A portion of every transaction donated to HABITAT FOR HUMANITY
If you are considering buying a townhouse you may have already considered the differences between a condo vs townhome vs house. When you own a townhouse you share common grounds but own a slice from the ground to the sky. Most townhouses have at least one shared wall, but you never have someone living above or below you.
Our Twin Cities MLS divides townhouses into three different styles... detached, quad/4 corners and side by side. I looked at local townhouse listings to do a comparison of the three styles.
Detached town homes are the most similar to a house of the three types, and have the largest average size and highest average price of the three townhouse styles. People tend to like them because it is the only townhouse style with no shared walls, giving more sound privacy and the potential for windows on all four sides to bring in more light.
They do share grounds, however, and in some complexes the units are placed so close to each other that it feels like you could reach out and touch your neighbor... or easily see into each others windows. If this is of concern to you, check out GoogleEarth to get aerial views that can tell you a lot about the sense of place of a complex. Where the unit is located in the complex can also make a big difference.
Detached town homes are great options for buyers who want the privacy of no shared walls, windows on all sides, and freedom from snow removal and lawn care. This is the least common town house style, with most detached town homes built since 2000.
Quad/4 Corners Townhomes
Quad/4 corners town homes were especially popular in the 1970s and 1980s, with nearly 3/4 of homes in this style built in those two decades.
Quad/4 corners pretty clearly describes the style. If you 'cut' the building into quarters, each corner would be one unit. What is nice about this style is each unit has two exterior walls on the corner... usually the location of the living and dining areas. They also often have a fair amount of green space around the buildings, giving each unit its own private corner and a feeling more like a house than many town home styles.
Units built in the 1970s and 1980s were usually split entry style, and feel much like the split entry houses also popular at that time. Newer quads are often one-story units with or without basements, some specifically designed for people over 50 years old. Double garages typically divide the units, giving a feeling of separation and great privacy for one-story units. Two-level styles usually have the bedrooms above the garages with a bedroom wall shared between units...not popular with some buyers.
The 'side by side' style is the most popular town home style by far. This style also has the longest history, with roots going back to classical Greece and ancient Rome where deep houses with narrow facades were built in places like Pompeii. Townhouse-like buildings were also found in early US settlements, going back 400 years.
Rowhouses were popular in the 19th century, but over time townhouses lost status in the US, and the emergence of the houses of suburbia after WWII furthered their decline in popularity. When the detached and quad/4 corners townhouse styles emerged in the 1970's, there was renewed interest in 'side by side' styles as well... with a big jump in the 1990's and an explosion in the 2000's.
Early side-by-side townhouses were long and relatively narrow rowhouses, with windows and doors on front and back outside walls and shared walls on both sides. This configuration style usually got its square footage from multiple levels (4 stories in the 1800's rowhouse pictured below) which were often long and narrow. With windows on only the two ends they could be dark, but some historic luxury townhomes even had innovative skylights and central light shafts to bring natural light into the center space.
Most early row houses in the Twin Cities were built in St. Paul in the 1800's and had no garages when they were first built... of course, there were also no cars at that time! These row houses were spacious and luxurious. After their popularity in the late 1800's and early 1900's, very few townhouses were built until the 1960's.
When they started building townhouses again in the 1960's they were often intended for downsizing empty nesters leaving their houses for freedom from maintenance, snow and lawn care. The first owner-occupied town home complex in Minnesota was New Brighton’s Windsor Green... designed to feel like resort style living, with park-like grounds, two swimming pools, tennis courts... and an attached 2-car garage for every unit.
Many of the town homes built in the 1960s had detached garages, often single car... and were two stories, often with basements. They still tended to be somewhat long and narrow, with front and back outside walls and no side windows due to shared walls.
There was a huge growth in townhomes built in the 1970's, when new styles started to emerge. Rowhouses built in this era were often multi-level, sometimes with as many as 6 different levels. Living and sleeping rooms were still usually on different levels. There was often more green space, sometimes with shared pools and tennis courts. Double garages were now often in front of the units, but usually not attached... sometimes forming a private courtyard between the garage and the unit entrance. Interestingly enough, end units were still often designed like center units, with no side windows.
In the 1980's side-by-side townhouses were usually wider, and many adopted the split entry style popular at that time in both houses and the new quad/4 corners style townhouses. The main living and sleeping areas were both on the main upper level, with a family room on the lower level which was usually daylight or walkout. End units often had a different design from center units, with windows on three sides and sometimes more space.
Side-by-side townhouse styles made a big shift, starting in the late 1980's. As they tried to expand their appeal to first-time and single homebuyers there was a proliferation of mega complexes with units now back to back...meaning there might be 10 units in one building. Instead of a single unit stretching from front to back exterior walls, buildings were now often divided so units were back to back, and center units had three shared walls. Because the units weren't as deep in this style, they often weren't as dark as traditional rowhouse styles, even though center units had only one outside wall for windows and doors. They were usually two stories without basements, and living areas were usually on the main level with sleeping rooms above. These changes made units available at different sizes and prices...with smaller, more affordable center units with single garages, and larger end units with more light, only two shared walls, double garages and higher price tags.
As new styles developed, some garages tucked under the units. That made three levels again, more like the more vertical historic rowhouses. In the 2000's some rowhouse styles started building heated basement garages under the shared buildings, with common access but spaces separated with walls for each unit...combining the original rowhouse look of no garages with the convenience of a heated attached garage with private storage.
Another style which also developed was the one-level townhome. As the mega-townhouse complexes were built to appeal to first-time homebuyers, this style had greater appeal to empty nesters... who were often looking for re-arranged space rather than less space. Some have basements, some don't... some are lined up like rowhouses but some are more creatively spaced and designed to feel like single family homes. Even if you share walls, you may not see your neighbor's driveway. Some side-by-side townhomes built in the 1990's and 2000's have over 5,000 square feet and cost over $1M!
Townhouses have been around for centuries, and there is now a wide range of styles and sizes available... with some complexes small and some huge. Townhouses appeal to buyers for different reasons. Sometimes the appeal is cost savings, but another big draw is freedom from maintenance and snow/lawn care... which translates to greater freedom to travel or have multiple homes in different locations.
A portion of every transaction donated to HABITAT FOR HUMANITY
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