What Type of Home Should I Buy?

In the city of Chicago, there are many styles of homes. Brownstones, greystones, and bungalows are just a few of the myriad choices you will be presented with when looking for your first home.

Even then, terms like “single-family home,” “two-flat,” “HOA,” and “co-op” pop up, to leave you wondering, “What kind of home would best suit my family?

Luckily for you, we are here to explain these industry terms, and we have asked a few of our Trusted Agents to give you the inside scoop on types of home and what you should buy.

Single-Family Homes

Let’s just clear up the most widespread definition of a home, first. A single-family home is exactly what it sounds like. It is a separate home meant for one family to live in together, over the course of 30-something years (the length of a standard mortgage). Technically, this kind of home is not built or attached to any other structure and has some open space (in Chicago’s case, mere inches) on all sides. The homeowner is responsible for managing the property, yard, and the costs incurred with upkeep and repairs.

Chicago Agent and a Truepad Trusted AgentJayne Alofs helped us look at different types of homes, to find out what works best for different buyers. She said, “The first choice of many people is the single-family home, a free-standing structure that you have complete control over. You spend money as you wish, you repair things how you want, you can do whatever you wish with your property. It’s the American Dream. But it’s also a bit harder to find than condos, so they are more expensive.

Townhomes

Townhomes are a bit like single-family homes. They are like houses, but share a common wall (or walls) with neighbors. The property is owned from ground-to-ceiling, which often means a townhome will be narrower and have more floors than other types of properties.

Amenities vary in townhomes. A parking garage may or may not be attached to the property. Exercise facilities, pools and playgrounds for kids are options in some townhome neighborhoods. And, yes, this is usually all covered for by some type of fee, similar to an HOA.

Alofs said, “With a townhome you have some of the flexibility of a single-family home, but you’re still part of an association.” The fees also vary, she said, based on the types of amenities offered, and so it depends what the individual wants.

Condos

The next one is incredibly popular and there are thousands upon thousands of them in the city—the condo. This is a grouping of homes, similar to apartments in that they are usually located within one building. However, you own the entire unit inside that building, and some type of HOA fee will be charged to you for yard maintenance, window cleaning and other care to common areas throughout the facility.

Samuel Ciochon, an agent in the downtown and lakefront areas and one of Truepad’s Trusted Agents, said that the tricky thing with condos can be finding out all the financials of buying one.

“Condos are a bit strange—buyers are blind about the financials going in, and you find out that first week when you make an offer.” They are similar in different buildings, and good agents have experience to make accurate predictions about fees. Ciochon added that the fees are typically going to be higher in older buildings, and as you are more likely to want to make renovations, it’s important to include that in your thinking about what you can afford.

The upside is that, with so many condos available, it is easier to get a good deal on a condo, especially as compared to single-family homes, which may be more out of reach financially.

Co-ops

Co-ops used to be the only way you could buy into a multi-unit building, so they are common on the east coast. They aren’t incredibly popular in Chicago, but they can be found if you look hard enough. Out of all of the “home” choices you have, a co-op is a kind of shared ownership. The property is actually owned by a corporation. You become a shareholder within that corporation when you purchase.

The home is typically a unit within a larger multi-family structure, similar to a condo. The co-op building is managed by a board of directors, or some similar title, and they have a lot of power in the buying process, as they essentially dictate who can buy into the co-op. This can have a certain panache for people who are concerned about who their neighbors are when living in such close quarters. But it can also make reselling your unit a bit tricky. On the other hand, most co-ops are vintage buildings, and they tend to have larger units, and they often have a strong owner-to-renter ratio.

“All of these can be attractive reasons to buy into a co-op, but you also usually have to put a bit more money down when buying one, so that is a turn-off for many young people and first-time buyers,” Ciochon told us.

Alofs said that the fee structure in co-ops is often simpler than that of condos. “You pay one amount every month, and it covers everything—utilities, taxes, maintenance, insurance, all the upkeep, and professional management.”

With these four options available, you may be asking yourself, “Still…what type of home should I buy?”

Q&A

Answer the questions below and see which type of home works best for you.

Space, and particularly outdoor space, how important is it to you? Are you a DIY-project fiend (more time than money)? Do you want full control of all of your home making decisions? How do you feel about fees (have more money than time)? Do you consider yourself a risk taker?

As you decide, it can be good to look at a few dwellings in your price range of different housing styles, with a knowledgeable agent. Seeing properties will help you “home in” on what you want better than months of online research.

Emily Johnson

Emily Johnson is a writer, researcher, editor, and publishing consultant with a decade of learning in the field. For Truepad she covers real estate trends and develops knowledge base articles that help people learn about the process of buying as they’re looking for a home. She went through the process herself two years ago and is a proud homeowner in Logan Square.

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