The Actual Difference Between a Condo, Duplex, and Townhome

Couple Viewing Potential New Home With Female Real Estate Agent

As the common saying goes, the home is where the heart is. That is, of course, true, but there’s a lot of different types of places where your heart can sleep at night—and choosing which type of home you target in your next house hunt is a big part of the process.

Most people know intuitively what a house looks like, and most people have an idea of what apartment living is like. But in the middle of those two options are a few different kinds of homes that can be a little confusing: the condo, the townhome, and the duplex.

All three of these types of homes have their own benefits and drawbacks. 

Identifying Features of Condos, Townhomes, and Duplexes

Amy Brown, a realtor at ReeceNichols Real Estate, says that confusion is a common part of the process when clients are looking at condos, townhomes, duplexes, houses, and apartments. “Clients sometimes do need to be taught the distinguishing differences,” she explains. 

Brown says that there are a few key identifying factors that help explain what each of these home types are. Some of the main factors include:

  • Is it a standalone building? If it is, then it’s a house. If it shares at least one wall with another unit, it’s not a house.  
  • How many floors does it have? Condos, like apartments, tend to only be on one floor. If there are stairs involved, that changes the definition.
  • How many units are on the building? If the exterior structure houses many units, those units might be apartments but not duplexes. 
  • Where is the unit entrance? Apartments and condos have a separate building entrance, where duplexes, townhomes, and obviously houses feature discrete entrances.
  • What, exactly, do you own? Owners of houses own the interior and exterior as well as all maintenance, but non-house homes have varying levels of interior and exterior ownership.

What is a Condo?

Condo is short for “condominium,” which roughly translated from Latin means “ownership together.” Brown explains that it’s useful to think of the building as a whole overall and then inwards to the units itself, explaining that “a Condominium is a multi-owner property where each unit has an owner that pays its own taxes and insurance.” 

Generally, a condo has access to a common area within the building or property. To maintain the building, condominium owners charge their condo owners with homeowner’s association dues that cover things like snow removal, roof maintenance, groundskeeping, and the like. 

What’s the Difference Between a Condo and an Apartment?

The primary difference between a condo and an apartment is that condos are available for purchase and apartments are solely available for renting. Condominium bylaws may place restrictions on renting out units, but some condos can be rented. 

What Are Penthouses?

A penthouse is a type of condo or apartment. Penthouses are located on the top floor of a condo or apartment building and tend to be larger and more luxurious than other condos or apartments in the area. Whether or not penthouses can be rented or bought depends on which type of building it’s located in and if the homeowner’s association allows the penthouse to be rented out.

What is a Townhome?

Townhomes are a combination of condo and house, providing some of the best of both worlds. They look and feel like houses and usually have multiple floors—sometimes even a basement—but share at least one wall with another unit owner. Crucially, townhomes feature an exterior entrance directly to your unit and usually lack the same kind of shared spaces that condos and apartments have. 

An important distinction in the townhome vs. condo is due to what, precisely, a unit owner owns. Condo owners only own the interior of their unit (as well as a portion of the shared area). But that’s not the case for town homes. “A townhome owner has control of the interior, exterior and land it sits on,” Brown says. “Townhomes usually have lawn and some exterior maintenance provided through the home associations.”

What is a Duplex?

Duplexes can easily pass for a house until closer inspection. That’s because, as the name suggests, duplexes are two connected units that share one interior wall. They’re functionally just two houses that are simply stuck together. 

Why buy a duplex as opposed to a house? Cost savings are a big reason. “Buying a duplex is a bit more affordable way to get started in home ownership than a single, stand alone house,” Brown states. Some duplex owners actually own both halves of their duplex. This allows them to either rent the other half out for some extra income or to provide space for a loved one who just downsized from a different house or who needs additional care.

Is a Townhome a Duplex?

Duplexes and townhomes share a lot in common. Townhomes are only duplexes if there are only two adjoining units. If there are three or more adjoining units, townhomes are not duplexes. 

However, duplexes can be considered a type of townhome—especially if there is significant maintenance provided by an HOA that includes landscaping, snow removal, and the like. 

Duplex vs. Townhome: Which Should I Pick?

There’s one key differentiator between duplexes and townhomes, and that’s space. “Duplexes usually have more yard space for outdoor activities than townhomes,” Brown points out. “Most of the time, duplexes do not have lawn maintenance provided, and when it’s provided, there are monthly fees to cover the cost. People who want more of their own outdoor space tend to prefer a duplex over a townhouse or condo.”

So even though duplexes can be considered a type of townhouse, they can also be considered a type of single family home—just one that shares a wall with a particularly close neighbor. 

Can You Buy or Rent Condos, Duplexes, and Townhomes?

Yes, you can buy or rent a condo, duplex, or townhome. We’ve already discussed how buying a duplex can be advantageous—but there are benefits to purchasing each three, as Brown says. “The biggest advantage to buying a condo, townhome, or duplex is investing one’s money and being able to re-sell the property in the future.”

But there are specific benefits to buying these three types of homes for certain types of buyers. We’ve already covered why you might want to buy a duplex, and there are similar reasons why you might want to buy a townhome or condo. “A big advantage is being able to ‘lock and leave,’” Brown offers. “Condo and townhome dwellers have lawn maintenance provided for a monthly fee. I find people who travel a lot for work or pleasure like the convenience of having their own home without the lawn maintenance.”

Storage for Condos, Townhomes, and Duplexes Near You

One of the downsides to not purchasing a single-family home is usually storage space. Townhomes and duplexes usually have more storage space than condos, but all three types of homes tend to have less storage space available.

Here at Compass Self Storage, we’re your go-to choice for condo, townhome, and duplex storage space. Rent one of our storage units at our locations across the country at an affordable, month-to-month rate and use our storage space to get into the home of your dreams.