Is a “Single family – Townhome – Condo” an oxymoron?

Some people who are new to Fairfax County Real Estate wonder what the difference is between a “single family”, a “townhome”, and a “condo” and if it’s possible to have a such a thing as a single family-townhome-condo.

To start, let’s say that a Single family-Townhome-Condo is one of the types of residential real estate available in Fairfax County.

And before we find out what kind of strange home that might be, let’s look at the 3 most commonly-found types of homes that you can buy in Northern Virginia:

1. Single Family / Detached Home

First, let’s talk about what most people refer to as single family homes.  You know, the ones with a yard and land around the house.   Realtors® in the DC Metro area call them detached homes, in big part because that’s how they’re labeled in our Multiple Listing Service, and also because the Fairfax County Real Estate Zoning Code calls them Single Family Detached homes.

Here is a picture of a detached home:

Single Family Detached Home in Fairfax County

Single Family Detached Home in Fairfax County, VA

Another widely-available kind of home is the “townhome” or “townhouse”.

2. Townhome or Townhouse

A townhome (or townhouse), in contrast to a detached home, is an attached home.  Townhomes are usually 4-6 homes all built together in a set and they all share at least one or two of their walls.

Townhome or Rowhouse?

Townhome in Fairfax County

Townhome in Fairfax County, VA

To give a frame of reference, townhomes are similar to rowhouses, but it seems that you can find townhomes in the suburbs and rowhouses in the city.  Because townhomes are more common in the suburbs, they are also (on average) larger and some of them quite luxurious.

Townhome or Duplex?

Townhomes are also similar to duplexes. The difference is that in a duplex, there are only two units together; and townhomes are three, four, or more units together.

Townhomes are Single Family Homes

Curiously, if you review the Fairfax County Real Estate Zoning Ordinance, you’ll see that townhomes are officially referred to as single family homes because there is only one family living per dwelling.

  • Essentially, townhomes are attached single family homes,  in contrast to other kinds of homes:
  • detached single family homes (that we discussed above);
  • and other kinds of homes which are not single family, but rather multi-family dwellings.

Which brings us to the third kind of home available in Fairfax County, which is the “multi-family”.

3.  Multi-family / “Condo”

Essentially, in a “multi-family” there is a building, and several units within the building (like in an apartment building).

Most people refer to them as “condos” because most of these kinds of dwellings are owned in “condominium” (owning in condominium means that each owner owns their individual unit and all individual owners collectively own the common areas).

Mid-rise condo complex in Fairfax County, VA

Mid-rise condo in Fairfax County, VA

In Fairfax, we have several different kinds of multi-family buildings – from tall high-rises, to “garden-style”, and a few other kinds in between that we’ll review in the near future.

So, does a Single family – Townhome – Condo really exist?

Presenting the Single family – Townhome – Condo

When things get interesting is when a townhome is owned in “condominium”, because then it’s a townhome-condo.  In this case, individual owners own the interior of the townhome and all owners collectively own the outside parts of the townhomes (such as the exterior walls, roof, land, etc.).

Also, since a townhome is officially a single family home, then you have a Single family – Townhome – Condo.

Garage Townhome in Fairfax County, VA

Single family – Townhome – Condo

But, no need to get confused with the name because for practical purposes, in Fairfax County, we use “detached”, “townhome”, and “condo” to refer to the top 3 kinds of homes that we have available in our area.

Next Step

Stay tuned to next week’s article when we’ll go into the styles of detached homes available in Fairfax County, VA (have you heard of “Bilevels”?).  Don’t miss out: if you haven’t subscribed, now’s the time!

What’s your guess, are there more Single family-Townhome-Condos or Detached Bilevels for sale in residential Fairfax County Real Estate?  Enter your answer as a comment below and you might win a Starbucks gift card.

Your turn, what do you think?

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