Condo style townhomes are the vast majority in the market place, but does that mean they are the superior form of ownership?
Freehold townhome owners are 100% responsible for the maintenance exterior. There are initial advantages to this style of ownership as you the owner are given free reign over modifying the exterior. Want to put a raised bed in for a small urban garden? Sure go ahead, you are the one that has to maintain it and the yard around it. In a condo style townhome you would have to get approval from the governing board. The obvious advantage to the condo style in this regard is that you do not have to life a finger outside of your unit or own yard care equipment. Additionally it guarantees that the grass and snow removal will be done in a timely manner. However that ease comes at a price as you pay higher condo fees to cover the cost of the seasonal maintenance. It is really customization vs ease of life when it comes to exterior maintenance.
The next major difference is the replacement of large capital items. More often than not the owner is responsible for the replacement, maintenance and upgrading the interior of their unit. However in a freehold townhome you are also liable for the exterior of your property. This is the major difference in the two ownership styles. Condo fees typically include some kind of savings for replacement of large items such as roofing, siding, eaves, fascia, and so on. Even if you buy a brand new townhome you are already paying monthly for the next roof 25-30 years from now. This can be irksome especially if this purchase was intended to be a shorter term purchase.
However I would argue that this function is the number one reason the condo style ownership is the most popular. Townhomes under $400000 are typically purchased by younger and more economically vulnerable buyers. Meaning that they might not have the on hand cash to replace the roof in a timely manner. When you own a detached home and you let your roof fall apart and eventually leak in your home, you only have yourself in blame. However in a freehold townhome situation your neighbours negligence becomes your problem! Additionally the ability of your neighbour to control the appearance of there exterior could lead to a lack of conformity and quality of repairs.
We have all had (or been) the cheap neighbour. Yet again in a detached scenario their actions really only affect themselves. However in a townhome there funky roof and siding, poorly maintained exterior or want ever choice they make has a substantial or direct affect on the resell and safety of your property. As a careful optimist, I would hope that 67% of owners within a condo corporation would have and will make informed decisions for the complex. Hopefully out voting the reckless and Red Green Style handyman.
One other protection you receive as a condo style owner is that there is legal recourse against a potentially nightmarish neighbor. Within most condominium documents there are little used clauses that provide for the forced sale/removal of destructive and abusive owners. And yes this has been exercised, a client of mine had a hoarder removed from his complex when mold from 8 cats with no litter box and other poor sanitary habits appeared on his ceiling.
Professionally and collectively managed townhouses get this Realtors vote. They are a safer investment for the short and long term. The annoying monthly fee outweighs the potential headache of nightmare or cheap neighbour.