single family suburban home with green grass

What Is A Single-Family Home, And Is It Right For You?

Rachel Burris5-Minute Read
March 01, 2022

When you’re in the market for a new home, it’s a good idea to do a bit of research into your options. There’s an abundance of different types of homes you can purchase. But selecting the perfect home for your circumstances will require you to do some soul searching to pinpoint your needs and priorities.

For example, if you’re looking for a residence that requires little responsibility when it comes to maintenance, you may want to purchase a condominium. If you want a primary residence and investment property rolled into one, you should think about purchasing a duplex.

However, if you’re interested in a property that provides you with more space and privacy, a single-family home may be ideal for you. This article will walk you through everything you need to know about single-family homes so you can decide whether this housing option is appropriate for you.

What Is A Single-Family Home?

A single-family home is usually considered to be a house situated on its own plot of land. However, the legal definition of a single-family home is a bit more complex and can vary from state to state.

In some areas, it can be nearly any structure that’s utilized as a single dwelling unit. In others, the requirements are more specific.

Unlike a condo, a single-family home must have its own utilities, land and entrance from the street. It’s also classified as being distinct from a townhouse in that it doesn’t share any walls with neighboring dwellings. Because a single-family home has its own parcel of land, it’s built as a freestanding structure.

When Does The Legal Definition Matter?

Knowing the legal definition of a single-family home may seem trivial, but there are actually some circumstances in which it’s important. When it comes to financing, the classification of your house can make a significant difference. Whether or not your home is classified as single-family can affect not only the types of mortgages you qualify for but also the loan amount you’re able to borrow.

For example, you may decide that you want to obtain an FHA loan to take advantage of their lower credit score and down payment requirements. But the Federal Housing Administration has certain lending limits that are determined by the type of home you want to finance.

If the home you’re financing is in a low-cost area and classified as a duplex, you’d be able to borrow just over $400,000. However, if you find that your home is actually classified as a single-family home, you’d be unable to borrow more than $315,000.

What Are The Advantages Of Single-Family Homeownership?

Single-family homeownership is ideal for buyers looking for space. Since this type of dwelling is freestanding, it often has more square footage than apartment-style living. Furthermore, it typically possesses more supplementary space in the form of a basement, attic or garage, which can be ideal for storage.

Since single-family homes with a single unit don’t share a wall with other dwellings, their residents also benefit from more privacy. These residents don’t have to worry about nosy or noisy next-door neighbors in the same way that condo dwellers do.

Another advantage of single-family homes is their architectural diversity. From stately Tudors to whimsical Victorians to sleek contemporary-style houses, there’s a wealth of styles to choose from, and buyers can enjoy the luxury of finding a home that speaks to their specific aesthetic tastes. And, with their own plot of land, single-family homeowners have the freedom to landscape and decorate however they see fit.

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What Are The Disadvantages Of Single-Family Homeownership?

Yet, single-family homeownership is not without its disadvantages. This style of housing requires home buyers to be independent and take on all responsibility for maintaining their new home and property. While owners of townhouses or condos pay dues for services that take care of most necessary upkeep, single-family homeowners must shoulder the cost and labor on their own.

The financial burden is also greater when purchasing this type of home. Since single-family homes are typically detached dwellings on independent plots, they’re usually more expensive. They may cause you to spend more on your down payment, homeowners insurance and property taxes.

While condos and townhouses may come with enticing communal amenities, that’s not the case for single-family houses. If you want a home gym or a pool, you’ll have to pay to install and maintain it yourself.

Is A Single-Family Home Right For You?

Although single-family homes are the most common type of housing on the real estate market, they aren’t necessarily right for everyone who is looking to buy a house. Couples with young children are often especially fond of this type of housing because single-family homes provide them with more space for their growing family and a yard for their kids to play in.

However, empty nesters may prefer to downsize, trading in their single-family house for a condo. Individuals without families may prefer apartment-style living, which can be cheaper, more convenient and provide greater social opportunities.

To decide whether a single-family home is right for you, you must consider your current priorities and future goals. Begin by thinking about what your needs are in relation to space, cost, responsibility and privacy.

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Single-Family Home FAQs

If you’re deciding whether to purchase a single-family home, it’s important that you have a clear understanding of what this type of homeownership entails. So, let’s go over some common questions.

Can two families live in a single-family home?

Two families can live in a single-family home provided that doing so isn’t specifically prohibited by local zoning ordinances or homeowners association rules. In some areas, zoning laws limit how many unrelated people are allowed to live under the same roof. However, in many places, it’s acceptable for two families to live together, as long as the single-family home isn’t altered in a way that changes the nature of the structure.

For example, some neighborhoods are zoned for single-family homes and therefore prohibit the presence of multi-unit dwellings. In such zones, two families may be prohibited from living together if a single-family home is converted into a duplex as a result.

Are there legal limits on what I can use my single-family home for?

Just as zoning laws can restrict the type of properties allowed in a neighborhood, they can also limit how you use your single-family home. For instance, R1 zoning is a classification reserved for residential neighborhoods that only allow single-family homes.

Some zones allow for mixed-use and don’t prohibit homes in the area from being used for commercial purposes. Therefore, depending on how your neighborhood is zoned, there could be legal limits on whether you’re allowed to run a personal business out of your home.

If you plan to also use your home for commercial business, it’s a good idea to check your city’s general plan to see how your neighborhood is zoned. If you find that there’s a problem, you can always apply for a variance to request permission to use your home as you desire. Just make sure you have your neighbors’ support ahead of time – without it, there’s a higher chance that your request will be denied.

My single-family home is part of an HOA. Do I have to follow their rules?

If your home is part of a homeowners association, you must follow their rules. When purchasing a home that’s part of an HOA, it’s crucial that you read their bylaws and Covenants, Conditions and Restrictions to find out what will be expected of you and your home.

If you don’t abide by the rules stipulated, there can be considerable financial consequences. The HOA can not only fine you but also put a lien on your house.

The Bottom Line

A single-family home is one of the most popular types of homes. It’s a freestanding house on its own parcel of land. Homeowners often prefer this type of housing as it comes with increased space, privacy and architectural possibilities. However, single-family homes can be limiting as they’re usually more expensive and come with increased responsibilities.

If you’d like to learn more about home styles and the process of purchasing a house, read other home buying tips here.

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Rachel Burris

Rachel Burris is a writer covering topics of interest to present and future homeowners, as well as industry insiders. Prior to joining Rocket Companies, she worked as an English teacher for the New York City Department of Education and a licensed real estate agent for Brown Harris Stevens. She holds a bachelor's degree in creative writing from Bucknell University, a postbaccalaureate certificate in psychology from Columbia University and a master's degree in English education from Teachers College, Columbia University.