Updated: Jan 29
Residential Building Types
Every country has different living condition and different ways to own residential property. I have lived in China, Canada and America. Most Chinese live in condominiums. Historically, condominiums in China were provided by government owned manufacturers. Nowadays, people purchase their condominiums from private developers. The purchase includes the right to live in the unit for only a certain number of years. There are a wider variety of residential property types available for purchase in Canada and America. People have different property rights according to the form of ownership as described in their purchase deed. People can own their properties forever or sell such rights to their purchaser. Here I will describe the most common property types and rights for residential properties in America for my foreign clients.
The primary residential housing types in America are as follows:
1 Single Family Home
A single family home is built on a single lot, with no shared walls with a neighboring house. Usually, a single family home has its own front, back and side yards. The lot size can be very large, sometimes an acre or more, or it can be relatively small, with only 5 or 10 feet separating houses. You can have your preferred landscape design and patio and courtyard improvements. Depending upon how much yard space you have, you may choose to have a swimming pool or your own vegetable or butterfly garden. Some luxury single family homes may even have a tennis court. The homeowner needs to take care of the yard and all of the home repair and maintenance. Many new single family homes have subdivision restrictions and homeowner association fees, however, some older single family homes do not have any subdivision restrictions or a homeowner association fees. Generally single family homes have a more reliable resale value and more privacy and space in the yard. Most modern communities have amenities, such as exercise facilities, swimming pool and clubhouse and playgrounds, for homeowners to enjoy.
Townhome owners each own their home and lot, but the home is attached to the neighboring home on one or both sides. The townhome, also called an attached home, has one or two walls that are shared with the neighbors. The shared wall is located right on the line separating the two lots. Most townhomes have their own back and front yard. Some townhomes have a detached garage and a beautiful private courtyard between the garage and the house. Some townhomes have an attached garage and may only have a front courtyard and shared back yard. Almost all townhomes have a homeowner association (“HOA”) that maintains and irrigates all of the landscaping (except courtyards) and may also be responsible for maintaining and replacing the shared roofs and maintaining and painting exterior walls and trim. Because of the shared exterior walls and smaller lot sizes, townhomes use less land then single family homes and are less expensive than single family homes. Therefore the cost to build and purchase a townhome is often much less than the cost for a single family home. In some highly sought locations, such as in resorts or very exclusive neighborhoods, developers construct luxury townhomes that have a high price tag, but which may still be less expensive than a single family home in the same location. Generally, townhomes will have higher monthly HOA fees to cover the cost of shared repair and maintenance. Many communities have both townhomes and single family homes that share in the use of community exercise facilities, clubhouse and pool. Because the HOA handles all of the landscape maintenance and all exterior repairs and maintenance, townhomes are very popular for young millennials as well as retirees.
Condominiums are often referred to as condos for short. Generally, condos are in a larger building with multiple units and shared parking facilities and amenities. From the outside, it is hard to tell the difference between a condo and an apartment. Apartments have a single owner that rents out the units to their tenants. For condominiums, each internal unit is owned separately, and the unit owners share in the ownership of the structure and common areas and amenities. The units will share walls and often will be located in multiple story buildings. They also have shared entry ways, recreational facilities and common areas. In addition to maintaining all of the landscaping and shared facilities, the condominium association must also insure, repair and replace the building structure and roof. Usually condominiums have higher monthly fees because of these additional costs. Most Florida condominium buildings have shared swimming pools, exercise facilities and other amenities. Some condominiums have covered garages or parking spaces assigned to each unit. Condos are very popular in urban and high-density downtown areas or in vacation areas like ocean and ski resorts and lake or park areas. Because there is minimal maintenance and repairs for the homeowner, condos are popular for vacation homes and retirees. Because of the close proximity of the units to each other and all of the shared common areas, condo associations often have more pet and rental restrictions and limit remodeling by the unit owners. Because of shared wall and common areas there may be less privacy in some condos.
Cooperatives, in short referred to as co-ops, are very similar to condominiums in ownership structure. However, with a condo, the homeowner owns their own unit, while in a co-op everyone owns the building in shares, with certain shares being allocated to each unit. Co-ops are more popular in major metropolitan areas, especially in the Northeast. Often an interview process and co-op board approval is required before you can be part of the co-op community. Co-op owners are usually responsible for all repairs and maintenance for their units, though they share in repair and maintenance of the structure and common facilities. It is sometimes more difficult to get a loan for a co-op because of all of the additional restrictions. Owning a co-op requires a very strong financial background because you often need to pay a higher down payment than with condos.
5. Multi-Family Home
A multi-family home refers a home which has one owner, but two or more residential units. Generally a multi-family home means a duplex with two units or a four-plex with four units. Each unit has their own separate entry way. Generally, a multi-family home has one individual owner. Many owners decide to live in one unit and rent out the other units for income. Some owners prefer to have other family members live in the other units of their multi-family building. Multi-family units are similar to single family homes, but with less privacy. Oftentimes there is a common yard and patios are either shared or right next to each other. Typically, the owner of a multi-family home is responsible for all the exterior and interior maintenance and repairs for the rentals units, including air conditioning, plumbing and appliances, and bear the loss of income when any of the units are vacant.
Land is an individual lot without any improvements. You can build whatever you like on the land as long as you conform with the zoning restrictions and building codes of the local government and any other recorded restrictions affecting the property.
Villa generally refers to a single family home with luxury gardens or fountain features. Villas can often be luxurious, larger homes with their own gardens, vineyards or courtyards, hotel-like services and water features, like pools and fountains. Because of this, villas are known as more private, elegant vacation homes. Because a villa has elaborate gardens and water features, it often costs more to maintain the property and the property taxes and insurance for villas are usually higher than the costs for regular single family homes.