What is A Duplex?
The definition of “duplex” can vary widely depending on what area of the world and/or country you are in. For the sake of this article, we will define a duplex as a housing structure with:
- Exactly two dwelling spaces (more than two would be a “multiplex” like a condo, apartment, or townhome)
- Exactly one shared wall (side-by-side) or one shared floor (over-under)
One person may own the entire structure and lot, or two people may each own half of the structure and lot.
What Are The 2 Types of Duplex Houses?
There is a wide variety of floorplans available to match any type of structure or design, but there are only two types of duplexes:
- Side-by-Side: One dwelling on the left, one on the right, sharing a single wall. Sometimes this is a garage wall and other times it is a wall in a living space.
- Over-Under (a.k.a. stacked): One dwelling on the bottom floor, one on the top floor, sharing a ceiling/floor.
What is it Like Living in a Duplex?
Living in a duplex provides an experience similar to living in a single-family home. These houses are typically found in decent residential neighborhoods and often have front and/or back yard space. On the inside, the space is generally larger than found in an apartment, with the renter having some freedom to make minor changes to the interior such as changing paint colors.
Duplex renters often enjoy more privacy and peace than in an apartment, but that will ultimately depend on whether your sole neighbor likes to blast his music towards the shared wall. Renters of a duplex may be required to perform certain maintenance tasks such as cutting the grass.
Is it Noisy Living in a Duplex?
It may or may not be noisy living in a duplex. The factors that decide the noise level are:
- House layout, floor plan: Over-under layout is noisier than a side-by-side layout. A side-by-side may also be noisy if the shared wall is against a living space. A shared wall in the garage is likely the quietest.
- The thickness of the shared wall and if any soundproofing materials were used.
- Whether your neighbor is an obnoxious party animal.
Is a Duplex Worth Less Than a House?
Single-family homes are usually larger than a duplex, so the single-family may be priced higher. But from a price per square foot perspective, a duplex has a similar value to a house.
When it is time to sell the investment, the duplex owner may find there is less market demand for duplexes, so it may take longer to sell the property, or the price may need to be lowered to attract buyers.
What Type of Financing for a Duplex?
A duplex is considered a residential property (not a commercial) so a conventional residential loan should suffice. If the investor plans to live on one side of the duplex then the investor may also qualify for owner-occupied financing options such as FHA and VA home loans.
Can Buying and Living in One Unit Help Someone Retire Earlier?
A successful strategy used by some investors is to purchase a duplex property, rent out one side, and live in the other side. The rent money the investor receives can cover part or all of their mortgage on the entire property. This lowers the cost of housing for the investor.
An investor can retire early by having a much lower mortgage payment, or by paying the house off and selling the property for a net gain.
Some downsides to this “Let someone else pay your mortgage” investment strategy are:
- You will likely be a busy landlord; the renter will be knocking on your door every time something happens on the rental side
- Renters may cause damage
- When the renter leaves, you may go months before finding a new renter; you will have to pay for the entire mortgage yourself during this time.
15 Pros and Cons of Living in a Duplex
Living in a duplex house can be a different experience than living in a single-family home or a multiplex building. The following describes the pros and cons of living in a duplex.
10 Pros of Living in a Duplex
1. Cheaper than renting a full house
The overall benefit to renting a duplex is that you’ll get the feel of a house but at the price of an apartment. In other words, you’ll get benefits similar to a single-family home while paying less than a single-family home rent.
2. More room than an apartment
In general, renting a duplex should get more square footage than an apartment in your area. So if your area is mostly 800 sq feet apartments then you will likely get 900-1100 sq feet in a duplex.
3. Usually in a better neighborhood than an apartment
Apartment buildings are generally found alongside other apartment buildings, in the more urban and crowded parts of town. Duplexes are usually found near single-family homes, in the more suburban parts of town. This can provide residents more of a neighborhood feel. Duplexes can provide affordable access to top neighborhoods in your area.
4. More privacy, fewer neighbors
By definition, a duplex will have only one neighbor directly next to you. You will not have to share halls and elevators. You likely won’t be surrounded by multiple neighbors every time you step outside your door.
5. Freedom to decorate
One of the benefits of renting a home or duplex is that you usually have more freedom to decorate the interior of the home, change the paint, swap fixtures, and other minor changes. There is also usually an outside yard that can be gardened and decorated.
6. A Yard to Enjoy
A duplex is often sitting on a lot with some form of front and/or backyard. This may be a place for a dog or kid to run around. When combined with a decent neighborhood (Pro #3) you will have easy access to the outdoors.
7. In-house Washer and Dryer
No more dragging bags of dirty clothes down to the apartment laundry room. Many duplexes have their own hook-ups for washers and dryers.
8. Only One or Two Stories High
Folks eager to abandon walks up long flights of stairs and long elevator delays will be much happier in a duplex. Most duplex entrances sit on the ground floor.
9. Your Family Can Live Next Door
If you are a member of a big family, perhaps have elderly parents to care for, a duplex can offer your family an opportunity to live side-by-side with each other. So you can have the enjoyment of having a dear family member near you, but with a nice thick wall running down the middle of the house to help you keep your sanity.
10. Let A Renter Pay Your Mortgage
If you are interested in becoming a homeowner, you may find purchasing a duplex to be an intriguing option. You can live on one side and rent out the other side. The rent you are being paid can cover some or all of your mortgage payments.
5 Cons of Living in a Duplex
11. Still Stuck With One Neighbor
A duplex is like a single-family home except for that one neighbor living on the other side of the wall. If that neighbor is a nightmare then living in a duplex will become tiresome. Also, that one neighbor may be your landlord (it’s hard to complain to your landlord about your noisy neighbor when your landlord is that neighbor).
12. Noise May Still be a Problem
A duplex offers a nice boost to peace and privacy versus an apartment, but that one shared surface won’t block every sound. Folks in the downstairs of a stacked duplex will have their share of stomping to deal with. Residents in a side-by-side had better hope there isn’t a TV or stereo on the other side of the wall.
13. Increased Maintenance Responsibility
Pro #6 discusses the benefits of having a yard to spend time in. With this often comes a responsibility to keep that yard mowed and trimmed. Winter-time duties may also involve shoveling snow.
14. Some Parts of the House May Be Shared
Depending on the structure and floor plan of the home, some parts of the house may be shared by both residences. This could include the plumbing, roof, foundation, porch, yard, sheds, pool, driveway, etc. The situation can get complicated when one of these sections of the house requires repairs or if there is conflict.
15. Being a Full-Time Landlord
If you decided to purchase a property and live on one side of the duplex while renting out the second side (Pro #10), you may find having your tenant right next door to you to be irritating. Rest assured, every time something small goes wrong in the house, you’ll get a knock on the door. Hope you are handy with a wrench.