Sunday, July 24, 2016

Living in a Townhouse

A photo of some townhomes via

I haven't been blogging much lately since my wife and I just bought our first home!  As it turns out, we bought a townhouse.  Architecturally it's a townhouse, legally it's a condominium unit.  A townhouse is a kind of house that is typically two or three stories tall and is attached to another townhouse on one or both sides.    This makes us kind of weird in that in America, 61.5% of housing units were detached houses in 2014 (see 2014 American Community Survey One-year Estimates, Table B25024, "Units in Structure").  Only 5.8% of America's housing units were townhomes.  However, we don't live in just any part of America.  We live in Los Angeles County, where the median home price for detached houses is $561,000 (CoreLogic "Southern California Home Resale Activity, June 2016").  Yikes!  If that sounds like an insane amount of money to pay for a house, that's because it is.

Townhomes have a lot of unique characteristics.  Since they're a denser form of housing than a detached house (29.8 units per acre or 73.5 units per hectare excluding streets in our case), they don't sit on as much land, meaning the land cost per unit is lower, meaning we got to pay a price that we could afford.  It also means this form of house better supports walkable urbanism and transit than a detached house.  Our townhouse includes an attached two-car garage, meaning no more hunting for parking on the street.  The garage easily fits into the footprint of the house and pretty much sets the width of the house.  We've got a patio and a balcony, which by the standards of a detached house are definitely cozy, but on the plus side, no lawn to mow or water (yes!!!).  The stairs are definitely an adjustment.  This type of house is not really suited for someone with a disability that prevents them from climbing stairs (a one-story detached house with accessibility upgrades or an apartment with an elevator would work better in that case).  On the plus side, I'm getting more exercise just by living in this house and probably getting a toned townhouse butt ;)  Shared walls can be a concern in terms of noise from the neighbors, but in our case we haven't had a problem.  In fact, I'd say it's quieter than the apartment we moved from.  Shared walls actually have some advantages too like better insulation and lower heating and cooling costs compared to a detached house.

While clearly townhomes are in the minority in the U.S., I think they have a bright future in my neck of the woods.  In expensive metro areas like Greater Los Angeles, townhomes give more people a shot at home ownership and they're at a scale that I would argue fits well in a suburban or an urban neighborhood.  The market seems to bear that out.  Townhomes were only 5.6% of America's housing stock at the 2000 Census and as noted above were 5.8% in 2014.  I expect that share will increase as America's large cities continue to struggle with housing affordability and see the opportunities in denser, more walkable development patterns.

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