First, let’s all agree that a townhome usually has at least two stories, but you can have a “ranch style townhome” or “rambler style townhome”. Usually there is no one over or under you in a townhome, except sometimes, like in Sixty-01, they occasionally stuff a condo under the two story townhome. In the Seattle area a townhome usually has a garage on the first level, main living areas on the second level and bedrooms on the third level. When there is a view involved, especially a water view, it is better to but the main living areas at the top and the bedrooms on the lower levels.
But why is a townhome sometimes a condominium, and sometimes a single family dwelling? Why is it sometimes a single family dwelling when it is attached to other townhomes, and sometimes a condominium when it is not attached at all?
The phrase townhome was coined by the real estate industry to “upgrade” the term rowhome. Many major cities, like my Philadelphia, have had rowhomes for over a hundred years. As many as twenty five all attached together with no break until you get to the “end of row” or “breezeway”. When builders started building attached dwellings out in the suburbs, they didn’t want to call them “rowhomes” and so came up with the term “townhomes”. Very upscale areas started calling their rowhomes, townhomes, and so the term was created and expanded.
Very simply, if you own the land under the townhome all by yourself, meaning the lots are subdivided at every shared wall from the front of the lot to the back of the lot, then it is a single family townhome or “single family attached”, much like the original “rowhome”.
[photopress:townhomes.jpg,thumb,alignright]If the lot is not subdivided and you build two or more separately owned structures on one lot, whether they are attached or not, they are condominiums. As far as I know, condominiums are always built on land that is shared and not subdivided per each individual owner. So if you put two separate houses on one lot and sell them to two different people, they are condominium townhomes. If you attach 25 homes in a row, but subdivide the lots so that they own their front yard and back yard and the land under their house, they are single family dwellings.
I always say, when you are sitting in your house, if you own the land under your butt all by yourself, it is a single family dwelling. If the land under your butt is jointly owned with other people, then it is a condominium 🙂