For some homebuyers, it can be a tough choice between a townhouse, which offers freedom from the demands of upkeep, and the classical suburban house with four walls of its own and an expansive yard where kids and dogs can romp.
As American families become more diverse in makeup, fewer homebuyers are guided by tradition, according to Mary McCall, a veteran real estate broker and president of the Council of Residential Specialists (www.crs.com).
Often, the decision as to whether to choose a townhouse or a detached property comes down to the age of the homebuyers.
"Many buyers in their 20s and 30s are now more comfortable living in dense urban settings where their only housing choices are condos or townhouses. Meanwhile, many mid-life people, including those with school-age kids, still want conventional suburban houses with big yards," McCall says.
By the time they reach age 60, more buyers are attracted to the advantages of low maintenance than to spacious grounds. They may not be ready to accept life in an apartment complex, but they figure a townhouse is a good compromise between a detached house and an apartment.
Are you debating the pros and cons of a townhouse versus a detached, single-family property? If so, these pointers could be helpful.
-- Let location trump housing style when choosing a property.
The notion that location is more important than other factors has been conventional wisdom in the real estate field for decades and remains true, says Eric Tyson, a personal finance expert and co-author of "Home Buying for Dummies."
As Tyson defines it, a top location is not only one with a prestige ZIP code but also with low crime, access to high-quality public schools and proximity to such valued amenities as parks, movie theaters and fine restaurants.
Even purchasers who'd greatly prefer a detached house may settle for a townhouse if that lets them live in a neighborhood they couldn't otherwise afford. And Tyson says a townhouse in a top-flight community is generally a better investment than a detached house in a lesser neighborhood.
But what if you're focused on future appreciation?
In that case, your odds of the property gaining value are typically better with the detached house than the townhouse, according to Tyson.
"The reason to opt for the detached house is that it will have more land around it. And over time, the land should appreciate much more than the structure on that land," he says.
-- Seek out a bright, open townhouse.
Some homebuyers, especially those who grew up in a detached house, fear they'll feel cramped in a townhouse, and understandably so. That's because many older townhouses are narrow from side to side and deep from front to back.
But the good news is that many newer townhouses are proportioned differently, with wider rooms, large windows and high ceilings. Tyson says nearly all homebuyers prefer living in a property with an open, airy feeling.
But he says those planning to buy a townhouse with wide rooms should remember that their energy bills will likely be higher than for a place with narrower rooms and the insulation benefits of side-by-side living in an older townhouse.
-- Factor parking into your home-buying decision.
Obviously, anyone buying into a townhouse community is necessarily purchasing some degree of collective living, as well as some level of shared parking. Granted, you might have a garage or one to two reserved parking spots. But chances are you'll be sharing overflow parking with other owners.
Tom Early, a real estate broker who was twice president of the National Association of Exclusive Buyer Agents (www.naeba.org), says competition for parking spaces can be a major source of annoyance for townhouse owners.
He recommends that would-be townhouse buyers ask residents living there if there's sufficient parking for their guests.
"Conflicts among residents over parking can be a huge headache and a source of big-time distress. You need to think through whether or not you can handle this potential problem," Early says.
-- Seek housing in an area where residents are friendly.
Due to common ownership of grounds and facilities, residents of nearly all townhouse communities are bound together through membership in a residents' association. As Early says, the quality of interaction in that group can make a significant difference for the property owners there.
Members of a smoothly run association work together and set aside money for big-ticket outlays that their jointly owned property will require in the future.
"Check the minutes of the last three association meetings to make sure there's money set aside to cover major repair costs, like a new roof or the overhaul of the community pool. Otherwise one day you could be startled to learn you've been hit with a monstrous 'special assessment' for a lot of expensive work," Early says.
(To contact Ellen James Martin, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.)