What’s the Difference Between a Duplex and a Condo?

Have you ever noticed all the shorthand in real estate? Take duplexes and condos, for example. Depending on the area of the country you live in, those terms can mean slightly different things. And even if you’ve lived in the same town your entire life, if you don’t work in real estate, these terms can just be plain confusing.

Let’s break it down.

The Duplex (or Zero-Lot Home)

Duplexes, or zero-lot homes as you’ll sometimes see them listed in real estate, are always attached to another structure. They can sometimes be fairly large and expensive, especially when you consider the common wall they share—party walls aren’t for everyone. With a yard that can be large or small, owners are responsible for maintaining their own exteriors (mowing, snow removal, etc.). This can mean creating a smaller, more compact footprint for those who want the benefits of a home without the responsibilities of a big yard, or it can give the outdoor-lover space to enjoy nature.

For developers, duplexes are more economical to build because they contain multiple units. Frequently, duplexes will include more upgraded features and finishes than single-family homes in similar price ranges. Since materials are purchased in bulk, duplexes give developers more bang for their buck.

In Iowa, you’ll sometimes hear the term ‘zero-lot home’ tossed around. It’s actually a term used sporadically throughout the country. According to a number of sources, including Bankrate.com and Investopedia, a zero-lot-line home is a piece of residential real estate in which the structure comes up to, or very near to, the edge of the property line. The structure may be attached or detached, though in Iowa, zero-lot homes are always attached.  

The Condo (Townhouse Style vs. Apartment Style)

There are two types of condos: townhouse-style condos and apartment style condos. What’s the difference? If you live in a townhouse-style condo, you typically have someone living on both sides of your unit. However, the units are side by side, never above or below your own unit. In a townhouse-style condo, you own the entire unit, and sometimes that includes multiple stories depending on the layout of your condo.

An apartment-style condo, however, is accessible via a shared hallway. Tenants share the building and all common areas. There is often no private exterior entrance. In fact, many apartment-style condos have a secure entrance.

For both styles of condos, homeowners association (HOA) fees should be taken into consideration, as well as insurance, which differs depending on the type of condo. Your HOA fees go toward your policy, as well as any fees for yard maintenance and snow removal, reserve funds, and management fees. Before purchasing a condo, it’s important to review your contract and supporting documents with your Realtor to determine what fees you’ll be responsible for and how much they’ll cost.

What’s the Best Option?

There’s no easy answer to this question. When considering a duplex or condo, you should think about your budget, your ideal location, and the style and layout you want. This will help you decide on which option is best for your living situation. Your agent is also a great resource for helping you weigh the pros and cons and find a property that checks all of the items on your list.

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