How to spot the difference between townhouses, duplexes, condos, and apartments

How to spot the difference between townhouses, duplexes, condos, and apartmentsWhen it’s time to move there are a lot of things to do as well as a lot of decisions that have to be made. Amongst all these decisions, the one that seems to be avoided most frequently is whether you should live in a single-family home or a multi-family unit. Of all the multi-family units you can choose from, the ones you will see the most on the market are townhouses, duplexes, condominiums, and apartments. They are each different in their own way with nuanced differences that can dramatically affect the way of life of those who choose to live there. But what are these differences and what are the pros and cons of living in one of these multi-family units?

The Townhouse

Townhouses are very closely related to duplexes, but they are a bit different. You see, a townhouse is two or more private living spaces that are conjoined by a wall. They will also have their own private yards most of the time. They are essentially two houses that are connected. This means they have their own bathrooms, dining rooms, living rooms, and so on. This also means that they have their own entries and so forth.

Townhouses are different from other multi-unit buildings because…

There are some subtle differences between a townhouse and any other multi-unit living situation is that it is usually owner occupied. Instead of each part of the building being rented out from a landlord, the townhouses are owned by the occupants. Another difference is that they also own part of the land as well, or at least have primary usage rights to it if there is any land at all. Lastly, they have normal mortgages just like houses. Instead of a lease or a special kind of mortgage, it is almost identical to a single-family home’s mortgage.

Pros & Cons of townhouse living

The pro of living in a townhouse is the control that you have. It is similar to living in a single-family home. You can do what you want with the space you have as long as it doesn’t interfere with your adjoining neighbors. So, if you want to paint the inside of your home, get new fixtures, put in new floors, the choice is yours. The outside of your townhouse is a different story though. It depends on the type of townhouse and the kind of agreement you have with your neighbors and the HOA regulations.

The shared wall is a big con for some people. This is because a shared wall will mean a lot more noise coming from your neighbors and a little less privacy.

The other con is the regulations that you have to adhere to. There will almost always have regulations about the outward appearance of your townhouse that you will need to take into consideration. This is because the aesthetic value of your townhouse is dependent on your adjoining neighbor’s home’s appearance.

The Duplex

Out of all the options you have for multi-family units, the duplex is probably the most well-known after the apartment complex. Duplexes are a special kind of unit. They are larger houses that have been split into two separate living spaces connected together by one or two walls.

At first glance, a duplex will probably just seem like a large house, but if you look closely you’ll quickly notice that there is something different about them. You see, in most cases, a duplex will have two doors for each distinct half of the building. There are some duplexes thought that will have the main entrance from the outside that leads to a common area between the two halves where their own entrances will then be located. Duplexes can come in many varieties so there really is no telling what it will look like. The only thing that is required though is that each ‘half’ of the duplex have their own kitchen, bathrooms, living areas, etc.

Aside from the duplex, you will also see ‘triplexes’ and ‘quadplexes’. A triplex or a quadplex are essentially the same as a duplex in that they are buildings with more than one living space, however, they are different in that the triplexes have 3 living spaces, the quad 4, instead of the duplex’s 2.

Duplexes are different from other multi-unit buildings because…

As with all multi-unit buildings, ownership is the deciding factor of differentiation. For the most part, duplexes are owned by a landlord who then rents out both halves to tenants. However, an owner can, if they wish, live in one-half of the duplex and just rent the other half out to someone else.

For the tenant that lives in the duplex, major changes are out of their hands. They can’t make any changes to their living space past putting up decorations. Anything more than that will need approval from the landlord.

Pros & Cons of duplex living

Duplexes are a ideal midway point between renting an apartment and renting a home. This is because it gives the renter more room and freedom than the apartment as well as a lower monthly payment than renting a full home.

They have more space and freedom because duplexes, unlike apartments, have only 1, 2, or 3 neighbors instead of the almost infinite amount of neighbors. Payments are lower in most cases because they aren’t renting as much space as a full rental home.

When it comes to the cons, however, there are a few we have to mention. After not being able to make many changes to your living situation, you are also not gaining equity with your monthly payments like you would if you were buying a home.


Most people are familiar with apartments. They are the simplest to explain of all the multi-family units we have listed here. Simply put, an apartment is a building that has at 5+ living spaces in it. Apartment living spaces are like those of a duplex. They have their own rooms, kitchens, storage, etc. however, they do not have their own lawns.

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