Single Family Home

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What You Should Know

  • A single-family home can be detached, semi-detached, rowhouse, duplex, triplex and so on.
  • There is no single definition of a single-family home because different agents use this word differently.
  • There are many alternatives to a single-family home such as a multi-family home, a condominium, and even a vacant lot.
  • Single-family homes tend to be spacious, but they require a lot of maintenance and are usually more expensive than other property classes.

What Is a Single Family Home?

Properties can be classified in many different ways. It can be classified by the style of a house, such as a bungalow or a single-storey house. It can also be classified by type of house, such as a detached or semi-detached house. The broadest differentiation between properties is by class like a single-family home, multi-family home, or a condominium.

Mobile Property Classifications Infographic

There is no single definition of a single-family home. Many times a single-family home refers to a detached house that does not share any walls with other houses or dwellings. On the other hand, according to the US Census Bureau, a single-family housing unit may refer to detached, semi-detached, rowhouses, townhouses, duplexes, and others as long as certain conditions are met. These conditions include the following:

  • Units are separated by ground-to-roof walls.
  • Units have a separate heating system.
  • Units have individual meters for public utilities.
  • Units are not located above and below each other.

This means that a single-family home can have shared walls with other units, but each unit must have its own entrance and essential facilities. Essential facilities refer to facilities that are required to maintain a unit in habitable condition. These facilities may include HVAC, hot water equipment, and others.

According to this definition, a single-family home encompasses a broad range of housing types as long as they are built correctly. A single-family home does not refer to a whole building, but it refers to a specific unit in a building. For example, if a detached house has only one unit, then the unit and the building itself is single-family. On the other hand, if a semi-detached house has two independent units that adhere to the definition of a single-family home, then the building itself is multi-family while the two units themselves are single-family homes.

Single-family homes are the most common type of home sold and rented in the US. About 44 million individuals rent a single-family home in the United States. According to Statista, the median sales price of a single-family home is around $363,800 as of August 2021. There is a lot of demand for single-family homes, and it has been steadily increasing for over a decade. Even though there is a lot of demand for single-family homes, there are other housing types available, and a person thinking about buying a property should consider the pros and cons of a single-family home and other property classes available.

Pros & Cons of a Single-Family Home
ProsCons
More SpaceMore Maintenance
More PrivacyExpensive
Ability to RebuildLack of Amenities Nearby
Fewer RestrictionsNeed for a Car
No Extra Fees
Extra Outer Space

Ownership of a single-family home also differs from ownership of other property classes. Single-family house ownership usually implies that a homeowner owns the property and the land the property is on. In contrast, condominium ownership implies that an owner has a claim to an interior of an individual unit while all shared spaces are jointly owned by the members of a condo association.

Types of Single Family Homes

Many types of housing can be classified as single-family houses if the conditions described above are met. It is important to note that the definition of a single-family housing unit is quite broad, which may lead to confusion about whether a given house can be considered a single-family house or not. Many different types of agents are present in the real estate field. All of them may have a slightly different definition of a single-family home. Some may consider a single-family home as a detached house with its own land while others may think of it as a housing unit that is fully independent of all other units.

For example, there may be two duplexes where one has two units stacked on top of each other and another where units are located side by side. The first duplex that has units stacked on top of each other must be considered a multi-family unit because both unit owners may not have the ownership of the land their building sits on. On the other hand, the duplex that has units located side-by-side may be considered single-family if the conditions for a single-family home are met.

Detatched Home

Single Family Detached

Single-family detached houses are the most common and most recognizable type of single-family home. This housing type does not share any walls with another dwelling unit and has a piece of land that surrounds the house. It has its own HVAC, water heater, and utility meters. A single-family detached house may not be considered a single-family house only when there is an extra legal unit such as a finished basement unit. There are some homeowners who create a separate unit in the basement. In this case, the house becomes a multifamily duplex.

Semi-Detatched Home

Single Family Semi-Detached

Semi-detached houses refer to houses that share at least one wall with other houses. Not all semi-detaches houses are single-family. There are a few conditions that a property must meet to be considered single-family. Houses that share a wall or multiple walls may also be considered single-family houses if all the units are fully autonomous and have a chunk of land to them. The units must be separated by ground-to-roof walls and have separate essential amenities. In addition to that, every owner of a respective unit must have a chunk of land entitled to them in order for a semi-detached unit to be considered a single-family. If a house with multiple semi-detached units is owned by one person, and land is owned by the whole building, then it is likely a multi-family unit.

Multiplex Home

Multiplex

There are different types of multiplexes. It could be a duplex, a triplex, a quadruplex, and so on. Many multiplex properties are considered semi-detached since they usually share at least one wall with their neighbors. Since they share walls with their neighbors, it might be a bit confusing whether the property is single-family or multi-family. Regardless of the number of units, there are in the building, each unit may be considered a single-family home if they meet the requirements of a single-family housing unit. This means that the units should not be dependent on each other, and they should not share any essential structures such as HVAC, water heater and electric wiring.

Pros and Cons of a Single-Family Home

Before choosing a single-family home as a property of interest, a buyer should consider all pros and cons that come with owning a single-family home and compare them with the pros and cons of other property classes such as condominiums.

Pros

  • More Space

    One of the most noticeable pros of a single-family home is that they usually come with a lot of space. Even if the house itself is not large, relative to other property types, a single-family house has land attached to it, which provides a possibility of having more space.

  • More Privacy

    Compared to other property classes such as condominiums, single-family houses tend to be more private because of fewer neighbors around and no shared area. A single-family house usually has its own entrance, which means that there is no shared space within the house.

  • Ability to Rebuild a House

    Single-family houses come with land that can be used to expand the property or even build another one. Single-family houses are usually freehold, which means that the owner can change the structure of the house as they like as long as it is within the law. If an owner wants to increase the square footage of the property, they could rebuild the house, which is not possible with other property classes.

  • Fewer Restrictions

    Other property classes like condominiums have certain rules that must be followed in the building. These rules exist to minimize conflicts that may arise between different unit owners who live very close. Since a single-family house does not have any shared spaces, there are no extra rules that an owner has to follow.

  • No Extra Fees

    Since there is only one family living in a single-family property, there are usually no extra fees that are associated with living in the property apart from standard fees such as utilities and taxes. Unlike single-family homes, other property classes usually have fees associated with each unit such as HOA fees.

  • Extra Outdoor Space

    Many property classes other than single-family homes are often missing private outdoor space. On the other hand, single-family homes usually have some outdoor space attached to the property, which may be useful for families and people who like to stay outside.

Cons

  • Expensive

    Since a single-family home is usually much bigger than a condominium, it is also usually more expensive. People who are looking to purchase a single-family home may have a hard time saving up enough money to cover the down payment compared to other property classes.

  • More Maintenance

    As a sole owner of a single-family home, the buyer must be aware of all the maintenance that has to be done regularly. This starts from mowing the lawn to ensuring that all essential structures like HVAC and water heater work correctly. Sometimes maintenance tasks may take quite a bit of time, so a single-family homeowner should be ready to step in whenever needed.

Single-Family Home vs Townhouse

It is possible to confuse a single-family home with a townhouse. The tricky part is that two similar buildings may be identified differently depending on the structure of the buildings. Most townhouse complexes are operated as multi-family properties because all the units have common amenities such as central heating. On the other hand, some buildings that look like townhouses may be simply multiple single-family homes attached together. Even though the buildings may look the same, living in a townhouse compared to living in a single-family home may be very different.

Single-Family Home vs Townhouse
Single-Family HomeTownhouse
Ownership of a Building and LandOwnership of Interior of a Unit
More MaintenanceLess Maintenance
Less FeesMore Fees
Fewer RestrictionsMore Restrictions
Less SocialMore Social

Townhouses are often sold as condominium units in a sense that an owner of a townhouse owns the interior of the unit while all other spaces are shared with other unit owners. In this case, it is likely that an owner may have less freedom when it comes to changing the structure of their unit, and they also have to pay HOA fees to cover the cost of building maintenance. On the other hand, this type of housing does not require as much maintenance by the owner as a single-family home requires.

Townhouses that are sold as freehold, which means that a buyer owns the whole unit and has the right to change as they find fit, is likely a single-family home. This type of property usually comes with a chunk of land to satisfy the conditions for qualifying as a single-family home. In this case, the owners usually live individually and maintain their property on their own. There are no HOA fees associated with this type of housing, but an owner has to maintain their property on their own.

Single-Family Home vs Condominium

Condominiums are usually less expensive to buy than single-family homes, but they also provide less space and less freedom. Condominiums are similar to townhouses, but they tend to have less space and be constructed in high-density areas. On the other hand, single-family homes are usually built in suburban areas that have a much lower population density compared to high-density areas. This means that single-family homes have fewer amenities nearby, and the household may need a car to access nearby amenities. There are many other aspects in which a single-family home is different from condominiums described below:

  • Essential Structures

    A single-family home has all essential structures such as HVAC and water heater, and the owner has to maintain them on their own. If something breaks, it is up to the owner to fix it. Condominiums usually have a common furnace and water heater, which means that no single unit owner is responsible for maintaining them. Usually, it is the responsibility of a condominium association to keep essential structures maintained.

  • General Maintenance

    A single-family home does not share any space with anyone else. This means that a single-family homeowner is responsible for maintaining their property including snow shoveling and lawn mowing. On the other hand, condominiums have a lot of common space, which is shared between the unit owners. They are usually maintained by a condominium association rather than by a single unit owner.

  • Fees

    A single-family home may be more expensive to buy than a condominium, but a single-family home usually does not have any extra fees. Since condominiums have to be operated and maintained, the unit owners are required to pay for the services provided through HOA fees. A single-family home does not have any HOA fees and does not incur any extra costs if all maintenance is done by the household.

  • Space

    Condominiums are not as spacious as single-family homes. Single-family homes are usually bigger than most condominiums and they have a piece of land attached to the building. Condominiums tend to be quite small because they are located in densely-populated areas where space is scarce. Because of that, condominiums are usually much smaller than single-family homes.

  • Privacy

    Condominiums tend to be less private because they are usually well-packed. Condominium owners should expect to have neighbors above, below, and around them. This is not the case with single-family homes because a single-family home is usually its own unit that has no neighbors above or below them. Even if it is attached to another single-family home, there must be a ground-to-roof wall between the homes.

Who Should Consider Single-Family Homes?

Single-family homes are the most common property class in the market. These properties are usually very spacious with multiple rooms, and they come with many responsibilities. A single-family home may not be suited for everyone. Two individuals may have a very different opinion on whether they need a single-family home or not.

For example, a family with 3 kids that have a stable income and a car may prefer a single-family home. A family of 5 may require extra space for growing kids and to store their possessions. A single-family home allows them to live peacefully without having many neighbors around. Additionally, a car can be very handy to travel around and reach nearby amenities.

On the other hand, a recent graduate who is single and is looking to focus on their career may prefer a condominium or a townhouse to a single-family home. A single-family home requires time for maintenance. Even if the buyer chooses to hire professionals, it may be quite costly and will still take time to communicate and cooperate. A condominium does not require a lot of maintenance because most of it is done by the homeowner’s association. It does come with extra fees, but overall a condo is likely to be a cheaper place to live in compared to a house.

Alternatives to a Single-Family Home

Even though a single-family home is the most common property type in the market, there are plenty of other choices to look at before settling on one specific type of property. A person who is looking to buy a property but is unsure what to get should consider other property types and their pros and cons before buying one.

  • Multi-Family Home

    Multi-family buildings have multiple units that are in some way dependent on each other. A multi-family building may have multiple units stacked on top of each other. It may also have a heating system that services all the units in the building. Or they may have a shared space such as a hallway between the units.

    Multi-family homes are attractive because of their ability to generate rental income. Multi-family homes tend to have the highest return on investment (ROI). Some multi-family homes may be a great investment, but these types of buildings also come with many responsibilities and maintenance costs. A multi-family home usually comes with multiple smaller units, so it is expected that a single-family home will have more space than the space provided by a unit in a multi-family home.

    It may be best suited for real estate investors who are looking to generate rental income, or small families with an adult who is interested in real estate and would like to spend time maintaining the building. It may not be the best choice for large families with parents who have full-time jobs. It may not be a good fit because the building will require constant maintenance and management, and a large family may feel too packed in a small unit.

  • Condominium

    A condominium is a unit in a multi-family building that can be bought. Ownership of a condominium implies ownership of the interior space of the unit, which means that there are limitations as to what an owner can change about their unit. Condominiums are usually much smaller than single-family homes, have many shared spaces, and are more social than detached houses.

    Many people are interested in buying a condo because they do not require as much maintenance and other property types, and they are not as expensive. They do come with extra monthly fees such as HOA fees. These fees are spent to maintain the building and the area adjacent to the building.

    A condo can be a great fit for single people and small families who cannot afford a house currently. Because it is a relatively cheaper option, it might be more attractive to people who have not saved up enough to get a house. Additionally, a low need for maintenance allows people to focus on their careers and other important things rather than trying to upkeep the property. It may not be a great choice for large families with an adult who does not work. In this case, a condominium may be too small for the family, and since there is an adult who does not work, they may take care of maintaining a property.

  • Vacant Lot

    Buying a vacant lot may be the cheapest option to own real estate, but it comes with a lot of work. A vacant lot is simply a piece of land where an owner can build anything they want. They could build their own house from scratch, which may take quite a bit of time to finish. They may also buy a manufactured home and set it up on the vacant lot.

    A vacant lot requires a lot of work before a property on the lot can be habitable. Because of that, a buyer of a vacant lot must already have a place to stay while the work is in progress. Building a house may be cheaper than buying a house, but it must be done by experienced investors who know where to hire the right contractors to do the job. It is possible to get a mortgage for the lot and for building a house just like getting a mortgage for any other type of home.

    A professional working in construction who has a family and is planning to move to a bigger house at one point may consider buying a vacant lot. Using their experience and network, they may be able to handle the work of building a house, and since they are not planning to move urgently, they can allocate enough time to complete the project. On the other hand, a family who is trying to move to another state for work may not have enough time to build a house, so they might be better off buying one instead.

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