First-time home buyers have the thrill of a lifetime ahead. You also have a lot of confusing territory to navigate, not the least of which is choosing which type of home to buy. Your starter home can be anything you want it to be; you just have to decide what matters to you, and where you can find it.
Your first home can be a condo, duplex or attached home, a co-op, or a single-family home. Each has its advantages and drawbacks, and one will suit your lifestyle better than the rest.
Here’s what you need to know about your choices:
A Single-Family House is the Starter Home Classic
Single-family homes are just what the name implies. They are independent houses, not attached to any other. You don’t necessarily need a 4-bedroom, 2-bath house to choose this track. Small cottages abound, and some are move-in ready.
Privacy is likely the number-one benefit of a single-family home. There are no neighbors with adjoining walls, and your backyard is yours alone. It might be as small as a postage stamp, but you don’t have to share your space.
The downside of a single-family home is the upkeep and responsibility. (Read: Home Inspections: When and Why) No other type of home requires as much of your finances and time, as a single family home that sits independently on its own lot. The whole exterior is your responsibility, including the lawn, and insurance costs might be greater too. Heating and cooling are another issue, as you have “four walls” where the elements will try to creep in, and you'll lose more conditioned air through gaps in your home's envelope.
A single-family home might also be more expensive, although existing homes are cheaper than new construction. Price depends on where the home is located, as even condos in urban areas can cost more than a small house in a low-key suburban area.
Condos Come with Great Benefits for First-Time Home Buyers
If you’ve lived in an apartment for a while, buying a condo might seem like a great first step into home ownership. In some locations, that’s probably true. But there are drawbacks to consider.
The pros of buying a condo include a great combination of freedom and low maintenance. You can renovate (within reason) inside, and decorate to your heart’s content. But building maintenance is handled by someone else. That’s a win/win.
Condos may also cost less than other housing options, at least in some areas. (Read: First Time Home Buyer Tips) But they appreciate slower, according to Money Crashers, and they're not as easy to sell when it's time to move.
You’ll also pay condo association dues. That’s what pays for the exterior maintenance, although based on my handyman business, each condo association decides where to draw the line and windows (window sills) are very controversial. You’ll be governed by the association’s rules, which might be very restrictive. And your privacy will be similar to an apartment, although some condos are more soundproof.
Co-Op Living Can be an Affordable Starter Home Option
If you live in an urban area, you’re probably familiar with cooperative housing. If not, there’s a bit of a learning curve. A co-op may be a single house, an apartment building, or any other dwelling where several people live. Student housing near a university can give you a good idea of what cooperative housing is like. You might live in an apartment or a house with several other people, but you have your own space inside.
The benefits of a co-op include low cost to buy in, and maintenance that’s either shared or handled by a company that the co-op hires. In a house, you’ll have the benefits of a larger home and the shared space that comes with it. But you’ll also be living in a quasi-family atmosphere with minimal privacy. In a building, you might have your own unique unit, separate from others, similar to an apartment or condo situation.
The negatives of this type of starter home are monthly fees, and limited freedom to make improvement, explains Realtor.com. You can’t paint the living room on a whim, because you own a share of the whole property — you don’t own your unit.
Attached Homes Merge Single-Family Living with Low Maintenance
An option for some first-time home buyers is an attached home. Attached homes are sometimes called duplexes, and can be found in nearly every city and state in the country. Attached homes aren’t always small, and some are as large as their single family counterparts. A benefit is the exterior maintenance is handled by an association, and with fewer exterior walls, should maintenance and repairs should be lower. That means you’d never have to paint the siding or mow the lawn.
In other areas, the duplex is shared property. You may share the job of maintaining the structure with the adjoining family, or you may each take care of your own side. Privacy is the main concern with attached homes, just like condos. Depending on the community, an attached home might also be more challenging to sell. But in other areas, they might be a hot commodity. It pays to know your market.
Buying a starter home is exciting, scary, and sometimes overwhelming. There’s much to learn about your housing options. The important thing is to take it slow and learn everything you can. Don’t be in a rush to buy, just because you can. What’s perfect for you might not be perfect for everyone else, and that’s ok. It’s your home, and you get to decide what’s best.
Have you recently purchased a starter home? What helped you decide which type of home to buy? We invite you to share your story with others here on Home Tips for Women.