Whether you should buy a condo or a house really comes down to where you are in life, and what your preferences are. Each has benefits and drawbacks.
Condos — short for condominiums — are more like apartments that you own. They are in shared buildings, or complexes, where a board or condo owner association owns and maintains the exterior of the building as well as all common areas, like meeting rooms, a gym, swimming pools, and parking areas.
A house is a free-standing residence with four outer walls that are not connected to any other residential structure. Houses usually have a yard in front and/or back, which the owner also owns.
Condos are very popular with first-time homebuyers, those looking to downsize, and investors. They come with many perks, but they aren’t for everyone. They are often much smaller in square footage than a house, and also typically less expensive than houses, but you do have to pay attention to those fees and potentially nosy neighbors.
A lower price means both a lower down payment and a lower monthly payment. But if the building is older, owners could be on the hook for building reserves to pay for roofing, plumbing, and exterior maintenance, which tends to mean higher fees and sometimes special assessments. On the other hand, condos don’t require exterior repairs and maintenance (even mowing the lawn!) which leaves owners only responsible for their own interior space.
Condo Location and Amenities
Several lifestyle-related advantages come with owning a condo. Condos are generally smaller, but they are usually found in more densely packed complexes, located closer to city amenities. Condo owners frequently have shorter commutes than homeowners, and can spend that extra time enjoying building amenities like swimming pools, tennis courts, gymnasiums, golf courses, park areas, pet parks, and jogging trails.
Unlike houses, many condo complexes have doormen and desk people, along with custodial staff. In addition to staff, condo owners have neighbors close by, as well as complexes that are often gated or protected by guards. All of these features make condo owners feel like condos have increased security over private homes.
Condo living is community living. Condo owners, for better or worse, will naturally be closer to their neighbors, with more opportunities to interact in the communal mail room, shared parking lot, club house, and swimming pool area and at periodic meetings of the HOA or condo board.
But sometimes that closeness is a convenience and sometimes it’s a curse… like when sounds and smells travel through adjoining walls.
Also, while many owners seek the sense of community and safety found in condos, some buyers don’t like the rules and restrictions associated with condos. For example, rules might restrict the number and types of pets you can have or where you can smoke.
Houses are a bit more expensive than condos in Fairfax, but they also come with land ownership. Houses require the owner to handle all upkeep and maintenance of both the interior and exterior.
Care and upkeep of the yard and trees may require homeowners to buy extra equipment and tools. And although any home improvements you make will likely increase the home’s resale value, they require an investment of time and money.
Homeowners should also be aware that utility bills are generally higher because houses have more space than condos.
House Location and Amenities
Land is one of the primary advantages of owning a house. You can build a private pool in your backyard, create a garden, host backyard parties, and have space for your kids to play safely.
Another house advantage is that it allows for extra indoor space, which is more conducive to accommodating families, children, and pets. More storage space in closets, attics, or basements is also a bonus.
Houses also offer more individuality. You can paint it any color you like, build a playhouse in the backyard for your kids, or put flowerbeds all over the property, as well as knock down wall or make additions to allow room to grow as life changes. In some less suburban areas, you can even build a guest house on your own property.
Neighborhoods of detached single-family homes tend to create distance between neighbors, so you’ll have a lot more privacy in a house.
Selling Your Condo or House
A condo owner will have to look to the entire community when ready to sell, as a unit will never be worth more than an identical unit, plus upgrades. If another owner sells at a cheap price, that might affect market value.
Plus, a house is generally easier to sell than a condo. Detached houses on privately owned lots tend to be more liquid in all kinds of markets.
As you can see, when deciding between purchasing a house or a condo in the Fairfax, VA area, each choice has its pros and cons, depending on how you’re financing your purchase, your risk tolerance, your need for flexibility, and your overall financial picture.