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Help out a property virgin!

I know, so off topic! Sorry!


First time homebuyer here! Hubby and I are weighing the pros and cons of living in single family homes vs townhouses.


So much of the idea of a townhouse fits our lifestyle. Hubby works for Dept of Transportation, and is working around the clock many days at a time during the winter. The idea of having neighbors close by helps me feel safe if an emergency arises. But I have this irrational (maybe?) fear that we will have a fire, or the adjacent home will catch on fire, and we won't be home to save our dogs.


I realize that this can happen in single family homes, too, but I am convinced there's more risk in townhouses.


I just need you ladies to chime in about what you love or hate about single family homes vs townhouses. If you have any words of wisdom when it comes to one being safer than the other, please let me know.


Thank youuuuuu!

Re: Help out a property virgin!

It sounds like your pros and cons can be applied to either type of dwelling - talk to realtor - some areas townhouses sell better than others - for your dogs, whichever you choose, having a GPS chip put in them, not a micro chip, and make sure they have a doggy door - they will escape that way.


I had a townhome in Chicago and it was fine for that time in my life. Have owned a home ever since and i love that it is mine free and clear. I can do whatever i want inside and out. I do have an alarm system and keep a .9mm handy, and i am in a "good" neighborhood.


You two will decide what is best for you. Good luck and enjoy your new place!

Re: Help out a property virgin!

One quick note on the perceived fire risk on a townhome- it really depends on the age of construction, materials, and code at that time.  Pro tip: If you can hear the next door neighbors just living normally while going on a house tour, it's probably not fantastic construction.


One of the things that people don't usually consider when looking at location is proximity to emergency services, but if you're truly worried about fire risk, you may feel more comfortable living within a short distance of a fire station.


Here are several questions you need to ask yourself when debating between townhouse vs SFH:


  • What is my tolerance for my neighbors?
  • How active of a HOA am I comfortable with? (Note: this applies for both, but in general, a HOA may be more involved in a townhome scenario because of the common parking areas, etc)
  • How much home maintenance am I comfortable with? How big of a lot do I really want? And what do I plan to do with my lot? (ie, are you an avid gardener?)
  • How long do I plan to stay in this home?
  • How ok am I with stairs?  Do I have any possible elder long-term care concerns? (ie an elderly parent coming to live with you that can't handle a multi-level home) Do I have any nagging injuries that may make stairs an issue? (For instance, one of the reasons I bought my condo is that it's on ground level- I'm close to needing major knee surgery that would leave me off my feet for 9+ months of rehab. I didn't want to deal with stairs.)


In general, you're going to get a lot more privacy in a SFH situation, but the costs may be much higher as well.

Re: Help out a property virgin!

It may be the wrong season, but we can't seem to find a SFH in our price range within a 10 mile radius of hubby's work (required perimeter to report to work).


But, there are new townhouses being built within our search radius and just slightly out of our price range. I am going to look at them tomorrow. They would probably be suitable for us for about 5 years, or the two of us and a future child. We would need something bigger when we decide to have more children.


I need to think about those stairs...

Re: Help out a property virgin!

Something that you probably don't want to hear, but stretching your budget is not a good idea.  Even if the monthly payment is doable at your income, you need to be saving a significant amount of money for home maintenance emergencies. In 18 months, I've replaced an electric heater, been flooded twice, gutted a bathroom, replaced a washer/dryer, and replaced an AC unit.  None of that was flagged in inspection, and I consider those the costs of home ownership.  And in a condo, I'm not responsible for biggies like the roof.


Bottom line, stuff will always be breaking, so you need to have a house contingency fund at all times that's not part of your regular contingency savings.


ETA: The level of savings that has worked for me is an extra mortgage payment every 6 weeks, or 2 payments every 3 months.  I can absorb the sudden death of half of my HVAC unit immediately, for example.

Re: Help out a property virgin!

Hi pinktorridora,


I'm looking to purchase within the next 24 months myself. I'm in a similar situation. While I do like the sense of community that is associated with living in a townhome, the independence and privacy of living in a single family home is appealing too. 


Townhome Pros

-Close to neighbors/others, which is good if you're worried about safety or just any sort of situation for that is nearby. 

-Generally most townhomes provide the perfect amount of space. Not too big. 

-You don't generally have to worry about the exterior upkeep, HOAs take care of that.


Townhome Cons

-Privacy could be an issue.

-You never know what kind of neighbors you'll have. They could be loud, nosey...truly luck of the draw.

-HOA can be kind of weird. So many of my friends are told that they can't have more than 2 cars parked outside of their garage, no wreathes on their exterior painting. Kind of obnoxious...especially if it's your property. 


Single Family Home Pros

-Generally a lot more space.

-Ability to truly customize your home. Paint it green, hot pink, etc etc and no one will care. 

-Can be a better investment over time.

-Usually single family homes have room for growth, rather you decide on having a family or just want to expand a bit. 


Single Family Home Cons

-While there are a lot of safe single family homes, there is still the possibility of you being vulnerable. 

-A lot of individual expenses: garbage, the yard, etc. Individual upkeep costs add up. 


Whimsically yours,

Re: Help out a property virgin!

My husband and I aren't going to buy a place quite yet, but we just spent last week debating whether to rent a house or townhouse. We ended up finding a great place that is kind of in between the two, it's a townhouse complex but only two units stuck together rather than a whole row. Like a bunch of duplexes I suppose. I wonder if something similar might exist in the area you're looking? You could also ask your realtor (if you're using one) about places with brick or concrete in between townhouse units, that might help ease your worries about a fire? 

Re: Help out a property virgin!

A lot of this has already been mentioned, but I'll also chime in.  


On one hand, you are right, there might be more risk of fire in a townhouse if a moron neighbor burns his house down. However I can also see how the flip side could be true. In a single family home, there may be more brush and flammable materials around. Or in a single family house, if you weren't around, a neighbor wouldn't know to call the fire department until there was a huge blaze. In a townhouse, there is the potential that one resident would be home and would call it in early. It's a good question and you could stop by the fire department and ask what they think.


I understand your concern for your pets and I always worry when we travel. The idea of a gps chip and doggie door was great. I guess this only works if you have a fenced in yard. Years ago when I lived in a condo, I had a sticker in my window signifying that I had pets inside to rescue. You could see if the fire department still has those.


I've lived half my life in a townhouse and half in a single family house. I don't like one over the other.. just different.

For me, the worst part of a townhouse is potentially hearing neighbors. But, if it's built well, there shouldn't be a problem.
However, the best part about living in a townhouse was how much safer I felt by having people close by.
If it's a townhouse community that has their own maintenance people, that is really nice. When something goes wrong, there is nothing better than just calling 'the guy'. But, in many communities, it's the same as owning your own home and you are responsible.
There could be more rules and regs in a townhouse community, however in some single family communities, the rules are just as strict, so it's really neighborhood dependent.


In some areas a sfh is a better investment. However, in some cities there isn't a difference.  


One thing that is nice about a townhouse is you can usually buy a nicer townhouse than SFH for the same money.   

Re: Help out a property virgin!

if you decide to move at some point, it will be easier to sell a single family home rather than a townhouse.  One of my sister's friends bought a townhouse some years back, then got married and moved into her husband's home, so she decided to sell her townhouse.  They've since moved into a different house and had no problems selling the previous one, but she still has not been able to sell the townhouse regardless.  Best she can get is she rents it out.  So, being able to sell if you need to is something you need to take into account as well. 


Personally, I love our house because I can be as loud as I want with my music and I don't share any walls with neighbors.  I had WAY too many neighbors that got loud and/or were screamers when they were "busy," if you know what I mean!  NOT what I want to wake up to in the middle of the night.

Re: Help out a property virgin!

If you look at townhouses, make sure you find out if there are any restrictions on pets. I lived in a townhouse community for a few years and there were rules about 1) the size of dogs allowed, 2) the number of pets total, and 3) the breed of dogs allowed. These rules were rather arbitrary - for example, we have an overall pit bull ban in the region where I live, but it wasn't just pit bulls that were not allowed in this particular townhouse complex.


It's true that townhouses have close neighbours, which is handy when you need help, but at the same time, if those neighbours are busybodies, it can get really annoying, really fast!

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