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While both a duplex and townhouse are good options for first-time homebuyers, they have some key differences. At the most basic level, a duplex is two separate living spaces in one lot, while a townhouse is one living unit along a row of similar houses.
Offering the benefits of homeownership, without some of the responsibilities and space of a single-family home, duplexes and townhouses provide prospective buyers an affordable path to homeownership.
Home and car insurance app Jerry has created this guide to help you figure out if a duplex or a townhouse is best for you. Read on to explore the main differences between the two and the pros and cons of each.
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What is the difference between a duplex and a townhouse?
While both a duplex and a townhouse are often good for first-time buyers because of affordability, they differ in rental opportunities, the presence of a homeowners association, and issues of privacy.
Perhaps the main difference between a townhouse and a duplex is the potential to rent out part of your space.
Because there are two separate living spaces, a duplex provides a financial perk as owners can rent out the second unit to tenants. Collecting rent from tenants can help you generate income to pay off your mortgage—which is a great return on investment.
Townhouses typically have one unit, so it is less common for owners to rent out those properties That said, you may be able to rent your townhouse if you plan on living in a secondary location and depending on community rules.
Living communities often fall under the bylaws of a Homeowners Association, which makes and upholds rules for the community. If there is an HOA in a community, all homeowners in the community must join and can vote at meetings.
In general, townhouses are part of an HOA while duplexes are not. If you live in a townhouse, you can expect to pay monthly fees for an HOA, which typically cover the following:
- Maintenance of community facilities like laundry rooms, mailrooms, fitness centers, pools, and other common spaces. This will also cover the salaries of any personnel such as valets or security guards.
- City services are often included in HOA fees, which can help cut down on individual bills. These costs could include utilities, trash and sewage collection, and more.
- Reserve funds for emergencies, such as replacing a plumbing system or investing in new community spaces. New homeowners should verify that their HOA reserve has enough money to cover surprise costs, or they may be on the hook later if the HOA votes to take on a new construction project not covered by reserve funds.
While, HOA fees can be steep, and sometimes members have to make compromises, they cut back on organization and maintenance a homeowner typically has to take care of themself and gives access to community facilities.
On the flip side, as a landlord in a duplex, you will have to cover many of the things that are traditionally covered by an HOA—including the majority of maintenance in both units.
Key Takeaway As a resident of a townhouse, your HOA fees often will contribute to the maintenance of facilities or regular services. If you are the landlord of your duplex, however, you will be in charge of providing those services.
Both duplexes and townhouses are connected to their neighbors—unlike stand-alone, single-family homes. But the number of walls shared differs between the two types of homes.
In a duplex, you share just one wall with a neighbor. In a townhouse, you will share two walls with neighbors—one on each side of your building. This could lead to more noise and less privacy if you choose a townhouse.
On the other hand, in a townhouse, you have access to your own private outdoor spaces, like a yard or a patio. If you choose to rent out the second unit of your duplex, you must share outside spaces with your tenants.
Pros and cons of duplexes vs townhouses
|**PRO**: Good ROI—Renting out your second living unit to tenants can help you pay off your mortgage quickly||**PRO**: More space—Since a townhouse is just one private living unit in one lot as opposed to two, you will likely have more living space in a townhouse than a duplex|
|**PRO**: Freedom of design—You’re not subject to the rules and regulations of an HOA, so you have more freedom with design, decoration, and maintenance services||**PRO**:Private outdoor space—As a townhouse owner, you’ll enjoy a private outdoor space for your exclusive use|
|**PRO**: Privacy—With only one shared wall, you’ll have less noise and more privacy||**PRO**: Community facilities—Townhouses may come with access to shared community facilities such as fitness centers, pools, and other common spaces|
|**CON**: Landlord responsibilities—You’ll have certain obligations to your tenants and will need to be available to carry out or schedule repairs and maintenance.||**CON**: HOA rules and fees—You’ll have to abide by the rules of your HOA, which can limit design choices and even pets|
|**CON**: Shared space—You’ll be living in close quarters with your tenants. Be sure to vet them before committing to the lease to make sure you’re compatible|
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Key Takeaway Living in a townhouse will give you more space and a private outdoor area, but living in a duplex will allow you to generate income from renting.
Affordable home insurance for your duplex or townhouse
Whether you choose a duplex or a townhouse, it’s important to make sure you’re financially protected from damage with homeowners insurance.
Jerry helps you find a cheap premium without sacrificing coverage. Simply download the app, answer a few questions, and compare quotes from top insurance providers in your area. Jerry can even help you cancel your old plan if you find a better deal, and help you find new ways to save like bundling auto and home insurance.
Jerry customers save an average of $887 per year.
“Jerry was wonderful! I used it for my auto and renters policies. I trusted it so much that I signed up my homeowners insurance under Jerry as well. All of the agents are amazingly nice and knowledgeable.” —Mary Y.
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What is a townhouse?
A townhouse is a private, single living unit with outdoor space in a row of similar houses. It is typically part of a homeowners association (HOA) and may include access to community facilities.
What is a duplex?
A duplex is two separate living units in a single lot. Many duplex owners live in one unit and rent out the other to tenants.