What’s the difference between a duplex, a townhouse, an apartment, and a condo?

What’s the difference between a duplex, a townhouse, an apartment, and a condo?When it comes time to pick where you want to live, you actually have quite a few options. You see, there are many different types of homes out there, but there are few that have carried as much confusion as duplexes, townhouses, apartments, and condos. Though these may seem virtually identical in many aspects, they can actually be quite different. Even though they are small these differences can have quite the consequences. So, if you are thinking about moving into one of these multi-family units you should probably know all you can about your different options before you make a decision.


Let’s start with a duplex. A duplex is a house that, instead of being designed for one living space, is made to house two separate living spaces that usually share one or more walls.

Usually, when looking at a duplex it will look like a large house, but it will have two entrances to the two separate living spaces. Inside it will have all the rooms you would expect in a single-family home including bathrooms, a kitchen, bedrooms, etc. One some occasions there will also be two garage doors.

There are also triplexes and quadplexes that are the same concept but they have 3 and 4 living spaces, respectively, instead of the two in the duplex.

How a duplex differs from other multi-unit buildings?

The biggest difference between a duplex and a townhouse or apartment or condo is ownership. In a duplex, the entire building is owned by a single person and both sides are rented out. Now, that isn’t to say that a person can’t buy the building and live on one side of the duplex. This actual happens quite often. Instead of renting out both halves of the duplex the owner will occupy one of them and rent out the other half.

Renters of duplexes don’t own anything, just like in a rental home. They are given yard space, usually, but that is rented as well. They will have to ask for permission from the landlord to make any changes as well.

Pros and cons to living in a duplex

Most of the time renting a duplex will give the renter more freedom than an apartment for less money than a rental home. It is the perfect middle step for people who are tired of the apartment lifestyle but can’t afford the monthly payments of a whole rental home. (This is not a guarantee however, some duplex units might actually cost more— it all depends on the unit, its owners, and its location.) It is important to remember that they are still renters as well. They don’t build equity as time goes on. They also don’t have the right to do things like paint, change the carpet, and so on without permission from the owner.


A townhouse is very similar to the concept of a duplex (or triplexes or quadplexes). They are separate living spaces that share a wall with each other. They too have their own yards, their own bathrooms, their own kitchens, and so on and so forth. A lot of the time you will see a townhouse with two living spaces, but it is also common to see more than two together.

How townhouses differ from other multi-unit buildings?

The main difference between townhouses and the rest of the multi-unit buildings on this list is, again, ownership. A townhouse is not a rental, the occupant owns the living space. However that is not all, they also own the portion of the yard, both front and back, that is designated to their house— if there is any. A mortgage for a townhouse operates the same way that a mortgage for a home would, the rights to change things are virtually the same unless it interferes with the adjoining neighbor or neighbors or if an agreement or regulation is in place.

Pros and Cons to living in a Townhouse

There are a lot of pros to moving into a townhouse. Like we said earlier, you have the same kind of control over changes made to the townhouse as you would with a normal single-family unit (barring any regulations or agreements with the adjoining neighbor or neighbors). This means you can paint the inside of your townhouse, in some cases the outside as well, without having to get approval. If you want to change the carpet, you can. The possibilities are endless.

The two biggest cons are the sharing of a wall and the slight restrictions to changes that come with a townhouse like we mentioned earlier. However, these kinds of problems are really location specific so it really depends on the townhouse, the HOA for the area, and so on and so forth. So, it is advised that you take a very close look at all the rules and regulations you will be under before purchasing one.


Apartments are probably the simplest entries on this list. Usually, apartments consist of 5 or more independent living spaces all built into one building. They have common areas and amenities for everyone in the complex to enjoy. There are no private yards for apartment dwellers. Apartments are usually anywhere from 1 to 3 bedrooms with 1 to 2 bathrooms. They also usually have adjoining walls, floors, and ceilings with other tenants.

How do apartments differ from other multi-unit buildings?

Apartments are different from all other multi-unit living situations because you never own your apartment. You pay rent on it each month but never actually own it. In an apartment, you have little control over changes made in your apartment. You can’t paint the walls, change the flooring, put in a new dishwasher, or anything without the approval of the landlord. However, they do not share the liability with the landlord. With the townhouse (and the duplex if a tenant owns it) the occupant is liable for any problems and will have to pay to fix them.

Pros and cons of living in an apartment

The biggest pro of living in an apartment is a liability. Like we said just moments ago, you don’t share the liability with the owner when you live in an apartment. If something breaks, and it wasn’t your fault, then the landlord has to pay to have it fixed. The other great thing about apartments is that you aren’t bound to them. If you want to move, it is much easier because you don’t have to sell it.

However, there are still some cons. You have almost zero control of changes like we mentioned earlier. If you want to make your apartment better, you will have to have approval from your landlord. Not to mention, just like living in a rented duplex, you don’t build equity month to month with your payments.


A condo is basically just a unit in a duplex a townhouse or an apartment, but with special ownership rights.

How does a condo differ from other multi-unit buildings?

Condos are a bit of a special breed when it comes to the multi-unit family. Condos look exactly like an apartment or townhouse, meaning they are part of a larger unit, but you can buy them just like a house. You own and can change, everything between the walls of your unit making you the landlord. As long as it doesn’t interfere with your neighbors, and it is safe, you are free to do it. You will have to pay for things like repairs and such, however, just something to remember.

Pros and cons of living in a condo

The control that we mentioned earlier is the biggest pro for people who live there. However, there are quite a few people that also love the fact that they don’t have to worry about taking care of a yard or the outdoor maintenance of the building.

Multi-unit facilities are great. If you are looking for one like these then be sure to talk to us here at the Hughes Group. You can email or call us today. We’ll be happy to answer any of your real estate questions whether they be about traditional homes or multi-unit dwellings.

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