You’re finally ready to own a home, but what you choose should reflect your lifestyle.
So, you’ve decided to leave the ranks of renters and finally become a homeowner. What will it be: a house or a condo?
The classic American dream involves a single-family home, usually with a white picket fence (though those are kind of out of fashion these days). In many people’s minds, condominiums are for downtown city dwellers, childless young couples and singles, or retired folks who don’t want the hassles of exterior maintenance.
In today’s weak housing market a condo purchase can be particularly risky. Historically, condos have not appreciated quite as fast as single-family homes, and the condo market tends to be more volatile. In some markets, condo vacancies rates are very high and threatening to go higher. Not only does that depress prices, it forces condo associations to jack up fees, as there are fewer owners to share the exterior-maintenance costs.
But if both types of homes are available in the community you want to live in, the choice between a condo and single-family home is mainly a lifestyle issue. What are the pros and cons of each?
A single-family home would be all yours in the truest sense (ignoring the fact that any home with a mortgage really belongs to the bank). If you want to change the color, you can probably do whatever you like, within broad boundaries set by local ordinances to prevent polka dots.
You’ll have some buffer from the neighbors, unless you choose a row house, twin or duplex. That could be nice, since you can’t control who moves in next door.
On the other hand, maintaining all that exterior space is entirely on you. You’ll have to devote time to mowing, raking, sweeping, painting and cleaning the windows -- or pay someone to do it.
With a condo, the neighbors are usually close, and bad ones are a real problem when you consider the long-term commitment you make when you own instead of rent.
There’s typically little or no exterior work to do with a condo, as that’s usually handled by an association to which you pay a monthly fee. You might be allowed to put some flowers in the hallway, but a big vegetable garden would probably be banned.
For many people, a key factor is how they prefer to spend the weekends. If you like to putter and make trips to the home store, a house may be just the thing. If you like to leave town from work on Friday night and get back late Sunday or early Monday, a condo is probably the best choice.