Is Duplex Living Right for You? Here’s Everything You Need to Know

Kathryn Pomroy
Written by Kathryn Pomroy
Updated January 7, 2022
A front porch of a duplex house
Photo: Jason / Adobe Stock

A duplex can be twice as nice, whether you want a rental home with perks, a great solution for extended family, or a property with potential

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Does the term “duplex” make you scratch your head? Have you ever wondered what the definition of a duplex is and if this type of home would be right for you? Whether you’re a busy professional who wants low-maintenance living in a homelike setting, empty nesters looking for a property that offers income possibilities, or a big family that likes living together, but not “living together,” read on for all the deets on duplex living.

So What Is a Duplex, Anyway?

 A duplex can offer the best of both worlds—community and privacy. But what’s the actual deal with a duplex? Simply put, the two separate units of a duplex share a common element, such as a floor, ceiling, or wall, but each has its own entrance. Depending on the property, they may also have separate yards, laundry areas, and garages. Duplex houses and apartments can be a great fit for anyone, from solo homeowners to big families who want their own spaces.

What Is a Duplex House vs. a Duplex Apartment?

Nearly one in five families live in a duplex or quadplex building, according to the National Multifamily Housing Council. As to the difference, it’s easy. A duplex apartment is similar to a duplex house, except in an apartment there may be multiple units (or neighbors) sharing walls. In other words, you might have a neighbor to one side, or above or below your apartment.

Each duplex unit will have its own entrance, kitchen, bathrooms, and bedrooms, and functions much like a townhouse or twin home. In a duplex apartment though, it’s more likely that you may have to share a backyard, garage, laundry, or storage area. But that’s not always the case. Some duplexes have separate areas and amenities assigned to each unit, just as with a duplex house, so make sure to ask questions if you’re considering a duplex home

What About a Duplex vs. Townhouse vs. Condo?

Many people think that duplexes, condos, and townhouses are the same. But there are subtle differences. Let’s take a look, shall we?

Duplex

Generally, a duplex is a dual-unit residence that belongs to one owner. Sometimes the owner will rent out one unit in the duplex and live in the other one. This can be nice if you like the idea that your owner lives on-site and is there for any maintenance issues or problems. It’s like the perks of low-maintenance living in a more house-like setting. 

As to the nitty gritty, in each unit of a duplex, there can be multiple bedrooms and bathrooms, but usually just one kitchen and a living area for each individual residence. There might also be a private yard for each home, but it’s not uncommon that outside spaces are shared. If you like garden parties or backyard barbecues with friends and neighbors, this might be just your thing.

Townhouse

Understanding townhouses and duplexes can be confusing because in terms of space they’re pretty similar. Both have separate living areas and normally share a wall, floor, or ceiling with another residence. They have their own kitchens, bathrooms, bedrooms, and can often also have separate yards and garages.  

But here’s the kicker: the main difference between a townhouse and a duplex is in the ownership. Each townhouse (or townhome) is individually owned or rented, and that includes the outside spaces, which means you probably won’t share a patio or yard with your neighbor. Unlike a duplex, though, where you share common elements with just one neighbor, in a townhouse you may have neighbors on two sides, depending upon the configuration of your community. For starters, imagine a row of townhouses, each with its own steps and doorways, and you’ll get the picture.

Condo

A condo or condominium is a building or multiple buildings that are made up of individual units. One example is to think of an apartment building where each residence is owned individually as if it were its own little house. Depending on the specific condo rules (and condos often have extensive rules), owners may live in their condos or rent them out. 

Important note: there are often more than just two units in a condo, but neighbors may still share multiple elements, such as walls and floors/ceilings or even a gym or cool residents’ lounge in the building. In a condo, outside areas are typically the property of an HOA (Homeowners Association), meaning they’re owned separately from the homes themselves. Some people prefer a condo to a duplex, because within a condo grouping, the HOA generally maintains the lawn and communal areas, so you don’t have to worry about mowing the lawn on weekends or watering flowers if you’re not into that.

What Actually Is a Half Duplex?

A half duplex is, well, just one side of a duplex. But, instead of one owner owning both of those halves, with a half duplex, each side has a separate owner. So, you own your own space but you’re close enough to plant a joint garden or invite a neighbor over for morning coffee. Could be the best of both worlds!

What Are the Pros and Cons of Living in a Duplex Home?

Living in a duplex house has some great advantages over other types of properties. But it’s true that duplexes also have disadvantages, and it all depends on what you’re looking for in your home. Let’s help you look at both sides.

Pros

  • Duplexes have one shared wall, ceiling, or floor

  • You may have your own yard and garage 

  • Duplex houses and apartments can be more affordable

  • Duplexes have separate entrances, giving them more privacy

  • If you own a duplex, you may be able to rent out one or both units for extra income

  • If you’re a multi-generational family, you can live together while maintaining your own spaces, enjoying closeness and privacy. Meaning a delicious dinner with the grandparents and they can still say goodnight at the end of the day.

Cons

  • Duplex houses often don’t have amenities like a gym or pool

  • You may have to share laundry facilities and even parking

  • There may be a lawn to mow and a driveway to maintain

One of the most appealing parts of duplex living is that you can expect to pay less for a duplex home or apartment than for a single-family home with the same number of rooms and similar square feet of living space. 

But it’s not a cookie cutter situation. There are always price differences related to availability and location. To give you an example, if the duplex is downtown in a trendy neighborhood within walking distance to a great gastropub, a vintage store, and a romantic Italian trattoria, it might come with a higher price tag than a duplex in a more sleepy suburb. Depending on your stage of life, your work, and even how much you like to be out and about, you can decide which duplex is right for you. 

The bottom line: the average duplex cost falls in between that of a single-family home and a condo. The latest figures from the National Association of REALTORS show the median price of a single-family home at $275,100 in September 2019. For a condo, that median price was $248,600. For a duplex, you can expect to pay, give or take, the national average price of $264,000, according to Zillow.

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