Tips & AdviceWhat Is a Row House?

What Is a Row House?

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Due to increased population expansion in major cities in the late 1700s and early 1800s, the need for affordable housing options grew, so builders created row homes. Row houses were easy to build and cost-efficient, making them a popular choice in cities with growing populations. Their unique design and appealing characteristics make them favorable homes for families today.

Row House Structure

Row homes are single-family houses with several stories and share walls with other row homes on the same block. Row houses are also known as townhouses, and prospective buyers can explicitly search for townhouses on listing websites. Row homes commonly reside in cities, as they provide a large amount of square footage for a single-family by maximizing vertical space and condensing homes into blocks.

The History of Row Homes

Row houses first appeared in Europe throughout the 16th and 17th centuries, first gaining popularity in Northern European areas and British cities. One of the first blocks of row homes appeared in Paris in the early 1600s, known as The Palace Des Vosges. The bottom floors of the homes consisted of stores, while the upper level housed apartments. Anyone could live in the apartments, though in Europe, city laborers or noblemen often occupied the units. This type of construction maximized space by providing commercial opportunities on the bottom floor and the residential area above, making the area profitable.

As American cities grew more populous, row houses became popular across the water. While European countries used row homes as areas for both residential and commercial spaces, Americans used row houses to provide separate spaces for servants and the people they served. Servants lived on the bottom floor or in the basement, while the residents lived on the top floors. Additionally, the multiple-level homes made it easy to add grand features like large staircases and long windows.

Row Homes Today

In modern times, row homes appeal to homebuyers due to their affordability and space-saving opportunities. Row homes also do not require as much maintenance when it comes to yardwork or the roof due to limited space, adding to the property’s popularity.

In the current real estate market, row homes are more commonly referred to as townhouses. Couples, small families, and even single residents occupy row homes all across the United States. Row houses are popular as brownstones in New York City and increasingly popular in areas like Washington, D.C. Some property owners will divide their row home by floor and rent each floor out as a vacation or long-term rental property.

Row House Characteristics and Architecture

Though some features have changed throughout the years, most row houses have maintained similar attributes. Potential buyers can look for the following row house characteristics when searching for this type of property.

*Photo contribution: RealtyHop

Shared Walls

Row homes are notable because they share walls with their neighbors. This doesn’t mean there is a door that leads directly from one unit to the next, rather each unit shares a common wall and a roof. This keeps each unit separated, providing privacy to its residents while still allowing builders to fit as many units as possible in a single block of land.

Height

Row homes tend to be quite tall, typically spanning two to five floors. To maximize square footage and build as much residential space as possible, architects built up rather than across, as cities and large populations required intelligent construction strategies. A typical row house features as much square footage as a traditional single-family home. Homebuyers who do not mind climbing several staircases can find this style appropriate for their homeownership needs.

Individual Entrance

Even though row homes are all connected by shared walls and roofs, the units are not connected by doors. Each unit will have at least one individual entrance that only leads into that owner’s property. There are no common hallways or shared living spaces between row homes in a neighborhood or block. Some row homes may have a separate door to the basement entrance that originally provided access for servants. However, that additional door still directly provides entrance to the unit, as opposed to a common hallway or area between residences on the block.

Uniform Style

As row houses share common walls and roofs, each unit typically looks very similar to the other. A lot of the time, each unit is identical to the next. Some homeowners like to change up simple cosmetics, such as the color of their unit or the landscaping on their property. The interiors of each unit will always be different, as that is free to customize based on personal preference.

Pros of a Row House

Homebuyers across the country continue to appreciate row homes due to the following benefits:

Cost-effective

One of the most appealing features of row homes is their price point. Since row homes share walls with other units, they are usually less expensive than a comparably-sized free-standing property. Row homes allow buyers to experience home ownership while still keeping within a budget that is comfortable for them. First-time homebuyers may purchase row houses since they are a more affordable option in their city.

Maintenance

Row homes have small or nonexistent yards, making outside yardwork easier on homeowners. They also have shorter or shared driveway spaces, making snow removal simple in colder climates.

Community

Row homes naturally promote a communal atmosphere due to each neighbor’s proximity to each other. Certain properties with shared spaces further contribute to this aspect, as residents regularly interact with each other across the area. Residents who are new to a city or neighborhood may appreciate this added benefit and take comfort in knowing their neighbors.

Cons of a Row House

Those who wish to purchase a row house should also consider the following potential drawbacks:

Narrow structure

While row homes are tall, they are also narrow and consist of multiple floors. Those with younger children or physical disabilities may find it difficult to navigate the space easily, ultimately making the home inaccessible. Additionally, laundry is usually on the bottom floors of row homes, which could make this chore increasingly difficult.

From a design perspective, homeowners who appreciate open-concept layouts may not enjoy a row home’s structure. Owners will have to design according to the room’s layouts.

Parking

Row homes usually have shared driveways or parking lots with their neighbors. At times, this could make parking difficult for owners with multiple vehicles. In some cases, owners could utilize tandem parking, where two people occupy one long single spot. Tandem parking can become difficult for those who do not interact with each other regularly, as those who co-occupy a tandem parking spot must communicate when they need to use their vehicle.

HOA Fees

Row homes typically reside in community living spaces with Homeowners Associations (HOAs). Some HOA members may have to pay hefty fees and keep up with the upkeep of the shared exterior spots, including yards and parking areas. Those who are considering purchasing a row home should ask their real estate agent about any additional HOA fees.

Examples of Row Homes and Their Unique Features

While row homes share the features that make them the style of house they are, some row house characteristics are different between properties to help them stand out from the rest.

*Photo contribution: RealtyHop

Large Entryways

Even though row homes connect, they have private entryways. In some cases, row houses can have more grand front doors with large staircases leading inside. Impressive entranceways provide substantial curb appeal, especially for homes without front yards.

*Photo contribution: RealtyHop

Large Windows

Tall row houses with copious amounts of vertical space can also have large windows that help make the property feel larger. Large windows are also great for letting in natural light, as shared walls decrease the number of windows a home can include.

*Photo contribution: RealtyHop

Exterior Differences

While row homes on the same block typically have the same design and layout, owners can get creative with their exterior features to make their individual homes standout. On this block in Charlestowne, South Carolina, row houses each have their own bright color that makes them unique. Owners can continue to get creative with window treatments, doors, and light features.

Conclusion

While row houses originally provided commercial and residential opportunities to city residents in 16th and 17th century Europe, they remain popular in American cities today due to their affordability and characteristics. Those who are looking to purchase property in a city can experience privacy with a row home but still feel connected, quite literally, to their neighbors in the community. Before purchasing a row house, potential buyers should ensure they can navigate the space easily and afford the cost of potential HOA fees. Before long, they’ll be enjoying owning property in the city.

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