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Townhomes: An Attainable Alternative

A type of home that attracts buyers of different demographics
By Marilyn Kennedy Melia
CTW Features

Young families want a home but can’t save as quickly as prices rise. Boomers need a smaller place near stores and restaurants, so driving isn’t always required. Both of these groups are looking for the “missing middle” in housing, says architect Dan Parolek of Opticos Design, Berkeley, California. They may have better luck finding it if they set the filter on listing sites to “townhome.”

For about the last decade, the townhome has made some steady gains in filling the middle gap between single-family homes and apartments. “My expectation is that townhouse construction will total near 120,000 units for 2020,” says Robert Dietz, chief economist, National Association of Home Builders (NAHB). That’s compared to an expected 800,000 single-family starts.

Parolek predicts further gains with the townhome “chipping away” at the single-family dominance. Land is scarce in inner-suburbs and cities, but townhomes economize on space. “The typical townhome is approximately 2000 square feet,” says Dietz. Townhomes, sharing a ground-to-roof wall but not common facilities like an attic or basement, are akin to single-family and may have small yards.

One thing buyers don’t want, says Parolek, are “cookie-cutter” homes defining a development. He sees townhomes as part of communities that offer bungalow courts, triplexes and other varieties.

Of course, some townhomes are aimed at the luxury market. But in many areas, Parolek says, townhomes “can be delivered at a price point that’s attainable,” meaning buyers who earn near the median or midpoint for household income in their area could buy. He prefers the term “attainable” to “affordable,” since the latter implies that the housing is subsidized, and not the ideal choice. Instead, Parolek believes that many millennials prefer the townhome model for its efficient use of land and improved sustainability.

For hopeful buyers, whether or not the townhome is their answer depends on finding and touring for-sale properties popping up in a search.