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Townhouses vs Apartments: What's the Difference?

By: Susan Finch and Davina Ward
July 27, 2021

You're ready to expand your horizons, move into a bigger space, and build a future in a brand-new home. But what's the difference between the listings for all of the apartments, condos, and townhouses? 

What is a Townhouse?

Townhouses, also called townhomes, aren't new. They’ve been around for centuries. As the name implies, townhouses are usually in town or residential areas of a city nearby a walkable area. 

They can be cozy to oversized with multiple stories. Smaller townhouses may have a kitchen and common area on the first floor, followed by bedrooms upstairs. 

It's also common to have an office or room on the first floor. Then, some have a shared space and kitchen on the second floor. You’ll sometimes find multiple bedrooms on the top floor. 

Depending on your townhouse community, you may also have an onsite garden, pool, fitness center, and other amenities. 

People often overlook these units in favor of single-family homes or modern condos. However, they’re seeing a resurgence in the marketplace as there’s a demand for convenient, low-maintenance dwellings.

Who is a Townhome Ideal for?

Townhouses are ideal for anyone looking to upgrade to a larger space. These dwellings are also increasingly popular with families looking for more amenities without the upkeep. 

Some townhouses even have their own enclosed yards or patios. Those offer more flexibility for kids.

Apartments are usually smaller and offer flexible floor designs. You can opt for multiple bedrooms to bunk with roommates. You can also choose between a studio or efficiency apartment to live solo while keeping costs low.

Modern apartment complexes usually feature the best amenities. Those include rooftop balconies, pools, and onsite parking. They may also include fitness centers, entertainment areas, and more.

Differences Between Townhouses and Apartments

There are some critical differences between townhouses and apartments. Those may impact your rental experience. 

Owners usually are the ones who rent out townhomes.  A property management company usually rents out apartments. 

Sometimes, townhouse owners will employ a property manager. That person deals with finding tenants and keeping up the home.

You may notice some units are listed as apartments and others as condos. Condos typically look like an apartment. However, a resident often owns them. They’re therefore your landlord. 

Apartments are rental units. Like townhome communities, condos also rely on HOA fees to fix standard amenities.

Townhouses also offer a layout that's similar to a single-family home. They have multiple stories and a larger layout. A bigger floor plan also means townhouses are usually more expensive than a one-story, cozier apartment. 

Pros and Cons of Renting a Townhouse

Before making a decision, make sure you understand the pros and cons of renting a townhouse.

Pro #1: More space

Townhouses are ideal for expanding your space without committing to a single-family home. It's common to find garages, balconies, patios, and small yards in townhouse communities.

Pro #2: Cheaper than renting/buying a single-family home

Housing shortages and skyrocketing price tags make it challenging to transition from apartment renter to townhouse owner. It's usually less expensive to rent or buy a townhouse than a single-family home.

Pro #3: Amenities

Townhouses are typically part of a large development. They often have great amenities. You get the best of both worlds with a townhouse. Just like apartment complexes, the townhouse developments often feature fitness centers, swimming pools, and other upscale amenities.

Con #1: Privacy

Townhouses are typically more private than apartments. However, they’re less private than single-family homes. It's the norm to share walls, yards, and amenities with your neighbors.

Con #2: Location

Some townhouse communities are in residential areas within a city. However, they’re usually in a suburban setting. It's easy to find condos and apartments right in the middle of downtown and dense urban areas.

Con #3: HOA Fees are standard

A townhouse development relies on HOA fees to keep up with landscaping and maintaining common areas. However, having an HOA also means you’ll need to follow specific rules. Those may include not painting your townhouse bright purple and adhering to their standards.

How to Find a Townhouse?

Finding a townhouse isn’t too difficult if you know where to start! Here are some steps to take to help you find the townhouse of your dreams.

Determine Your Budget

Apartment budgeting requires you to take a hard look at your finances and determine what you can afford to pay in rent. You can use our rent calculator to help you determine how much you can afford to pay.

If you prefer to calculate the numbers yourself, you can create a budget using the 30% rule. This rule states that you should spend no more than 30% of your monthly pre-tax income on rent.

In action, this rule helps to ensure that an individual isn’t rent burdened. That said, the 30% rule is not a fool-proof method, as it doesn’t cover unique financial situations.

The best way to ensure that you come up with an accurate budget is to monitor your income and spending via budgeting apps.

Set Your Apartment Priorities

When you’re looking for a townhouse, be sure to choose one that meets all your preferences. You can be a little selfish here!

If your must-have apartment amenities include an on-site gym and sauna, then be sure to put that on your list.

Even if you have less luxurious needs, like nearby access to public transit stops or a dishwasher, it’s important to ensure that you determine your needs early-on.

In doing so, you can narrow down your choices during your search and close in on the townhouse of your dreams..

Consider Your Commute Time

Commute time is a major consideration for many renters. No one wants to slog through a two-hour commute twice a day. Though there is a class of super-commuters who do this daily!

That said, consider your commute time and transportation method when choosing a townhouse. Aim for a shorter simple commute, whenever possible.

Unless you’re a remote worker, then your aim should be to find a townhouse in one of the best cities for remote workers.

Prepare for Townhouse Tours

Of course, when touring a townhouse, it’s essential to gather information about the property’s condition to ensure that you are moving into a good home. However, that’s not the only concern you should have when preparing for an apartment tour.

When touring a townhouse there are many questions you should ask. If you choose to start with the most important ones, ask about your prospective neighbors.

Townhouses share walls, much like those units within an apartment complex. As a result, your neighbors’ behaviors and lifestyles are much more likely to affect you.

If you have concerns about noises such as dogs barking, babies crying, loud music playing, or anything else that may warrant a noise complaint, it’s best to ask about these issues upfront.

Applying for Your Townhouse

The apartment application process can be different depending on your landlord or property manager’s practices.

However, the application process is generally straightforward and just requires you to provide a landlord or property manager with all the relevant information they need to determine whether you would be a good fit for the townhouse.

In addition to completing the application, you’ll need to provide information that confirms your identity, income, current position, rental history, and your consent to a background or credit check. You’ll likely be asked to provide references, as well.

You may be asked to pay a small fee when you submit your application, so be prepared to shell out up to $50.

Protect Yourself from Rental Scams

Rental fraud is costly! It’s a scam that costs unwitting renters $5.2 million per year. Worse yet, a third of renters who fall prey to rental fraud lost over $1,000 to the scheme.

That’s why it’s essential to know how to spot and avoid rental scams, these skills will help ensure that you don’t fall prey to fraudsters.

Start with the simple steps — avoid paying in cash or using wire transfer services, do your due diligence, and always verify an apartment’s validity before moving forward in the application process.

How to Find Cheap Townhouses

As townhouses are generally located in the heart of major cities and near many amenities, there is usually a good amount of competition for them, which is why they are more expensive. In short, it can be challenging to find an affordable townhouse.

That said, if you are looking during the right time of year and catch a move-in special, you may be able to save big on rent or snag a free month.

If you’re really looking for savings and don’t mind sharing your space, then a roommate is the way to go. If you split rent with a roommate, you’ll only be responsible for paying half the cost of rent.

When’s the Best Time to Rent Townhouses?

The best time to rent an apartment depends on your needs and preferences. As the rental industry experiences significant changes to its supply and demand throughout the year, it’s important to clarify your goals before moving forward with your apartment hunt.

If you are searching for an affordable unit, it’s best to start your search during December and January. During these winter months, rent rates are at their lowest, as interest in renting and moving wane.

If price is less of a concern, and you prefer to browse the most options, then start your hunt in the summer months.

Move-outs are higher during this time of year, starting in March and reaching a peak in August. There will be more rentals to choose from during this time of year.

In short, taking advantage of the seasonality of the rental industry can land you the townhouse of your dreams.

Which is Better for Me, a Townhouse or an Apartment?

Townhouses and apartments are both solid choices for renters. Focus on what's essential to you. If enjoying more space to spread out in a quieter setting with great amenities is vital to your comfort, a townhouse is a great choice.

An apartment or condo is likely the better choice if you crave living in the middle of the action. They’re also a great choice if you’re comfortable in a smaller space and want top-notch amenities. 

Whichever option you choose, get to know your new neighborhood before you commit. Try to chat with a few neighbors before you sign a lease. The backdrop of your new lifestyle will help you decide if you've found your new home.

Ready to find your new home? Just start our quiz!

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Susan Finch is a freelance writer and content manager focusing on local experiences, travel, and anything relating to really good food and craft brews. Her work has appeared in travel guidebooks and national magazines and newspapers. Read More
Davina Ward is a contributing author at Apartment List and freelance writer specializing in real estate and digital marketing. She received her B. Read More
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