What Is A Single-Family Home?

While buying a home can be an exciting milestone, it also involves learning the wide number of terms used in the world of real estate. One phrase you’ll likely come across is “single-family home,” which refers to one of the more popular kinds of properties.

If you’re wondering what a single-family home is and if it’s right for you, here’s what to know.

What Defines a Single-family Home?

A single-family home is a house intended for one family to live in at a time. In most cases, this phrase is used to refer specifically to single-family detached homes—meaning freestanding structures on their own pieces of property and not attached to homes owned by other individuals.

If you buy one of these houses, you’ll own both the home as well as the property it sits on. This differs from other types of properties like condominiums where you own only the interior of your individual unit and share joint ownership of common areas with other homeowners in the complex.

However, the government uses a broader definition. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, semi-detached duplexes, quadruplexes, townhouses and row houses are also considered to be single-family structures along with fully detached homes. However, in order to meet this classification, the homes must be separated by a ground-to-roof wall with no units above or below them, and they can’t share heating systems or utility meters.

This legal definition can come into play if you’re working with the Federal Housing Administration (FHA), U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) or Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to finance your home. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac also adhere to this definition.

Single-Family Home vs. Townhouse

Unlike freestanding detached homes, townhouses are homes that share at least one or two walls with other units beside them, depending on if they’re end units or not. While these types of homes contain multiple levels (often two or three stories), they’re also usually smaller than single-family detached homes, which can make them a less expensive option.

Townhouses also typically provide amenities that you’ll share with your neighbors, such as access to a pool or clubhouse. Additionally, unlike with other attached homes like condos, you’ll own the land that your unit sits on.

Keep in mind that townhouses tend to be part of a homeowners’ association (HOA), which will manage services like lawn care and maintenance. This means you might share responsibility for your home’s exterior with the HOA—for example, you might be in charge of your windows and deck while the HOA takes care of the siding, roof and driveway. Note that HOA fees can range from $100 up to $1,000 or more.

Single-family Home vs. Condo

Condos are another type of attached home that comes with access to shared amenities. Like townhouses, condos are typically part of an HOA—meaning you won’t be responsible for the exterior or landscaping but will have to pay HOA fees.

A condo will likely be smaller than a townhouse or single-family home, which could make it more affordable in comparison. However, you’ll only own an individual unit within the complex—not the property it sits on.

Single-family Home vs. Multi-family Home

Multi-family homes are buildings that can house many different families at once, such as an apartment or a condo building or a duplex, triplex or even a quadplex. These are popular real estate investments as they can help boost an owner’s cash flow as well as increase their net operating income (a formula used to calculate an investment’s profitability). An owner might also opt to live in one of the units, in which case it’s known as an owner-occupied property.

Living in a multi-family home could also be an option if you’d prefer to rent instead of buy or would rather have a smaller space without additional responsibilities like taking care of a pool or lawn.

Pros and Cons of Buying a Single-family Home

Like any kind of property, a single-family detached home comes with its own upsides and downsides.

Pros of Buying a Single-Family Home

  • More space. If you’re looking to purchase land that you won’t have to share with others, a single-family detached home could work best for you. You might also enjoy additional features like having your own garage, backyard, pool or garden.
  • More privacy. While you’ll still likely have neighbors in a single-family detached home, they’ll be much more spread out compared to if you lived in a condo, townhome or apartment. This could be ideal if you prefer to keep to yourself.
  • More amenities. Single-family detached homes often provide access to private amenities and appliances, like washers and dryers (or hookups to install them), dishwashers and yard space.

Cons of Buying a Single-family Home

  • Higher purchase price. Single-family homes tend to be the most expensive option compared to townhomes and condominiums. This might hurt your chances of buying if you don’t have enough money saved up to afford the home. Even if you make a hefty down payment, a higher purchase price means larger monthly payments.
  • More upfront costs. Buying a single-family home usually means getting a mortgage, which can come with additional expenses like a down payment (depending on the loan type) and closing costs. You’ll also need to consider moving expenses as well as the costs to make any updates or replace appliances before settling in.
  • Extra responsibility. More home and space means more individual responsibility. If your home comes with its own yard, you’ll be on the hook for mowing the lawn or hiring a company to maintain it. The same goes for interior costs as well. So if a pipe bursts or your air conditioning stops working, you’ll have to foot the bill to fix it.

Alternatives to Single-family Homes

If a single-family home doesn’t seem quite right for you, there are some alternatives to consider.

  • Apartment or condo: The only difference between an apartment and a condo is that individual apartments can only be rented while condos can be purchased the same way as any house (then rented out by the homeowner if they’d like). Both share walls (and possibly floors or ceilings, in the case of apartments) with neighboring units, but you generally won’t have to worry about maintaining the property.
  • Townhouse: You also have the option to buy a townhouse, which will have multiple stories and will share one or two walls with other units. Like apartments and condos, townhouses are typically less expensive than single-family homes. But unlike with these other options, you’ll own the property that the townhouse sits on.
  • Multi-family home: If you’re looking to invest in real estate, buying a multi-family home—like an apartment complex, duplexes, triplexes or quadplex—could be an option. While this will likely be more expensive than purchasing a single-family home, you could end up breaking even, then increasing your earnings by collecting rent from tenants.
  • Manufactured home: Previously known as mobile homes, these are typically smaller and much less expensive than single-family homes but also offer the ability to live in a detached space. Keep in mind that with a manufactured home, you’ll generally be restricted to living in a mobile home community, which gives you less of a choice in where you want to live.

More From Advisor

The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

More Related Articles

Info icon

This data feed is not available at this time.

Sign up for the TradeTalks newsletter to receive your weekly dose of trading news, trends and education. Delivered Wednesdays.