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What is a Duplex?

duplex

What Is a Duplex?

A duplex is something of a hidden gem in the investment property world. It can produce strong value growth and healthy rental yields, sometimes at half the price of similarly located detached houses. Duplexes are popular among renters too — according to the National Multifamily Housing Council, around 17 percent of renters live in a duplex, triplex, or quadplex. But what exactly is a duplex property, how does it differ from an apartment or townhouse, and is it all too good to be true? Read our short guide to duplexes to understand everything you need to know about this unique property type and whether it is the best option for you.

Key facts

  • Duplexes are essentially two homes located in one building. Both homes share a wall but have separate entrances.
  • The two units are generally of similar size and can be either arranged on top of each other or situated side by side.
  • The entire duplex building (i.e., both units) is generally owned by a single person or entity. The exception is when duplex units are individually owned by two owners who have a condo ownership interest (shared lot ownership).
  • A building containing three homes is called a triplex, while a four-unit building is called a quadplex.

what is a duplex

Is a duplex right for you?

A duplex rental property offers an attractive mix of a modern apartment and traditional house living. From the outside, a duplex building will often look like one large house, but it will have two separate entrances as well as two separate living spaces inside. It’s the ideal setup for renters who no longer desire the apartment lifestyle but can’t afford to buy or rent an entire house just yet.

If you’re thinking of renting a duplex, here are some pros and cons to help you decide.

Advantages of renting a duplex

More space

Duplexes generally give you more space for your money when compared to the average apartment. Additionally, a duplex will usually include yard space, a patio, or a garage — although you may have to rent these separately — making duplexes a good choice for people with pets or children.

A quieter living environment

Typically, duplexes afford more personal freedom and privacy than an apartment building, and for less money at that. Instead of sharing space with an entire building of people, you’ll only have to share one wall with one other household. This means duplex living tends to be quieter than apartment living (depending on who your neighbor is, of course).

More amenities

Duplexes usually provide amenities that are hard to find in apartment buildings, such as washers and dryers and a driveway.

Keep your loved ones and dependents close by

You may be able to live side by side with a relative, friend, or dependent, provided the landlord agrees to let the other unit out to them. This living arrangement allows you to keep a loved one close by while still maintaining a measure of privacy and independence.

Disadvantages of renting a duplex

Shared common spaces

In some duplexes, you may have to share common areas (e.g., yard, driveway) with your neighbor.

Lack of privacy

Your neighbor might end up being your landlord if they’ve decided to live in one duplex unit and rent the other out. And, if you’re not used to sharing a wall with others, then noise may be another issue, depending on how well-insulated the duplex unit is.

You’ll require permission to decorate

Just like renting an apartment, you’ll still have to ask permission from the duplex owner if you want to make any changes to either the interior or exterior space — painting, decorating, planting a vegetable garden, installing shelving, etc. In this regard, a duplex offers fewer occupier rights than a condo.

No on-site maintenance

Unlike renting a unit in an apartment complex, you won’t have access to 24/7 or on-site maintenance if something goes wrong. You’ll have to get in touch with the owner and await a solution — even if your landlord lives next door.

You won’t build equity

As with all rental agreements, you won’t build equity with your monthly payments as time goes on.

Duplexes for sale


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Duplex investment properties

If you’re considering buying a duplex property, you’ll typically fall into one of two categories: an owner-occupier or an investor.

Owner-occupiers

Owner-occupiers are arguably a unique type of investor, as they can live in one unit of the property while earning revenue from renting the other. In this case, the owner-occupier will often use the rent from one side of the property to pay for the duplex mortgage as well as some utilities.

“Pure” investors

Other buyers may purchase the property for pure investment purposes, with no intention of ever living in it. They reap the rental income from both units and may also invest with the intention of selling the property for a nice profit.

Is a duplex investment property right for me?

Whether you’re considering becoming an owner-occupier or you’re already settled in a home and making a purchase purely for profit, a duplex presents a strong investment opportunity. There are, however, many factors to consider when choosing an investment property, and each potential property comes with its unique advantages and disadvantages.

If you’re thinking about adding a duplex investment property to your portfolio, here are some pros and cons to help you decide whether or not this is a good financial move for you.

Advantages of investing in a duplex property

More bang for your buck

A duplex often offers more land component size and value than a similarly located apartment.

Investor flexibility

Duplexes offer investors excellent flexibility — you have the option of living in one unit while renting out the other, or renting out both and living elsewhere. You can also buy a duplex as a starter home that will eventually help to finance your dream home.

A good choice for a first investment property

Duplexes can be a good introduction to property investment, as they are usually available at a cheaper purchase price than single-family units. Plus, you can easily monitor your property from next door. And compared to apartments and other multifamily housing, a portfolio of duplex properties is less complex to manage, as there is generally less government intervention and fewer regulatory authorities to deal with.

A high resale price

Duplexes are usually valued for a higher resale price than single-family homes with a granny flat or a detached suite. This is because with a duplex, potential buyers are essentially getting two separate homes, each with their own kitchen, bathroom, bedroom, and entrance.

A low-risk investment

A duplex property is considered to be a low-risk investment because multifamily homes enjoy lower vacancy rates. This means the chances of the units remaining empty — and therefore earning you no rental income — are low.

You may be eligible for financing options and assistance

If you choose to be an owner-occupier, you may be eligible for financing options such as a Federal Housing Administration (FHA), Veterans Affairs (VA), or 203k loan or other down payment assistant programs. That means you may be able to purchase a duplex with a minimum down payment of 3.5%, compared to other means of property investments that usually require a 20% cash down payment. The minimum down payment makes a duplex an excellent choice for first-time buyers too.

Borrow a bigger mortgage

When you buy a duplex, you’ll be able to use the projected rental income to apply for a mortgage. That means you will likely be approved for a higher amount than if you were to purchase a single-family home. You can use a mortgage loan calculator to estimate how much you could borrow.

Disadvantages of investing in a duplex property

Potential lack of tenant-landlord boundaries

Keep in mind that if you purchase the duplex as an owner-occupier, you will be living beside your tenant, which could result in late-night property management calls or other breaches of privacy.

Mortgage insurance and loan stipulations

If you do use a conventional, FHA, or other Fannie and Freddie mortgage to purchase the duplex as an owner-occupier, you will have to live in the property for at least 12 months before you can move out. Also, the FHA requires mortgage insurance, so you’ll have to factor this in your monthly payments too.

Maintenance costs

If you buy a duplex and rent either one or both units out, you’ll be responsible for keeping these homes in a habitable state. For example, if something goes wrong with the water heater or air conditioning system, you’ll be required to arrange and pay for any repairs.

Three quick tips for buying a duplex as an investment property

1. Don’t buy in an oversaturated market

When searching for available duplex properties, research the location thoroughly. An area with an abundance of duplexes could lower the value of the property. Choose a location with a few duplexes set among single-family homes to ensure you have demand from renters or buyers.

2. Budget for the mortgage on both units

If you’re buying a duplex as an owner-occupier, remember that there is a chance the tenancy might not work out. In which case, you should have the financial reserves to pay for the mortgage of both units while you find a replacement.

3. Think carefully about whether property management is for you

Duplexes are generally the simplest multifamily property type to manage. However, if you’re new to property investment, you might find the responsibilities of a landlord quite challenging. Property management can be deeply rewarding, both personally and financially, but think carefully about whether you have the time and the people skills required for it.

Conclusion

Whether you’re a buyer, renter, or investor, duplexes offer countless advantages compared to single-family properties. If you’re looking for an affordable home in a good neighborhood, enjoy the aesthetics of a house, and want a little more space and privacy than an apartment can provide, then a duplex might be a great fit. Plus, for owner-occupiers in particular, duplexes can make for an excellent investment property.

To find out more about whether buying a duplex property is the right fit for you, please get in touch. We’ll be happy to talk you through your options and answer any real estate questions you may have.

Duplex FAQS

What is the difference between an apartment and a duplex?

The main difference between an apartment and a duplex lies in ownership. A single person or entity owns an entire duplex building, whereas units in an apartment block may be owned by any number of individual landlords.

What qualifies as a duplex?

A duplex is a residential building containing two homes (situated either on top of each other or side by side) that share a common central wall but have separate entrances. In general, one person or entity owns the entire building.

What is the difference between a duplex and a townhouse?

A townhouse also consists of separate living spaces that share a wall with one another. However, while a townhouse is constructed as a row of houses attached to each other, a duplex is not a terraced construction. Another difference is ownership. With a townhouse, the occupant owns the living space, as well as a portion of the yard (if applicable). A townhouse can also be sold individually, while a duplex is sold only as a single piece.

Do duplexes share kitchens?

Generally, duplexes consist of two completely separate living spaces, each with their own bathroom, kitchen, and bedrooms. However, some duplexes require common areas such as the kitchen to be shared.

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