Townhouses are popular because the rising costs of land and construction costs are putting single family homes out of the reach of many buyers. Their house of tomorrow may well be a townhouse. Communities like EYA’s Chancellor’s Row by Catholic University offer lots of interior space, upscale finishes and roof decks with two-sided fireplaces, all designed to engage the buyer.
Buyers like the central location of most townhouses, too. Many new communities include a central commercial area as part of the amenities package. Now you get not only a pool or tot lots, but also a few restaurants and shops. Existing communities in DC which are being revitalized bring with them new shops and restaurants to entice neighbors. As each new year reveals yet another hot neighborhood in DC, the older housing stock of town homes is being reclaimed. Those rundown town homes in Kingman Park, Brightwood and Woodbridge are becoming elegant town houses and condos. The new restaurants and stores follow along quickly!
Townhouses are popular with empty nesters seeking to downsize because they are looking for homes with less maintenance. A deck or patio with a walled garden is a real down size for many people used to spending their weekends mowing the lawn and spreading mulch! The interior space in many town houses still includes table space kitchens, formal dining rooms and bedrooms for family and friends to visit.
“If you look at the last four quarters of data of production of townhomes, the single-family attached market is up 24 percent,” says Robert Dietz, chief economist of the National Association of Home Builders. “It’s growing eight times as fast as the overall single-family market.” There are reasons that townhouses are popular!
With new home prices soaring, builders are hunting ways to produce more affordable houses—but finding land priced right for traditional homes, particularly in urban markets like Washington DC is a challenge.
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Townhouses are increasingly an option, Dietz says.
“Townhouse construction tends to be a little smaller and more entry-level-market and more dense,” he says. “We see this as a great growth potential for the home-building market.”
Townhouse starts totaled 14 percent of the total building market in 2018—tied for the highest rate of construction ever, according to the NAHB.
“It’s the way out of some of those supply side headwinds,” he said at the building industry’s annual meeting recently held in Las Vegas. “This kind of home is selling. It’s just a question of whether builders can build it.”
In DC on the other hand, in February 2019, there were 150 listings of detached homes and 301 listings of town homes! (This of course does not reflect which were new construction or resales.) In neighboring Montgomery County, the reverse was true. There were 580 single family homes listed in contrast to 216 town homes. The difference in land prices really does make a difference in the housing stock available to buyers.
We are lucky in the DC metro area to have so many town home communities from which to choose. On a national level, builders often have to compete with apartment developers for townhouse land, and cities can lag in providing proper zoning for the product. There can be push back from traditional homeowners, too. When a large new home community in Fort Worth, Texas, recently added townhouses to its offering mix, homeowners in the development protested the move.
Danushka Nanayakkara of the NAHB’s forecasting and analysis department says the industry is forecasting continued townhouse growth.
“This is a very appealing market for the millennials that want to walk to work and restaurants in an urban location,” she says. “It’s a way for builders to have more density.”