Karla Madrid grew up in a house with a spacious, well-manicured garden that was maintained by her father and occasional hired help.
When it was time for her to buy her own home, she looked at single-family houses and quickly realized that toiling over bushes and grass in the Miami heat was not how she wanted to spend her weekends.
“Knowing myself and my husband, we’d be living in a jungle,” she says.
Instead, she and her husband bought a two-bedroom townhome in Tamarac, just north of Miami. Living in a townhome gave them the space they needed without the hassle of taking care of a big yard.
It also saved them some money. As the price of single-family homes rise, many first-time homebuyers on both East and West coasts find that there are more affordable options when purchasing a residence in townhome or condo communities.
Living in a multifamily community isn’t for everyone. In fact, it’s not even for most people, according to state and federal homebuying statistics. According to those figures, about 78 percent of homebuyers opt for a single-family, stand-alone home. However, multifamily structures are more popular among consumers just entering the real estate market, according to recently released national Association of Home Builders analysis of characteristics of first-time buyers.
Those figures show that almost 11 percent of those consumers bought townhouses and another 11 percent bought condominiums. By comparison, about 88 percent of move-up purchases were single-family, 7 percent were townhouses and 6 percent were condos.
Townhomes and condos are known for having a lower resale value than stand-alone homes and are, as a result, a great buy in the current market. There is a glut of those homes in the market, particularly in suburban areas, and that is keeping prices down. That’s an important factor in today’s sluggish economy, experts say, because increasing numbers of buyers are now searching for homes that are closer to their economic comfort zone.
Jane Law, spokeswoman for the New Hampshire Housing Finance Authority, says it’s hard to advise homebuyers on whether to get a multifamily or single-family home. More than focusing on the potential resale value of their homes, she recommends that they consider their lifestyle when contemplating a purchase.
“Some don’t want to mow the lawn, others want a big garden,” she says.
Single people, retirees or couples without children may prefer the lower cost of townhomes and the fact that they are less likely to be hit with unexpected home maintenance expenses that can crush a budget.
Families with several children or a love of animals or hobbies that emit loud noises should consider an unattached home that offers freedom and privacy.
Some first-time homeowners don’t have a choice, Law says.
“Town homes and condos may be their only choice [because] in some markets they’re priced out of single-family communities,” she says.
Ron Borg, an online mortgage adviser with the Tarpon Springs, Fla.-based Mortgage123.com, says buyers contemplating between the two scenarios should ask themselves how they would deal with maintenance costs. If they’re thrifty and are willing to haggle with a repair person – or even do some of the work themselves – then maybe a single-family home is a good choice. But if they pay on the first quote they receive, then paying a maintenance fee could be a better option.
“The problem with a townhome is that you have to pay the maintenance cost and you don’t always know if it could rise considerably from one year to the next,” he says.
Madrid says a town home is definitely a lifestyle choice more than one related to affordability. She likes the sense of community that she feels when neighbors share smaller spaces and common areas. And she likes spending her weekends cleaning a home that’s manageable and then relaxing.
“I never want to spend my weekends taking care of my home,” she says. “I don’t have that problem now.”
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