What is a single-family home?

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In the real estate world, there are a dizzying number of terms everyone should know and understand. This is especially true if you’re shopping for a new home, since you’ll need to know the terms used to describe different types of real property and become familiar with the financial details involved with taking out a mortgage.

One term you may have heard used fairly often is single-family home. But, what is a single-family home exactly, and how is it different than other types of homes?

In most cases, a single-family home is what you would imagine it to be—a freestanding home set alone on its own piece of property.

“A single-family home is an independent residential structure that sits on its own land and is designed to be used as a single dwelling unit, having just one kitchen, unshared walls and unshared utilities,” says Texas real estate agent Benjamin Ross.

Or, you may want to consider a broader definition: According to the U.S. Census Bureau, a single-family house is one that may be fully detached, semi-detached, a row house or a townhome. However, for a dwelling that’s attached to other homes to be considered a single-family home, it “must be separated from the adjacent unit by a ground-to-roof wall,” they note. Also, units that are attached in some way to another must not share heating or air-conditioning systems or utilities, nor have units located above or below.

What’s the difference between a single-family home and a multi-family home?

You may be wondering if a single property that hosts multiple units can be considered a single-family home. An example might be a brick structure on a single lot that has a regular residence and two small apartments upstairs.

Ross says that a single-family home cannot have multiple units because it doesn’t meet the characteristics of housing set by U.S. government agencies. A single-family home could never include multiple units because they would share interior walls and potentially have their own kitchens and utilities.

Pros and cons of living in a single-family home

If you’re considering a single-family home, there are some major advantages and disadvantages to be aware of. Pros and cons, however, can vary depending on where you live and the type of single-family home you’re considering. So, make sure to consider how this list lines up with your unique situation.

Pros of single-family homes:

  • More privacy: Since single-family homes usually sit on a piece of private property and don’t share walls means you have a lot more privacy, says Katie F. Jones, a real estate agent and investor at Agape Investing. Also, “noise level does not usually matter in a single-family home because neighbors cannot hear you,” she says.
  • More storage space: Single-family homes typically have more storage space compared to condos and other types of property with shared walls, Ross adds. Many have room for exterior storage space, such as a shed, garage or barn.
  • More options for exterior decor: Ross also says that single-family homes make it easier to personalize your landscaping. You can also build onto or modify the structure more easily if you have a single-family home.

Cons of single-family homes:

  • Fewer ways to use your property to earn income: California real estate agent Mike Kistner says that, when comparing single-family homes to multi-family homes, it’s hard to deny that multi-family homes have more income potential. You could live in one unit and rent out the other units in a multi-family property, for example.
  • Potential for more responsibility: If you own a single-family home instead of a condo or townhome that is part of an HOA that provides some basic services, you’ll have to hire help to deal with maintenance and repairs or do it all yourself.
  • Single-family homes can cost more. This is especially true if you’re buying a home on a large lot with a big backyard and a garage. However, you should check housing costs in your area to make sure this is true where you live. The good news is there’s no monthly HOA fee when you own a single-family home outside an association.

Who are single-family homes best for?

There’s no “right” or “wrong” way to buy a house, just like there’s no perfect home to suit everyone’s tastes. Where some families prefer a single-family home with a huge yard and plenty of room to spread out, others prefer a multi-family property they can use to earn side income. Others still prefer a low-maintenance condo or townhome that includes benefits like landscaping, snow removal and exterior maintenance.

For the most part, single-family homes are “best for families that can afford the luxury of more space and privacy,” says Ross. “These homes suit a family that has the time and money that general maintenance along with yard upkeep requires.”

Of course, the best home for someone can change as time goes on, he says. “As we get older and our children grow up,” Ross says, “we tend to look towards more of a community-type living.”

That’s often why you see pre-retirees and retirees moving into condos where some of the chores of homeownership are taken care of for them.

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
Holly D. Johnson
Author, Award-Winning Writer
Holly Johnson writes expert content on personal finance, credit cards, loyalty and insurance topics. In addition to writing for Bankrate and CreditCards.com, Johnson does ongoing work for clients that include CNN, Forbes Advisor, LendingTree, Time Magazine and more.
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