Are you looking to buy your first home and wondering what the differences are between a duplex and a single family house? Or maybe you’re thinking of becoming a landlord and want to know the pros and cons of duplexes versus single family rentals. Well, you’ve come to the right place!
There are some key things that set duplexes and single family homes apart. While they may seem similar on the surface, once you start digging into the details, you’ll see that they each have their own unique perks and drawbacks when it comes to size, cost, noise, privacy, parking, maintenance, and more.
Whether you’re shopping for yourself or for an investment property, understanding those key differences will help you decide which option truly fits your needs and lifestyle best. This guide will break it all down so you can make the most informed decision. Let’s dive in!
Defining a Duplex
A duplex is a single residential structure that contains two separate dwelling units, often stacked on top of each other or side-by-side. The units share one roof and are built on the same lot, but each has its own entrance.
Duplexes come in many shapes and sizes. Some common types include:
- Two-story duplexes – With one unit on the ground floor and one upstairs. These allow more privacy as the units are completely separate.
- Split-level duplexes – The units are offset, with one unit’s floors staggered above and below the other’s.
- Side-by-side duplexes – The units are attached horizontally through a shared wall. More intimate but still private.
- Bungalow duplexes – Both units are on the ground floor. Often found in communities for people aged 55+.
Duplexes can also have different ownership structures. In a fee-simple duplex, one owner controls the entire property. With a condo or HOA duplex, each unit has a separate owner and exterior maintenance is handled by a property management company.
Defining a Single Family Home
A single family home is a standalone, detached residential structure that is not physically connected to any other homes. The defining characteristic is that it is only occupied by one family, unlike a duplex which houses two families.
Single family homes come in all shapes and sizes, but typically feature:
- A front attached garage, rear detached garage, or rear lane access
- More privacy, as there are no shared spaces or adjoining walls
- Larger square footage, usually between 1,400 to 2,500+ sq ft
Overall, single family homes provide complete autonomy and privacy for the owners. The property and home belong to you alone.
Now that we’ve defined what makes a duplex and single family home, what are some of the other major differences you should keep in mind?
The size range can vary, but in general duplexes run from 1,200 to 1,800 square feet per unit. This makes them a great affordable option for first-time buyers.
Single family homes usually start around 1,400 square feet and can range widely up to 2,500+ square feet. The larger size provides more space for a growing family.
Given the smaller overall footprint, duplexes tend to be more affordable, with prices ranging from the $300,000s up to $400,000s.
Single family homes start around the $300,000s but can run up to $550,000+, especially for larger custom homes with premium finishes. Generally you get more house for your dollar, but the buy-in cost is higher.
In a duplex, some level of noise transfer is inevitable given the shared wall. However, proper noise-proofing techniques like staggered wall studs, insulation, and acoustic caulking keep disturbances to a minimum.
With single family homes, noise is rarely an issue at all since there are no adjoining walls. You don’t have to worry about hearing your neighbors.
Duplexes offer reasonable privacy, although you may have some shared outdoor spaces like front porches. Fences and screening can help delineate your private backyard area.
Single family homes afford complete privacy, as all outdoor areas belong solely to your unit. You don’t have to compromise or coordinate with neighbors.
Depending on the duplex, parking may be limited to just a single cement parking pad rather than a full garage. With a single family home, you’ll most likely have an attached or detached garage.
For a duplex, any repairs to shared elements like the roof, exterior, or landscaping have to be coordinated and split 50-50 between owners.
With a detached single family house, you shoulder all maintenance costs yourself but have total control over upgrades and repairs.
Along with physical traits, there are some key lifestyle considerations to keep in mind as you weigh duplexes versus single family homes.
Duplexes are quite common for rental properties and investment income, given their more affordable price point. Many landlords own the entire duplex and rent out both units.
Single family homes, on the other hand, are usually owner-occupied as a primary residence. Very few people buy single family houses as dedicated rentals.
Owning a duplex involves some level of coordination with your neighbor for exterior upgrades or repairs. With a single family home, you have total freedom to customize your property however you wish.
First-time homebuyers may gravitate towards duplexes as a lower-cost way to enter the market, while growing families tend to prefer standalones for the additional privacy and space.
Pros and Cons
Let’s do a quick rundown of the main advantages and disadvantages of each option:
- More affordable purchase price
- Potential for rental income from second unit
- Lower maintenance than a single family home
- Shared maintenance costs with neighbor
- Less privacy than a single family home
- Compromising on exterior changes
Single Family Pros
- Total privacy
- Freedom to customize the property
- Often larger square footage
Single Family Cons
- Higher purchase price
- Higher maintenance costs
- No rental income potential
So in the battle of duplex versus single family, who wins out?
The truth is, there’s no one “right” option for everyone. Buying a home is a very personal decision based on your budget, space needs, lifestyle and more.
The key is weighing what’s most important to you. Do you value affordability and rental income potential above all, or privacy and customization freedom?
Armed with the facts, you can now make an informed decision about whether a duplex or single family home is the best fit. And who knows, maybe like Drew Barrymore and Ben Stiller in Duplex, you’ll end up with a charming neighbor who bakes you pie instead of a nightmare!