Are you shopping for a new home and confused about which makes more sense to buy: house or condo? Maybe you just did a walk-through of a nice big home in a subdivision and happened to drive by the adjacent condo complex on your way out and thought to yourself, “Wow…it might be nice to be free from yard work, wouldn’t it?”
At some point in the house hunting process, many buyers, whether first time or downsizing, examine the pros and cons of houses vs. condos. While there are risks and benefits to both, what it comes down to are the answers to some essential questions concerning your lifestyle and personal preferences. There might not be a right answer for everyone, but there will be a right answer for you.
Where Do You See Yourself in 5 Years?
Usually you only hear this question in job interviews, but it’s a good one to consider when choosing to buy a house or condo. Unless you’re planning to flip a fixer-upper house, generally it’s best to remain in a house for more than 2 years so you don’t lose money on the purchase. In that case, will the space still be right for you 3, 4, or 5 years down the road?
Are you a newlywed who is planning a family in less than five years? In that case, a house might be your best bet to welcome a growing family into, without the need to move after you already have a baby. The process of buying and selling, as well as the actual move itself, is much easier without kids, so you will thank yourself later for getting settled in to a home before the baby comes along.
On the other hand, maybe you don’t see a family for 5-10 years (or don’t want kids at all) and want to travel or work on your career—then a low maintenance condo would be a great fit for your on-the-go lifestyle (with no yard to mow!).
Are you above age 55 and an empty nester? What do you see doing now that your family is not a priority? You may see yourself finally have the time to garden and do house projects that you enjoy, or you may instead be traveling frequently to visit your kids and grandkids or to finally see places you’ve always wanted to go.
Knowing yourself and what you see yourself doing will help you know whether a house or condo is the best space to live the life you imagine yourself in.
How Close Do You Want to be with Your Neighbors?
Condominium complexes have a reputation for being small communities where neighbors socialize. Many have pools, workout facilities, and a community center to host gatherings of neighbors (or your own events if you need to accommodate a large group).
For many, this is a wonderful thing. If you live far from family and are new to the area, you may enjoy the feeling of community: the daily interaction with neighbors that creates a social community for support. In many condo communities, neighbors come together for potlucks, game nights, and holiday celebrations. Some people say that they met lifelong friends while living in a condo community.
For others, though, this closeness with neighbors and a social community is not what they are looking for. If you are not the social type and prefer to keep to yourself, it may not be the best place for you. Walls can be thin and entryways are close to each other, so you don’t always have the option of the illusion of privacy and a quiet place to yourself.
Take some time to evaluate how you envision your life before you decide on a house or condo. Would you rather spend Saturdays alone out on the mower in your large yard that separates you from your neighbor at a nice, comfortable distance? Or would you prefer to leave mowing to a maintenance crew and socialize at the pool with your neighbors?
To Mow or Not to Mow: That is the Question
What attracts many condo owners is the glorious thought of no exterior maintenance or mowing. When you are choosing a house or condo, think about your own time, ability, and willingness to do your own upkeep, and your budget for maintenance on a house.
In a condo, you pay a monthly fee to the condo association for the exterior maintenance of your unit as well as the grounds. How extensive the upkeep is will vary from association to association, but you can assume that at least some costs will be covered by your fees. You will need to consider these fees in your budget on top of your mortgage, so make sure you find out beforehand what to expect.
If you are the type who enjoys a weekend of yard work or gardening followed by a soak in the hot tub in your own private backyard, alone with a cold drink in your hand…you are a house person.
Condos: Are Lower Prices a Better Value?
When deciding between a house or condo, before you stop at bottom line and decide that a condo is going to cost you less than a house and therefore be a better investment, look at the risks involved with condos that don’t always recoup what owners invest. Condos that were built during the housing boom were hit harder than single-family homes during the recession.
Condos are not always a bad deal—it depends on the market and the area—so ask your realtor for data on condo sales versus single-family homes in your area.
You should also know that in 2009, the Federal Housing Administration announced that it would insure loans on condos only in developments where at least 50 percent of the units are owner occupied and, for new developments, where at least 30 percent of units are already sold. If you plan to use an FHA-insured loan, you can check if a condo development is FHA approved at hud.gov.
What do you think? Are you a house person or a condo person? Take some time to think about what lifestyle sounds like happiness to you in your life and let us know what you decide in the comments below.