What Is a Duplex?

You've probably heard the term 'duplex' before...

But what exactly is a duplex, and how does it differ from a condo or townhouse? What about a twin home?

Let's dive into the key characteristics and features of duplexes, duplexes for sale right now, and more.

What is a duplex in real estate?

A duplex is a multifamily residential property with two living units. The units typically either share a wall (arranged side-by-side) or a ceiling/floor (one on top of the other). The units each have their own individual entrances and do not have an interior connection. Exterior spaces such as backyards or the driveway may be shared, depending on how the property is arranged. Crucially, both units have the same owner and are on the same lot/parcel. Owners have the option to live in one unit and rent out the other, rent out both, or occupy both units.

Exterior of Duplex building with two black doors as separate entrances

What's the difference between a duplex, a condo, and a townhouse? What about twin homes?

The main difference between duplexes, condos, and townhouses is who owns the units. Both units in a duplex (and all three in a triplex, all four in a quadplex, etc.) are owned by a single owner, whereas the units in a condo are owned by individual owners and common structural elements and amenities have shared ownership.

See: What is a Condo?

Duplexes are similar to townhomes in that both share a connecting wall with another home and have their own individual exterior entrances, but townhouses have different owners, and many townhouses are sold as if they are condos and thus are also subject to similar shared ownership rights and responsibilities for certain shared structures such as roofs and utility connections.

Because of the singular owner, the units in a duplex would not generally be subject to the rules and regulations of a homeowner's association the way condos and townhouses would be (although depending on the neighborhood, all the properties in the area including the duplex as a whole may be part of an HOA, such as in a planned neighborhood development).

Twin homes are similar to duplexes in that they share a single wall. However, unlike duplexes, the two homes are on two separate lots that may have different owners, with the dividing line running along that shared wall. Twin homes are less likely to be under the same sorts of HOA restrictions that many townhouses are, so one of the "twins" may end up looking quite different than the other as time passes.

What are some benefits to buying a duplex?

  • Turning one (or both) of the units into income-generating rental property can help offset the cost of a mortgage, which may make it more affordable to buy and live in one unit of a duplex than buying and living in a single-family home
  • You may be able to earn tax deductions for repairs and maintenance made to the income-generating rental unit, whereas you would not be able to do so for repairs you make to your own single-family home
  • The multi-family nature of a duplex may be an ideal arrangement if you want to live close to family and relatives while maintaining some degree of privacy and separation of households

What are some risks to buying a duplex?

  • Depending on the market, a duplex is likely to be more expensive than a single-family home
  • If you turn one or both units into income-generating rental property, you are responsible for landlord- required repairs, whereas you have the choice to defer repairs in your single-family home
  • A weak rental market and/or difficulty finding tenants can make it more difficult to afford your mortgage payment
  • If you live in one unit and another household lives in the other, there will be less privacy

Check out duplexes for sale right now in:

San Francisco Bay Area, CA

Greater Los Angeles, CA

Greater San Diego, CA

Greater Sacramento, CA

Greater Seattle, WA

Greater Austin, TX

Dallas Forth Worth, TX

Greater Houston, TX

Greater San Antonio, TX

Atlanta Metro Area, GA

Greater Charlotte, NC

Raleigh-Durham, NC

Greater Denver, CO

Greater Phoenix, AZ

READ NEXT: 5 Tiny Homes for Sale Right Now

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