Condo or house?
Chinese or Italian?
Trump or Clinton?
Ha ha, just kidding with that last one.
Seriously though, when you’re home shopping, the condo-versus-house question looms large.
If you want a big yard, or you absolutely have to live downtown, your choice is clear. It only gets muddy when you’re not exactly sure what you want. Drawing up a list of pros and cons sometimes helps.
- You get more space. According to gov, the average home built in 2010 was 2,169 square feet, up from 1,525 square feet in 1973. According to FIXr.com, the average condo is 1,200 square feet.
- You get a yard. A lot of homeowners-to-be dream of having their own piece of the earth to do with as they please. They mow, rake, plant and erect stands topped with gazing balls until their hands are covered in blisters and their legs are covered in poison ivy.
- You don’t hear the neighbors. Of course you sometimes still hear neighbors when you have a house, the difference is you might hear them chatting in their yard or playing music while they wash their car instead of what you might hear them doing in a condo, like blowing their noses or urinating.
- The HOA can’t tell you what to do. They can if you live in a planned community, so check this out before you buy. But many single-family homes are autonomous lands where you can park a pickup in the driveway, hang a clothesline in the backyard or decorate with different cheap, kitschy, illuminated, inflatable decorations from Target for every holiday all year round and no one can stop you, dadburnit.
- You get a yard. You might like a roomy house, but you may not enjoy all the yardwork that comes with owning land. Lawn and yard care can take hours out of your week that you could spend with a good book or drinking wine with friends.
- As annoying as it is to get assessed a fee for repairs when you live in a condo, when you live in a house, it’s 100 percent your responsibility. A new roof or furnace, water damage or a fallen tree can cost you thousands.
- They’re cooler. Condos are usually located in busy, urban areas, close to Metro stops (assuming you can get a train there), great restaurants and vibrant nightlife. You can go out with your buddies and toss back a few pitchers and not have to worry about driving home (though if you toss back too many, you may have trouble remembering which way home is).
- They’re cheaper. One reason you see more young people in condos instead of houses is that they usually cost less. Less square footage = a lower mortgage (usually).
- They’re low maintenance. If a branch breaks off a tree and puts a hole in the roof, it’s not your problem. Granted, your fees cover this type of thing, but the job of finding a repairman and scheduling the work is taken care of by someone else. If your toilet gets clogged, you don’t have to run down to the Exxon station; just call the super.
- You get great amenities. Many condos are equipped with pools, fitness centers, internet cafes, shared car services, communal outdoor areas and more. It’s the best of city living, where all your needs are taken care of for you.
- When you have to pay a mortgage, taxes and insurance, condo fees can be the final blow that topples your carefully constructed plan. If steep condo fees mean you’re one car repair bill away from foreclosure, you might want to rethink your budget.
- Everyone gets a vote. The majority rules when you live in a condo. You may not see the need for a new diving board for the pool or a rooftop lounge, but you may be overruled.
Whether it’s a condo or a house that’s right for you may come down to how much money you have to spend, your preferred lifestyle and whether you’re more of a country mouse or a city mouse.
If you’re not sure where you fall on the spectrum, do a few tours of each type of home and crunch some numbers to help you decide. And ask a realtor’s opinion – they’re the experts you can turn to for answers about all the hidden costs and benefits of homeownership.