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What is a ranch home?

A newer ranch home
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You’ve likely seen them scattered through neighborhoods where you live, and they’re typically a favorite choice among first-time homebuyers or those looking for simple living.

We’re talking about ranch homes, which boomed in popularity after World War II and still remain popular for those looking to buy a house today. You’ll find a wide variety of ranch homes, old and new, throughout the country.

Let’s explore this simple yet functional housing style in more detail.

What is a ranch home?

A ranch home is a house that is a single-story home that typically features an open floor plan. These homes tend to be wider than they are deep, with an L or U shape, and a lower-pitched roof.

Joe Dickerson, a Realtor with Keller Williams Realty in Oakland, California, adds that the design of a ranch home gives you ease of access throughout the property.

“In my market, I see many homes that have purposeful indoor and outdoor flow, especially into the backyard,” Dickerson says. “Of course, these homes keep bedroom areas separate from living areas by using a hallway for access.”

In a ranch home, you’ll usually see the dining area and kitchen, along with the family/living room, combined into one open area with few, if any, walls separating the spaces. Many ranch homes have sliding glass doors that open onto a patio area in the backyard.

Ranch homes are usually built on a concrete slab, though some can have a basement or crawl space. Cliff May, an architect who is credited with designing the first ranch-style home in the 1930s in California — once said that his design was intentional to create a more informal outdoor living space.

What are the different types of ranch homes?

Since May popularized ranch homes all those decades ago, variations of the style have cropped up over time. Generally, these different ranch styles still have an open floor plan, flat design and easy access to outdoor areas, but there are some nuances. Here’s a look at a few types of ranch homes:

California ranch

This style typically features more Spanish architectural influences and is the style that May originally designed. Some people lump California ranch and suburban ranch styles together.

Raised ranch

Typically referred to as split-entry homes, these have two floors, one at slab level and one above; you go up or down a level by stairs once you enter the home at a landing halfway between the floors.

Split-level ranch

Similar to the raised ranch but it has three levels. You’ll have a kitchen and living space, then a short set of stairs to additional rooms and more stairs leading to the bedrooms.

Storybook ranch

These ranch homes have more elaborate designs reminiscent of famous fairytale homes. Storybook ranch homes became popular in parts of California during the 1920s and 1930s.

Pros and cons of living in a ranch home


  • It’s easier to maintain. With a single-story ranch home, maintenance and repairs won’t be as difficult or arduous. For instance, cleaning gutters or making exterior repairs will be easier than getting up to a second or even third story of a multi-level home. You might also have a smaller yard. “Since the home is more spread out, there tends to be less lawn space, meaning you don’t have to cut as much grass compared to other homes,” Harris says.
  • It’s great for those with limited mobility. Dickerson and Harris agree that one of the main advantages of living in a ranch home is they’re easier to move around in. And that’s ideal for homeowners who are disabled or elderly homeowners with limited mobility.
  • It can be safer. Single-story living makes it easier to evacuate if there’s a fire, and it removes the threat of young children or older homeowners falling down a flight of stairs.


  • You might have less privacy. With bedrooms on a single level, you might feel like you have less privacy with living areas in close proximity than a home with multiple stories and bedrooms on varying levels. Same goes for the open floor plan; you may decide you want your living area to be completely separate from the dining area, for example.
  • It might have a smaller yard. A home with a spread-out design could mean you’ll have a smaller yard, which can be a turn off if you want more green space for pets and children.
  • It will cost significant money to do additions. If you want to increase the square footage of a ranch home, you either need to build a second story or build horizontally. That can add considerable cost and time to a major home addition.

Who are ranch homes best for?

Ranch homes are ideal for anyone who prefers single-story living. Singles, couples and families with children can find something to love about a ranch home. Many senior living communities offer ranch-style homes (usually with smaller floor plans) because they have better accessibility than multi-level homes.

Sizes of ranch homes vary across the country, so it’s really your preference. Ranch homes can be as small as 700 square feet or sprawl to 3,000 square feet or more, depending on your area.

Ranch homes are also ideal for those who don’t intend on doing major renovations like adding extra square footage and for homebuyers who want a home with lower maintenance than a multi-story home.

Next steps

Working with an experienced real estate agent who knows your local market can help you narrow your choices. If you prefer a specific home type (like a ranch or a two-story), be sure to tell your agent that upfront so he or she provides you only with the properties that match your criteria. Finally, no matter what style of home you love, get a professional home inspection to ensure it’s in good condition so you know what you’re getting.

Find other housing types:

House type Who it’s right for:
Apartment Apartments are suited for anyone looking to stay in a prime location for a cheaper price near shopping, restaurant and entertainment centers, often at a more affordable cost than buying a condo or single-family home.
Condominium Condos appeal to those looking for a lower-maintenance living, home with a sense of security, opportunities to be social with neighbors, among other factors.
Townhouse Townhouses are a particularly good option or first-time homebuyers or other budget-minded home buyers who want more space than typically afforded in a condo.
Modular home Modular homes are enticing to empty-nesters looking to downsize, couples looking for backyard units like tiny homes or families looking to upgrade their dated properties in nice but expensive neighborhoods.
Single-family home Single-family homes are best for families who prefer a huge yard and plenty of room to spread out. Others still prefer a low-maintenance condo or townhome that includes benefits like landscaping, snow removal and exterior maintenance.
Multi-family home Multi-family homes are best for those who are interested in getting into real estate investing and are comfortable with the added responsibility and time commitment that comes with being a landlord.
Bungalow home At between 1,000 and 2,000 square feet, bungalows are a great option for young families looking for a starter home or retirees hoping to downsize in a home without stairs, or single homeowners who want the single-family home lifestyle without managing a huge property.
Co-op Co-ops are most often found in major cities, and they can be good for those looking for security or neighbors who largely adhere to the building’s rules and policies.
Patio home Typically capped at one-and-a-half stories and part of a larger association, patio homes are best for homeowners who don’t want to deal with stairs or maintenance.
Ranch home Ranch homes are ideal for anyone who prefers single-story living. Singles, couples and families with children can find something to love about a ranch home.
Written by
Sarah Li Cain
Insurance Contributor
Sarah Li Cain is an experienced content marketing writer specializing in FinTech, credit, loans, personal finance and banking. Her work has appeared in Fortune 500 companies, publications and startups such as Transferwise, Discover, Bankrate, Quicken Loans and KeyBank.
Edited by
Deborah Kearns
Mortgage reporter
Reviewed by
Senior mortgage loan originator, American Fidelity Mortgage