How is a Condominium Different from a Townhouse?

Even real estate practitioners don’t always know the answer, but the distinction is important.

Marina Cove - palm coast condominiumPalm Coast, FL – July 19, 2010 – I received a call from a real estate agent last week asking whether or not there were Townhomes in Marina Cove. There was a heated debate among agents in his office about the correct answer. One participant quoted’s description of Marina Cove which stated, "Marina cove has 110 condos and townhomes…" I posted that phrase three years ago based on a description found in some marketing material.
The answer is:  Marina Cove consists entirely of condominiums. That’s straight from the Flagler County Property Appraiser’s office. But it’s also true that some of the units within Marina Cove can be referred to as townhomes. That’s because a condominium is a legal designation of how you own a property while townhome simply describes a type (or style) of property.
Ownership Types
The most predominant methods of owning property are Fee Simple and Condominium. If property is owned Fee Simple, the owner has an unqualified ownership in the property or real estate. Fee Simple ownership typically includes the structure’s interior and exterior, the land on which the structure is built, some rights to the air space above the structure, and often lands in front of, behind, or aside the structure.
Most single family homes are owned Fee Simple. Townhome, townhouse, and row house all describe a consecutive series of similar residential units that may or may not share common walls with the adjacent units. They usually have two or more levels, may or may not sit on individual lots, and may or may not have front or back yards. These units, including the single family homes could be sold Fee Simple or Condominium.
The owner of a Condominium has title to the unit’s inside space. Condominium documents prescribe where ownership begins. For instance it may include the wall covering but not the wall board. Or it might include the wall board but not the wall studs. The owner also holds an undivided interest in the common elements; hallways, lobbies, landscaping, roof, etc. The common elements are owned collectively by all condominium unit owners.
At Marina Cove, the declaration documents specify all units as Condominium. Likewise, Tidelands units are all sold as Condominium, including the units described as townhomes. To add to the confusion, the MLS has multiple classifications for property type; Condo and Townhouse. It’s kind of like mixing apples with oranges.
Over a half dozen Tidelands units are listed for sale as Townhouses rather than Condos. Although this description is accurate as to property type, it is misleading. An unintended result is that a search for condos for sale will not display the Townhouse units. Any statistical analysis of listed properties or prior sales is inaccurate to the extent that the arbitrary use of property type is inconsistent.
I corrected the webpage describing Marina Cove.
4 replies
  1. Michael Chiumento
    Michael Chiumento says:


    This issue is confusing and, logically, may not make sense. Regardless of what they call it or what it looks like, the general difference is as follows. In a townhouse, ones owns the land/lot which is platted and, through agreements, share a wall. In a condo, however, the only thing one owns in the "air space"…no land. Regarless, both generally operate the same way. As for MLS issues, one only needs to look at the title report to note the distinction regardless of how the units are appear to be set up. With a Condo, a Declaration of Condominium is recorded pursuant to Chapt 718 F.S., If it is not recorded, it is likely a townhouse…but it could be something else like a trust or other ownership structure. Hence the use of the word "conflicted".

  2. Art Dycke
    Art Dycke says:

    Condos and Townhouses

    I used to live in Marina Cove in a "townhouse" with an adjacent boat dock.The dock itself was a separate condominium.When I asked what land came with my "townhouse" I was told, "The only dirt you own is in the flower pots inside your "house" (condo?)

  3. Jim Sheehan
    Jim Sheehan says:

    My realtor

    Toby, that call came from my realtor. I actually checked the original deeds online for the units I was interested in. They were all described on the deed and sold originally as condominiums. Your explanation is correct. A condominium is a type of ownership while a townhome is a type of structure. Thanks for the research.

  4. Jolita Wagoner
    Jolita Wagoner says:

    Fee Simple Estate

    There are two types of estates in real estate. Freehold and Non-freehold (or leasehold). A leasehold estate, of course, is an estate for years – and has a definite start and end date(tenancy at will and tenancy at sufferance also fall under leasehold).
    A condominium is a "Freehold" estate and may be owned as a "Fee simple" or "life estate" as the bundle of rights of ownership is absolute and complete. Condo owners (even timeshare owners to an extent) have the same bundle of rights as a homeowner, townhouse owner, or even a homeowner’s association owner. Real property (Real Estate) means any interest in land – of which the land for a condominium is owned by the owner, but as what’s known as common areas (this is the surface right). Of course with a town home, the property is singly owned (but the articles of incorporation may read otherwise). The documents filed with the Department of State (for Town homes and HOA’s) or the declaration of condominium will describe the limits of ownership.

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