into a house. Land ownership is handled differently in different parks: In some you must buy the lot for your home; in others you can lease instead of buy it; and in others you don't buy the land at all, but instead purchase a share in a corporation, much like buying a co-op. Property taxes are handled in various ways based on these distinctions. Like condo communities, co-op buildings and townhomes, mobile home parks have rules that must be followed by the residents.
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