What Is a Duplex?

by Lesly Gregory | Updated: Nov 20, 2020

It's not always easy to find the perfect rental home. There are so many different types of properties to consider — apartments, single-family, multi-family, condo — it's a long list. Each option has pros and cons, but when you're ready for something a little different, consider a duplex.

“Rather than having a lot of neighbors just down the hall in an apartment complex, duplexes offer a home-like feel with your own front door and garage," says American Family Insurance. You end up with a home that offers a little socializing and a lot of privacy.

You may not have considered a duplex as an option for your next house simply because you're unfamiliar with it. Let us answer the question, “what is a duplex?," and help you decide if one is right for your next home.

What is a duplex house?

It's almost the best of both extremes — house and apartment. By definition, a duplex is a multi-family home, but it's limited to two units per building. Units can sit beside each other or stacked on top of one another. You get the feel of a house without renting out an entire one.

Most duplex houses have units of similar size, each with their own entrance. They may include a garage, patio or backyard — everything you'd expect to come with a house. The only difference is you may have to share some spaces — likely outside ones — with your neighbor.

Because of the design of a duplex house, you'll share one complete side with your neighbor. This element is like apartment living, only with better soundproofing. You may share a wall if the units are beside each other, or you may end up with your ceiling being their floor.

A duplex floor plan.

Source: Direct From The Designers

What is the difference between a duplex and a townhouse?

Renting out a unit in a duplex and an entire townhouse are different in a few ways. They may look the same because of shared walls, but in a duplex, there's one owner for both units. The entire building, although rented out as two units, is a single property.

A single townhouse has one owner, but the attached townhouse(s) belongs to someone else. While a duplex consists of two attached units, townhouse rows can have multiple homes connected to each other. Each townhouse owner handles both the inside and outside of their particular home. Set up much like an apartment community, townhome neighborhoods often have a shared pool, clubhouse and other amenities open to all residents.

Should you rent a duplex?

Like any type of property, there are both positives and negatives when it comes to living in a duplex. Once it's on your radar, think about the good and bad of duplex living to make a final decision.

Pros of living in a duplex

Separate and private are two distinguishing qualities of living in a duplex. You get the solitude and space of a house, but also have someone right there to watch over your half of the building when you travel. They're a trusted connection to exchange pet sitting duties with if you work a long day. Other pros of living in a duplex include:

  • Sharing common areas and amenities with only one neighbor. No more fighting over washers and dryers with an apartment building full of people. No more crowds to wade through in a shared outdoor space on a perfect, summer night.
  • Living in a home. Even shared, this property is more like a house than almost any other option.
  • Having more space. Since each unit in a duplex is half a house, you often get a lot more space than you'd have in a condo or apartment.

Duplex living can also be an affordable alternative to renting a single-family home. You get exactly the style of living you're looking for by sharing a wall. You'll split certain costs and tasks related to home care with your duplex-mate, another cost-saving perk. This includes maintaining shared outdoor space. Who wouldn't want a partner to take on mowing the lawn half the time?

Cons of living in a duplex

The one thing you give up living in a duplex is control. Many negatives about a duplex revolve around what kind of neighbor you have next door. This is only something you can manipulate if you and someone you know decide to rent out both units. If this isn't the case, you could end up living next door to someone that makes your life harder rather than easier.

If the property owner moves in, will that add extra stress that you're being watched? What if your neighbor is too noisy? What if you constantly smell their cooking through the shared wall? If you have a nosy neighbor, are they always watching your comings and goings? These types of issues hit on a much smaller scale in a duplex but can present unwanted challenges.

To set the best example possible of what a good neighbor should be, make sure you keep your noise level down by not setting up speakers or your television against your shared wall. Keep your couch, chairs and bed away from that wall too in case your duplex isn't as quiet as you'd hoped.

Living the duplex life

No matter what type of home is your ideal, the search is rigorous. Narrowing down the types of properties you want to live in can help make things easier. If you decide you want a little apartment-style living mixed with the feeling of a house, a duplex might be the right choice for you.

Categories: Renters

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