Semi Detached Homes, Townhomes and Condominiums – Real Estate 101

September 27, 2012 - Updated: April 18, 2014

    In this second installment in the series of Real Estate 101 blogs I will examine the residential structures that share multiple single family dwellings.  To keep in line with the previous blog I will be answering the questions regarding: What are the different types of residential property?  What are the advantages or disadvantages? What is a Condominium?  What is the difference between a Row house and a Town house?

    If you missed the First blog, I discussed questions around detached homes and you can read it here

    Opposed to detached homes which are considered a single family dwelling that is on one plot of land, there are other types of residential property that can have multiple dwellings on one plot of land.  While there are technically many varieties available I will choose to focus my efforts on the 3 most common we would find in Mississauga:  Semi Detached Homes, Town Homes and Town Home Condominiums.

    The Semi Detached home is defined as two attached dwellings that are divided by a common vertical common wall above grade.  The semi-detached house has many advantages including separate floors for sleeping on the top floor, living on the main floor and storage in the basement.  The economic advantage to semi-detached homes lies in the fact the two dwellings share a common structural wall, meaning the builder can fit two homes on a smaller plot realizing a savings in the cost of land.  This savings is passed down to the buyer who may desire the advantages of a detached home but cannot afford one. 

    Disadvantages to the Semi detached house include lots of stairs between levels; less privacy as sounds can pass through the common wall if not properly insulated; higher risk of damage if the adjoining unit catches fire or suffers from some other disaster and less potential to modify the building because of the shared structure.

    Townhomes or Town Homes or Row Houses are all the same thing.  Defined; they are more than two attached dwellings (typically three or four) that are separated by a vertical party wall above grade.  In Mississauga you will find Townhomes having three or four floors.  Sometimes they will have a basement with two or more floors above grade, while others may have the main entrance on the second floor and a garage entrance on the first level with a walkout to the backyard.  As land became more scares in Mississauga we see more development of this style of residential structures as the use of land is more efficient.  Just like the semi detached home, the advantage of putting more living units on piece of land results in a cost savings to the builder, which in turn is realized as more affordable housing for the buyer. The most desirable units in a town house are always the end units as they resemble semi detached homes.

    Disadvantages to the Town house include:  Typically smaller sized units 900 to 1600 square feet (though some go higher than 2000 Square feet), lots of stairs between levels and lots of levels; less privacy as sounds can pass through the common wall if not properly insulated and in the case of the middle units from both sides; higher risk of damage if the adjoining units catches fire or suffers from some other disaster and less potential to modify the building because of the shared structure.  As builders can fit more units in a space vs. if they had developed only detached home, you can expect higher concentration of people, traffic, noise etc.

    There are several types of condominiums available, but for the purposes of this blog, I have chosen to focus on the most typical forms people are aware of; Condominium Townhomes and Condominium Apartments.  Before I get into the definition of a condominium I would like to address the advantages/disadvantages of apartment buildings.

    They can be built as low rise, mid rise or high rise.  This means the builder can have even more efficiency of the plot of land by having much more units to sell.  As most apartments are only one level, like the bungalow, this makes the flow through the unit very easy.  As this is the most efficient use of space, typically this structure is the most affordable for first time buyers or people without the income for a townhouse. The drawbacks to apartments are; lack of privacy as units can leak noise from neighbors above their unit, or to either side or from below.  There are usually rules for use of the common elements and even for modifying plumbing, electrical wiring and window and floor surfaces.  By laws can effect even what pets can be in the building.

    Physically the condominium townhome or condominium apartment is no different to a regular townhome or apartment buiilding.  The key to understanding condominiums is to know that it’s a legal entity (Corporation) that has a Declaration (Constitution) which contains required and optional information set out by the Condominium Act.  It also has a Description that contains plans, surveys and specifications describing the property.  The Condominium defines what a unit of the condominium is and what the common elements are via the Description.  Units can be owned exclusively, while the common elements are owned by all the unit owners as tenants in common.  Unit holders have to pay a maintenance fee or condo fee which goes to pay for the expenses of the condominium.  Click here for more about condo fees.

    Condominiums are governed by a board of directors.  They are elected by the unit holders with the exception of the first board who are appointed by the Declarant, who is usually the individual who created the Condominium.  The board has power to make, amend and repeal by-laws, which establish the condominiums internal operation and rules, which promote safety, security, welfare of the owners and the condominium property and assets and the common elements.

    An excellent example of how a condominium is better than a free hold situation can be seen in maintenance.  The average person in Canada does not put aside money for a “rainy day” should their roof leak or if the basement gets flooded.  The Condominium is required by law to calculate predicted maintenance expenses and have a reserve fund should the condominium need repairs which would be tapped into.  Furthermore, condominiums usually take care of all the landscaping, snow removal and salting of walkways, painting and maintenance of the common elements (gym rooms, pools, party rooms etc.) and cleaning of the exterior windows.  In a freehold situation, the home owner has to take care of all of those things and still may not have all the amenities to enjoy that can be found at a condominium town home or apartment.

    I hope you found this blog educational and useful.  Thank you for reading it and for more information please contact me at info@toddlee.ca. Should you need professional real estate representation I sincerely welcome your business.

By Todd Lee


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