I really wanted to write a blog about Portland area condos, but I got so caught up in defining what a condo is that it became a blog about the difference between all these property types. Stay tuned for another blog about condos. Eventually.
So what is the difference between a condo, a townhouse, an attached home, and a detached home?
This might seem like a silly question, but it can get confusing pretty fast. Especially in Portland. Of course. Because that's how we roll.
All four of these property types are used by the RMLS (the multiple listing service used by Realtors in Portland and most surrounding areas) so you will see them when you look at listings.
Edit: I mention HOAs several times in this article. For clarification, any property type can have an HOA but what the HOA fee covers varies widely.
Condominium: An individual unit of residence that is part of a complex (low-rise, mid-rise, or high-rise). A condo usually shares various walls with other units. They are often single level but there are plenty of multi-level options, too. When sold, a buyer would purchase ownership of the individual unit along with a percentage of the surrounding "common" property.
The owners together form a "Homeowner's Association" (HOA). This association is responsible for the maintenance of the property (or they are responsible for overseeing a property management company that is hired to maintain the complex). The HOA also enforces the CC&Rs (Covenants, Conditions, and Restrictions) along with any other rules or bylaws.
Typically, the homeowner is responsible for HOA "dues" which are usually paid on a monthly basis. The amount paid is usually determined by percentage of ownership (often based on the size of the unit) and agreement of the HOA board. These dues cover a variety of necessary and optional items. For example: management, maintenance, common areas, and landscaping are often covered by HOA dues. Sometimes, HOA dues also cover basic utilities like water, sewer, garbage, and even internet service.
There should be a "reserve fund" and a detailed schedule that allocates funds for the maintenance of the complex over time. The health of this fund should be an important factor when choosing to purchase a specific condo.
Townhouse: These are similar to condos with the notable exception that ownership will usually include the roof and the land underneath the home. There are still shared walls* and common areas. There will usually be an HOA and monthly dues that go to the maintenance of those common areas. Townhouses are often multi-level (in Portland most commonly tri-level), have individual outside entrances, and can include attached garages and backyards.
Townhouse style condo: This ridiculously confusing property type is becoming more popular in Portland. They look like townhouses (multi-level, outside entrance, garages, outdoor spaces, etc.) but the ownership interest makes them a condominium. A buyer would not own the land or roof and instead purchases the individual unit along with a percentage of the common property.
So, a townhouse style condo is still just a condo. It just happens to look more like a townhouse. (The "townhouse style condo" property type isn't actually an option in the RMLS but you'll see the moniker often enough that it's worth pointing out.)
Attached home: While this extremely generic classification exists in the RMLS, it doesn't specifically tell us much outside of indicating that the home shares at least one wall. Some people have begun using this property type to refer to townhouse style condos, but I've also seen it used for condos and townhouses. In my thinking, "attached" is a generic term used when a Realtor either isn't sure what the property technically is or the property exists somewhere between the classifications. More often than not, they will have an HOA.
Detached home: This is exactly what it sounds like but we'll make it a little confusing anyway... A standard single family residence with no shared walls is a detached home. Ownership includes the land and all of the house. They usually have at least a little bit of a yard that is cared for by the homeowner. They may be part of an HOA that takes care of common areas. (HOAs also may have restrictive bylaws that prevent owners from making certain modifications to the property. Sometimes, especially with newer developments, the HOA may take care of the postage stamp sized front yard.)
*Just to throw a wrench in the definition... sometimes you'll see a detached home classified as a townhouse. If a townhouse is detached (shares no common walls) and ownership includes the house, the roof, and the land... then why would anyone call it a townhouse? The Realtor may be referring to it as a townhouse more for the look and feel of the home than because of how the ownership interest is handled. Technically, it should be listed as a detached home.
So how do you tell if a home is a condo, townhouse, attached, or detached?
Ask your Realtor. While you can probably find the property type on Redfin, Zillow, or the RMLS, these can often be inaccurate.
Are you officially confused?
That's okay, just contact me or fill out the form below. We'll chuck the definitions and find something cool!