white duplex

Duplex Apartments: What Buyers Need To Know

Miranda Crace5-Minute Read
July 02, 2021

When individuals are in the market for a new home, they often gravitate toward the housing options with which they’re familiar. They may rule out living in an apartment because they want yard space. Or, they may cross a house off their list because they don’t want the responsibility that comes with taking care of an entire property.

However, many don’t realize that you can have the best of both worlds by choosing to live in a duplex. Read on to learn what a duplex is and why it could be the perfect option for your new home.

What Is A Duplex?

A duplex is a multifamily home that is divided into two separate units that both have their own entrance. The two single-family homes are either side by side and share a wall, or are on different floors.

While twin homes also have two distinct units that share a wall, they differ from duplexes in that they are split into two separate lots and thus are considered two independent properties. Like triplexes that possess three different units and fourplexes that have four, duplexes are confined to a single lot and considered to be a single property in spite of being occupied by distinct families.

What A Duplex Home Looks Like

Regardless of where they’re located, duplexes generally have two simple characteristics that can be used to identify them within the real estate market: the units are attached with distinct entrances.

Two Attached Units

As multifamily housing, duplexes are made up of two separate living spaces within the same building. However, the two units are attached to each other in one of two ways:

  • With common floors: Duplexes can be separated by a shared common ceiling, much like in an apartment building.
  • With a common wall: Alternatively, duplexes can be side by side and separated by a common wall, much like townhouses.

Separate Entrances

Since duplexes contain two complete and distinct living spaces that are occupied by disparate residents, they also have separate addresses and entrances. Theoretically, these entrances enable residents to enjoy privacy despite the close proximity of their neighbors.

How A Duplex Property Can Work

With two distinct households, there are quite a few ways to make a duplex home work for you. Of course, there are some important considerations to make for each option.

Renting Out Half Of The Duplex

First-time home buyers especially may benefit from living in one half of the duplex as an owner-occupant and renting out the other half to enjoy an income stream that they could use to pay off their mortgage. That said, if you choose to do this, you’ll need to legally and mentally prepare for becoming a landlord and homeowner in one fell swoop.

By living in the unit, landlords benefit from being close to their rental property. This living situation is also advantageous for tenants, as landlords are always readily accessible to make repairs. However, some landlords find this proximity ultimately leads to needier tenants.

Renting Out The Entire Property

You can also buy a duplex as purely an investment property and rent out both units. Either way, purchasing a duplex presents buyers with a unique investment opportunity, which can be an excellent choice for first-time home buyers. This buyer should already be financially prepared for maintenance costs and other common expenses that we’ll discuss more in depth later.

Purchase A Duplex With A Friend

With rising housing costs, a duplex may be the perfect property to buy with a friend or family member. You’ll be able to give a higher down payment, enjoy smaller monthly payments and live side by side with your favorite person. This option also helps resolve the possibility of not getting along with tenant neighbors, especially if you’ve lived as housemates already.

Sharing The Property With Loved Ones

There are numerous possibilities here, all of which are personal choices. Multigenerational homes are on the rise with duplexes, triplexes and attached family units (ADUs) being the main facilitators of interdependent living. Duplexes can be great to keep aging relatives close while everyone maintains their independence.

Pros Of Duplex Living

If you’re thinking of buying a duplex, there are a few pros and cons that you should consider before making the purchase.

Affordability

The most significant benefit of duplexes is their affordability. Generally, duplexes are less expensive than single-family homes, making them an excellent access point for homeownership. Of course, the financial benefit depends on the state of the property, cost of repairs and, if you’re renting, the neighborhood’s rental market.

Rental Income

The fact that you can gain both a primary residence and investment property (or two investment properties) by purchasing a single home is a considerable advantage for first-time home buyers and investors alike. By renting a unit, a duplex owner can gain a significant revenue stream that will enable them to pay off their mortgage faster.

Tax Breaks

If you decide to rent out the other half of the duplex, you may be eligible to write off a portion of your property taxes, mortgage interest and even maintenance costs for the rental unit. Be sure to talk to your accountant to ensure you’re set up for success.

Cons Of Duplex Living

Despite the financial gains, there are some drawbacks to buying a duplex.

Shared Spaces

If you’re looking to own your own property, you may find it frustrating to have a neighbor living so close to you. You’ll most likely have to share a driveway and yard with whomever rents the other unit, so you must make sure you’re comfortable sharing these common areas.

In fact, writing down a list of your nonnegotiables and advertising the property as such will help weed out any folks who are incompatible with your lifestyle. That way, you’re not stuck in a lease agreement with a neighbor who brings tension into your home.

Landlord Responsibilities

Furthermore, there are many responsibilities that come with being a landlord. It’s recommended to seek legal advice to ensure you’re keeping the property up to federal, state and municipal codes. If you’re not ready to take on these responsibilities, a duplex may not be right for you.

Investment Property Expenses

It’s a significant step to become an investment property owner. Like any other investment property, you should expect to save a hefty emergency fund in case:

  • The rental unit becomes vacant between tenants
  • You need to make expensive repairs to bring your rental unit up to code
  • You need legal advice to remove problematic tenants

Buying A Duplex

The advantage of purchasing a duplex that you plan to live in is that you have more options when it comes to getting a mortgage. FHA and VA loans provide qualified borrowers with the ability to put less money down on the home; however, these loan options are not available for investment properties. If you purchase the duplex as an investment property, you would have to make a down payment of at least 20% of the purchasing price.

If you’re ready to begin your search for a duplex near you, check out the properties listed on Rocket Homes Real Estate, LLC. With Rocket Homes, you can not only find the perfect property but also connect with an experienced real estate agent who can help guide you through the home buying process.

The Bottom Line: Duplexes Offer Versatility If Needed

Duplexes are a great choice for housing because of their versatility and affordability. The ability to purchase two units for the price of one makes duplexes extremely appealing. However, it’s crucial that you do your research and consider your needs before deciding to move into one.

While Rocket Homes makes it easy to find a duplex by simply selecting “Multifamily” underneath the “All Home Types” tab, you’re not beholden to a duplex to enjoy similar benefits. Consider financing an attached dwelling unit (ADU) build on a single-family home.

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    Miranda Crace

    The Rocket Homes blog is here to bring you all you need to know about buying, selling and making the most of your home. Whether you’re thinking about becoming a homeowner, selling your current home or looking to keep your place in tip-top shape, our writers and freelancers bring their experience and expertise to meet you right where you are.