So you’ve decided to become a property owner. Congratulations! Now it’s time to start making some very big decisions. Not the least of which involve deciding which kind of property to buy. If you’re reading this, you’ve probably ruled out buying a condo. Buying a townhouse or a detached home are the basically the only other options. Both have their pros and cons. What may be right for you, may not be right for someone else. Here, we’ll run down the different considerations you’ll need to keep in mind when making this decision so you can make the best decision for you and your family.
First let’s go over the basics of what defines a townhouse vs what defines a detached home. Townhouses are single family homes which are narrower and consist of multiple floors. They tend to share a wall or walls with other townhouses. Unlike apartments, they have their own outside door. Townhouses are typically located on a plot of land communally owned by other townhouse owners. They may include common areas such as playgrounds, or clubhouses. In contrast, detached homes exist on their own plot of land, and share no walls with other homes or buildings.
So which one is right for you? That, of course, depends on your values and what you want out of a home. So now we’re going to go item by item to tell you what the better buy for you is going to be: Townhouse or single-family home?
Proximity to the City
Commuting to the city sucks. That’s not up for debate. It doesn’t matter what city we’re talking about. The nature of urban life is such that driving in and out of the city during rush hour periods will suck up several hours of your week as you wait for traffic to inch along in and out of the urban core. Burnaby is no exception.
So what can you do about it? You can move into a townhouse for a start. Townhouses are traditionally built closer to city centres. They are called townhouses for a reason. That is, they are houses, built in town. As townhouses are basically a compromise between single family homes and downtown condos, their proximity to city centres reflects their place on the sliding scale of size and density. They tend to be closer than detached homes, but further away than condos.
It is true that single family homes may be placed just as closely to downtown districts as townhouses. However, such houses tend to be astronomically expensive. So if you want to be suitably close to your job and amenities offered by the big city without breaking the bank, a townhouse might be the right buy for you.
Privacy is something you will likely have to give up a little of if you are set on moving into a townhouse. This isn’t a consideration to take lightly. If you move into a townhouse, you’re going to be sharing a wall with another family. You’re likely going to be sharing a front yard with a bunch of neighbours. You’re basically going to be living a lot closer to other people than you would if you were in a detached home. So now it’s time to ask yourself some tough questions.
Do you enjoy interacting with other people? Are you a light sleeper? Are you easily annoyed by noises or distractions?
It’s not just your own comfort you need to be worried about either. You also have to wonder how easy you are to be around as well.
Do you enjoy practicing any musical instruments? You may be able to get away with noodling around on acoustic guitar in your townhome but forget about refining your skills on your acoustic drumset or getting the band together for a jam session. Think about what other aspects of your lifestyle might cause conflict in the context of close proximity living. If you see yourself having to give up too many beloved noisy activities or being bothered by the activities of others, a townhome may not be for you, and you’re going to want to go the detached home route.
You might be giddy about the idea of dressing up and customizing your new digs in exactly the way you see fit if you are about to buy your first home. And while local bylaws are the only thing standing in your way if you are moving into a detached home, prospective townhome dwellers may need to temper their expectations a bit.
You’re probably already aware that you can’t just tear down your townhome and build whatever you want once you buy the place. But you may be disappointed to learn that even the colour of exterior paint you use and the size of your pets may not be completely under your control. That’s because townhouse owners often have to enter into a strata agreement. These dictate all kinds of things you can and cannot do with your property. Sorry if you were hoping to let your freak-flag fly once you moved into that new townhome of yours.
That’s not to say you should necessarily look at strata agreements as a terrible drawback. They exist for a reason. Most townhome dwellers will tell you they are glad for the most part that they are in place. Such agreements help to maintain the property around the condo so they are kept clean, useful and livable for everyone. They keep property values high and everything looking nice. After all, you probably wouldn’t want the guy you share a wall with to have a scrap heap of old cars piled up in his driveway. And you wouldn’t want the lady across the lane from you to have her massive collection of wind chimes out in full force morning, noon and night. These agreements are simply a way of keeping order in such a densely populated community.
You probably won’t be surprised to find that the average price for detached homes is well above that of townhomes. As of June 2016, the benchmark price of a detached home in metro Vancouver rose to $1.5 million. Meanwhile the average price of townhomes approached $630,000.
But those aren’t the only numbers to consider when deciding whether to buy a townhome vs a detached home. Remember that strata I mentioned earlier? That costs money. This money is used to cover maintenance costs and upkeep of the property, like the courtyard and the other amenities common among townhome complexes. So no matter what type of property you live in, there is no escaping the dreaded maintenance costs.
Another thing to keep in mind is land appreciation. It is no secret that greater Vancouver area detached homes have appreciated at an astronomical rate over the last 10 years. Have townhomes kept pace with this rapid growth? Not quite. It is only until around 2014 when condos and townhomes began their ascent as part of Vancouver’s red hot housing market. We caution you against making decisions based on the expectation that the housing market will work in your favour. However, keeping general trends like this in mind is a good thing to do when making such a big financial investment.
And just a quick final note on the financial aspect where detached homes are concerned: remember you will often be able to rent out a basement suite or some other room in the house to make some extra money with a detached home. This is not an opportunity available to those living in townhomes.
Here’s the flipside to the loss of privacy you suffer when purchasing a townhome rather than a detached home. When you purchase a townhome, you are buying membership into a much closer knit community than one you might be joining when you live in a detached home. Townhome dwellers are more likely to know their neighbours. They’re more likely to have a closer network of people they can rely on for help in the case of an emergency if you live in a townhouse. They can also put more confidence in their neighbours to look out for them if their house is getting broken into. The social aspect is also a big plus as some townhome complexes enjoy their own versions of block parties and other social events.
There is no reason why you can’t have these things in a detached home. It all depends on the neighbourhood you move into, and how friendly you are to your neighbours. However, they come much easier in a townhome situation.
The upkeep and maintenance side of the equation is very different based on whether you are in a detached home or a townhouse. The benefits of townhome ownership here are that you don’t really have to do any outside maintenance yourself. Landscaping, painting, roofing etc, is all taken care of (for a strata fee, of course). So if all you want to do on weekends is sleep in and the thought of having to pull weeds and mow a lawn depresses you, then maybe townhouse life is for you. But for some, there is a certain pride and satisfaction that comes from taking care of one’s lawn and performing typical handyman tasks. Y’know, those Hank Hill types. And for them, detached home ownership is definitely the way to go.
A clubhouse, a pool and a tennis court are typically things only the wealthiest people could ever dream of having on their property. But townhouse ownership makes this a reality for the many who could otherwise never afford it.
That being said, the comparison isn’t exactly one to one. With the townhouse situation, you’ll obviously have to share these fabulous items with the rest of the folks on the property. And that means you’ll have to follow certain rules regarding their use. For instance, swimming in the pool naked tends to be a a big no no in many pool usage policies. Townhome owners also need to keep in mind that the cost of maintaining these items ultimately falls on them through regular strata payments. It’s not as though anyone’s getting anything for free.
With detached homes, you can have practically any amenity you want in your back yard, and do anything you want with it, but the cost for it falls squarely on your shoulders. Initial cost, installation, and maintenance? All on you.
One of the most obvious things to consider when deciding between a townhouse and a detached home is size. The average townhouse is considerably smaller than the average detached home. That’s something that should weigh heavily on the minds of anyone thinking of having more than one or two children. Beyond that, townhomes do tend to get a little cramped.
Single-family home or townhouse?
So should you buy a single-family home or a townhouse? As you can see, this is not an easy question to answer. Both options have advantages and disadvantages over the other. It all depends on who you are and what you want out of your property. Hate commuting? Want a big family? Like being around people? Enjoy yard work? Now you know what to consider and what questions to ask yourself before deciding what type of property to buy.