Lew Sichelman

People shopping for new, more spacious single-family houses in this heated market may be overlooking places that meet most, if not all, of their needs: townhouses and condominiums. 

The newest breed of townhouses and condos in small buildings check all the boxes for riding out the virus  and beyond. Indeed, many seem to be designed especially for the pandemic, but often at a more affordable price and in a more walkable location than detached houses in the far-out suburbs. 

Yes, these attached homes normally are somewhat smaller than their stand-alone brethren. But todays plans often include dedicated home offices, separate spaces for home-schooling, and dual master suites  handy for extended families. 

Some have kitchens with expansive islands for cooking, crafting and gathering, and walk-in pantries for stocking up on essentials. Some even come with finished basements for whatever the need may be  lounges, bonus rooms or play areas for the little ones  and private, fenced-in backyards for safe outdoor activities. 

They’re Just as Big… 

According to the Census Bureau, townhouse construction has slowed a bit as demand has shifted to more suburban and exurban locations, where land tends to be less expensive. Over the last four quarters, single-family attached dwellings accounted for 106,000 construction starts, which is 6 percent fewer than in the previous four quarters. 

Still, Robert Dietz, chief economist at the National Association of Home Builders, believes the townhouse share of the market will trend higher in the coming years. Given the growing number of buyers looking for medium-density neighborhoods, such as urban villages with walkable environments and other amenities (as opposed to high-density downtown spots that depend elevators), Dietz says the long-run prospects for townhouses remain positive. 

Attached single-family houses have long been touted as great alternatives to more expensive detached dwellings, especially for first-time buyers moving out of apartments or their parents basements. But now, in their effort to compete with detached houses in the age of COVID-19, some townhouse builders are designing bigger and better than ever. 

They may or may not be any less expensive, but they tend to be closer to city centers than detached homes in the way-out-there suburban fringes. Cases in point: Two projects by Chicago-based Lexington Homes  one in Arlington Heights in the citys northwestern suburbs and the other in Warrenville, almost due west. Both have all the functionality and style of detached houses  and at different price points. 

…And More Affordable, Too 

They offer open floor plans, spacious kitchens with large islands and master baths with seats in the showers and separate water closets. They have finished lower levels, unfinished basements, private balconies and small, yet functional, backyards. They also have multiple home office/workspaces, which todays buyers say they want. And some layouts offer dens and computer niches at the top of the staircase landing, supplying families the options they may need for remote learning and working. 

Neither project is considered close-in, but Arlington Heights is still in Cook County, same as Chicago. The Lexington Heritage property there features two collections: one with two- and another with three-bedroom, 2-story models, each with two-car garages and up to 3.5 baths. This grouping ranges in size from 1,650 to 1,950 square feet. Homes in the other series contain three-level units with two or three bedrooms, attached garages and up to 3 1/2 baths, and run from 1,813 to 1,976 square feet. 

Though still in the nine-county Chicago metro region, Warrenville is pretty far out at the western end of DuPage County. But the units there measure almost 2,000 square feet, with either front- or rear-loading garages. And starting at just under $300,000, prices there are much less than in Arlington Heights, where the starting price is $438,000. As a reference, the median resale price in Chicagoland in July was $277,000. 

Condos Have Evolved 

No longer a basic two-bedroom, two-bath cube, some condominiums are evolving, too. Some now even offer multiple floors. 

Lets look again at Chicago, where the CA6 West Loop project by the Belgravia Group offers four-bedroom duplexes. These 2-story units feature dedicated office spaces, flex rooms to accommodate multiple uses, and outsized, 700-square-foot private terraces that can hold a trampoline or an inflatable pool. 

These units range in size from 3,100 to 3,157 square feet with four bedrooms, 3.5 baths and a backyard. But starting at $1.65 million, the prices here are not for the typical buyer. 

Prices are more modest – starting at $500,000 – at the Venue condo in Old Town Alexandria, across the Potomac from Washington, D.C. These range up to 2,300 square feet with one to three bedrooms, plus a den. 

Lew Sichelman has been covering real estate for more than 50 years. He is a regular contributor to numerous shelter magazines and housing and housing-finance industry publications. Readers can contact him at lsichelman@aol.com. 

Townhomes Have Evolved into an Effective Alternative

by Lew Sichelman time to read: 3 min