What is a duplex house?

Twin homes offer interesting possibilities for those looking to purchase a home or investment property. But what exactly counts as a double house, and is owning a straightforward home the same as owning a single family home? Weighs two experts.

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Definition of a duplex house

A double house is basically a property in which two families can live separately.

“A duplex is a single house or building with two separate living areas within the same building,” says Ryan David, owner of We Buy Houses In Pennsylvania. “For example, consider a large single-family home divided in half, either vertically or horizontally, that would allow different tenants to live in a separate apartment under the same roof.”

Another way of expressing this is to say, in duplexes, some aspect of the two spaces are shared.

“A duplex home is made up of two separate units that share a common element, such as a wall, floor or ceiling,” says Mallory Mecic, Angi home care expert. “Each unit has its own entrance but may share other amenities, such as yards and garages.”

Sometimes, duplexes consist of two independent properties, especially in urban or suburban areas. In these cases, the properties may have different owners, and the structures function as detached homes: independent structures with a common wall (and sometimes shared parking or other features). In these cases, each owner owns part of the duplex, not all. In many cases, though, one person owns the duplexes, and the separate units can be next to each other or stacked, with the ground floor serving as one unit and the top floor serving as another.

Many people are interested in duplexes because they can be a direct component of a multigenerational family living situation.

For example, an aunt and uncle on one side and parents on the other,” says David.

Duplexes are for multiple families, which means that there is adequate parking, plumbing, and space (in most areas). In most cases, the price of the property is comparable to that of a single family home, making it a bargain purchase in many ways.

A common reason to buy a duplex is to live in half of the property while renting the other half.

When the owner does this, it’s usually referred to as “house hacking,” David says. This provides exceptional value to the owner, because the house can basically be lived in for free, especially if the rent from the other half covers the mortgage and utilities.”

In some cases, the buyer may buy a duplex apartment and rent out the two halves, as the owner.

Micetich says some buyers live on one side of the duplex but use the other half for guests. Whatever the case may be, duplexes are often a bargain.

“They are usually more affordable than traditional homes, so you can enjoy most of the luxury of owning a home at a lower price,” says Micetich.

Should you buy a duplex?

If you are looking to buy a full duplex, you will first need to familiarize yourself with the local ordinances.

“The rules for duplexes in most areas are the responsibility of the local municipality,” says David. “For example, zoning, law enforcement, etc., would fall under the local city or governing authority.”

From there, you’ll want to check out a logistics checklist, starting with utilities, says David. In some cases they are shared, and in some cases they are separated.

“If the utilities are shared, the landlord will have to pay the utility fee or have the tenants share equal responsibility for paying these utilities,” says David.

Parking is another major consideration. Make sure that if you are renting the property, the tenants have access to their own parking lot. If you don’t, your tenants may need to use off-street parking, so you’ll need to make sure it’s available as well. Either way, this can affect what you can rent the unit for.

“If there is only street parking, it will lower the rental income that the landlord can collect,” says David. “Or if there is only enough parking for one tenant, then naturally the tenant who parks it on the street will pay less rent.”

Either way, you’ll want to make sure you spend plenty of time doing the math and making sure there’s demand for rental property locally.

“Anyone looking to buy a duplex should also know that the amount received from the tenant’s rent will be able to pay off the mortgage debt as well as any other utilities and expenses,” says David. “The number one goal of an investment property is to make a profit for the owner, so it is imperative that the two rents of each apartment exceed monthly expenses to keep up with operating expenses.”

David also points out that privacy is often a stress point in duplex homes, so take a closer look at the availability of common spaces such as garages, basements, and attics.

“To alleviate any liability concerns, a prudent owner will make sure that any common space shared between the attic or basement is separated,” he says. “The more privacy each tenant has, the better off everyone will be.”

What to consider before buying a duplex

If you are wondering about the risks of owning a duplex, consider privacy first, especially if you plan to live on half the property.

“Before you buy a duplex unit, think about how sharing a wall or ceiling will affect your daily life,” says Micetich. “For example, you may have to deal with a neighbor who is annoying or unwilling to help with the yard work.”

At the top of the closed quarters, keep in mind that duplexing means double the amount of maintenance.

“You’ll have twice the kitchens and bathrooms and square footage to manage and maintain,” Micetich says.

If you rent out part or all of your duplex and sell it to someone else who plans to rent it out as well, you’ll want to be able to prove that the property can generate income.

“The higher the rents each month, the higher the owner’s earnings,” says David. “More money means more desirability. Keeping the duplexes in good shape, clean and well maintained will also help to retain the property and add to its value.”

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