When purchasing a home, it’s important to know your options. From single-family homes to condos and everything in between, knowing the nuances of the types of houses can help you determine what will work best for you.
“What makes one housing option better than another is a very personal question, and the answer depends entirely on what you as the client need and value in your life,” says Sara Rodriguez, CEO of Virginia-based Titan Title and the 2020 president of the National Association of Hispanic Real Estate Professionals.
If the prospect of choosing one from the many different types of homes available seems confusing, consider this your primer.
When you think of buying a house, you may be picturing a single-family home that sits on its own piece of land and isn’t attached to any other structures.
However, by U.S. Census Bureau definition, a single-family house could also be a row house, townhouse or semi-detached home, as long as it’s separated from adjacent units by a ground-to-roof wall (no other housing units above or below) and not share any utilities or HVAC systems with other homeowners.
“The pros include ownership of the land as well as the dwelling,” explains Judy Zeder, an agent with The Jills Zeder Group, a Coldwell Banker-affiliated firm in Florida. “However, in a single-family home, you are solely responsible for the maintenance of the property and insurance whether you are self-insured or are with a company.”
People who choose single-family homes tend to appreciate privacy, the potential for more storage space (in a garage or other structures) and heightened autonomy when it comes to making decisions about the property.
On the other hand, unless the house is part of a community, single-family homes typically don’t enjoy the benefit of shared amenities like a pool or gym, and 100 percent of the maintenance responsibilities fall to the owner. This can include developing a network of reputable contractors (an electrician and a plumber, for example), which takes time, and certainly includes accounting for the cost of the maintenance in your budget.
Condos and co-ops
You might also consider a condominium or co-op (short for “cooperative” housing).
In the case of a condo, homeowners purchase an individual unit within a community of other units. In a co-op, you would own shares in the cooperative or corporation that owns your building or community, rather than the unit itself.
“Both condos and co-ops have maintenance fees, and depending upon the building, these can vary greatly,” says Zeder. “The maintenance fees are for all the amenities and insurance on the building. It does not cover content insurance, which would be a separate cost, nor does it cover your taxes. There are frequent assessments in condos and co-ops that are voted on by the board and are required of the association to pay.”
The pros of buying into a condo or co-op include:
- A ready-made community
- Potentially a more affordable entry price
- Amenities like a pool or gym
- Lower maintenance responsibilities for individuals
- Increased security
The cons of a condo or co-op include:
- A lack of privacy
- Having to abide by homeowners association (HOA) rules
- Potentially limited outdoor space
- Assessments to cover community repairs
- The risk of having your property’s value impacted by foreclosures or short sales within the community
A townhouse is a multi-floor home with its own entrance that shares one or two walls with surrounding townhomes.
Newer townhome communities are typically planned and uniform, while older ones may be called “row houses” and more distinct, and may not be managed by an HOA. The newer communities “have a master plan, a board that manages the finances and are usually gated. They all have similar fees to condos,” Zeder says.
People who are drawn to purchase a townhouse appreciate the smaller footprint because you may be able to buy one for less than a detached single-family home in the same area.
Depending on the community, other potential pros include shared amenities, an HOA to manage exterior maintenance and landscaping and some outdoor space to enjoy.
The cons can include limited parking, restrictive HOA rules, HOA fees and lack of privacy.
If you’ve decided on a single-family home, one option may be a bungalow. Though real estate agents may use the term to reference any small house, true bungalows are one- or one-and-a-half stories with two or three bedrooms, a total of 1,000 to 2,000 square feet and often have a front porch. Bungalow styles include Craftsman, Arts and Crafts, Mission-style and Queen Anne.
Because of their small size, bungalows may appeal to those who need their living space on one floor, such as families with small children or those with mobility challenges). Other pros include the lower utility and maintenance costs associated with a smaller home, lower overall cost to purchase because of size, and often stylized and historic architectural details.
With a bungalow, the homeowner can enjoy the benefits of a single-family home without the cost and time associated with maintaining a larger property.
However, since many authentic bungalows are around 100 years old, they may need some extra maintenance to keep them in top shape, or even require new wiring. Some other drawbacks include smaller bedrooms and bathrooms and less storage space compared to newer homes. (Often, there’s no basement.)
A modular home is a factory-built home assembled by a builder on a permanent foundation and on a piece of property. Though they seem similar, modular homes are not the same as mobile homes, which can be moved from place to place. They are also slightly different from manufactured homes in that manufactured homes are typically completely built off-site, unlike a modular home, which is built in modules.
The pros of a modular home include:
- Less time and money to build
- “Green” building solution thanks to less waste
- Largely customizable to the owner’s specifications
The cons of a modular home include:
- A stigma that a modular home can lower your resale value
- Additional costs for land, foundation and utility hookup
- Some unexpected costs, such as electrical, plumbing and ductwork, not included in the base price
A multi-family home is a single housing unit designed to accommodate more than one family living independently. This might be a duplex or a building with up to four apartments. Sometimes, an individual or family will purchase a multi-family home to live in one part of it while renting the other(s) for additional income, or to provide separate living space for a relative that needs assistance, like an adult child with a disability or elderly parents.
Some of the benefits of a multi-family home include space for generating rental income and the option of a separate but close by residence for relatives.
The drawbacks include the inherent challenges of becoming a landlord (if renting the other units), the possible inconveniences of being in close proximity to other residents and potentially increased challenges of selling the home if it has tenants. If you plan to act as landlord, you’ll also need to thoroughly vet prospective tenants, which takes time.
Ranch homes are another popular kind of single-family home. Ranch houses are generally single-story properties, usually wider than deep, with a lower-pitched roof and an open or semi-open floor plan.
“They were very popular in the 1960s and many remain popular today,” Zeder says.
Within the ranch category, architectural styles and designs include the California ranch, Storybook ranch and split-level ranches, which deviate from the one-story style.
Like bungalows, ranch houses tend to appeal to those who value single-story living, and exterior maintenance can be easier since the roof is lower to the ground compared to a multi-story home. A ranch might be ideal for a homeowner with limited mobility, for example,
The cons of a ranch house might include a smaller yard due to its spread-out design, and the high cost of adding a second story onto the home if you find yourself needing more space and not wanting to move. Depending on local zoning laws, you might not even be able to add a second story, which itself can be a downside.
How to choose the house that’s right for you
In addition to the specific type of house, there are many things to consider when evaluating what kind of home will suit you, such as your financial situation, lifestyle, location preferences, what kinds of amenities you need and how much maintenance you’re willing to do. A real estate agent can help you think through those factors and discuss all of the costs associated with buying a home.
“To find the perfect home, you’ll need an agent that is well-informed and understands your needs,” Rodriguez says. “What makes a perfect home is a deeply personal question, so it’s important to work with an agent you trust and can share details about your lifestyle with.”
Featured image by Siri Stafford of Getty Images.