A Condominium or a Single-Family Home: What Type of Dwelling is Right For You?
by Ruby Bayan
Homeownership has been determined as the key to wealth in the American economy. According to the Harvard University's Joint Center for Housing Studies, in its State of the Nation's Housing 2000 report, Americans are divided into separate and unequal economic societies: those who own homes and those who rent. Homeowners gain unprecedented increases in wealth from the escalating equity values of real estate, which renters never enjoy. So, the question now is, what type of home would you want to own?
Attached or Detached?
The two general types of residences you can choose from are: a detached single-family home or an attached dwelling known as a condominium or townhouse.
When you purchase a detached single-family residence, your exclusive ownership covers the whole property, which includes the structure and the land that it stands on. A fence or boundary separates your property from your neighbors'.
When you buy into an attached residence, i.e., a condominium, your exclusive ownership is confined to the space within the walls, floor, and ceiling of your particular unit. You, however, automatically become a member of the homeowners association, which, as a group, owns the common areas of the condominium complex, including the structure, grounds, parking areas, facilities, and other amenities.
High or Low Maintenance?
One of the basic differences between a detached house and a condo unit is the maintenance of the property. While single-family homeowners have the luxury of private gardens and lawns, landscaping and yard care will have to be part of their lifestyle. Some folks appreciate this, but some don't have the time or inclination to mow the lawn, trim the hedges, or prune the trees. In a condominium dwelling, all the shared property's maintenance is taken care of by the homeowners association and property manager.
The trade-off, of course, is that condominium residents have to pay the homeowner association dues which cover maintenance, insurance, and reserves for major renovations. Detached homeowners, on the other hand, need to have the time, energy, and petty cash for home repairs and grounds upkeep.
Covenants, Conditions, and Restrictions
Another major difference in detached home and condo living is the extent of personal freedom the owner can exercise over the property. Detached homeowners can be as creative and innovative regarding personal effects and activities, while condo owners have to abide by specific conditions on ownership rights. These covenants, conditions, and restrictions (or CC&R), imposed by condominium complex sellers, can implement policies regarding pets, parking, remodeling, and renting.
Other documents pertinent to condo ownership are the by-laws and articles of incorporation of the homeowners association. Financial statements and minutes of recent homeowners association meetings are also important because they give condo owners a good grasp of the extent of limitations, participation, and expectations of the residents of the complex. These concerns are a natural side effect of the shared ownership scenario, which single-family detached homeowners don't have to worry about.
When looking to own a home, whether it's a detached house or a condo unit, the basic issues to consider are the same: design, construction quality, location, neighborhood, and accessibility.
One additional concern for condominium dwellers, however, is the soundproofing. Considered the Number 1 complaint in condo living, soundproofing is the first thing a prospective owner should check. And because units that have the least adjoining neighbors (like those on the first floor, top floor, or far ends of the building) have less problems with the noise level, they usually are the most wanted, and highest priced residences in the complex.
People have different privacy preferences. Some don't mind bumping into neighbors in hallways and elevators. Others prefer the isolation and seclusion of private driveways, garages, and backyards. These inclinations and preferences, therefore, weigh in on which type of home is the better option.
Improving greatly from its not-too-good reputation in the 80s, condominium communities have now become as profitable as single-family homes in terms of investment. Detached residences have always been the preferred investment by homeowners but the recent popularity of condo living among first-time buyers, empty nesters, and retirees, has prompted condominiums to appreciate favorably in many residential areas.
Condo developers have become more diligent with construction; associations have become savvier with property management and in handling disputes and legal issues; and more buyers are getting attracted to the low-maintenance lifestyle of condo living.
The decision to purchase a condo or a single-family house, therefore, rests on your taste, priorities, budget, and lifestyle preferences. Investing in a dream home, whether it's a sprawling house with a picket fence and a manicured lawn, or a pristine penthouse condominium unit overlooking the lake, can indeed be a unique and challenging, yet enjoyable, experience.
[First published at New2USA.com, 2000]