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What Is a Duplex Apartment?

Last updated 03/08/2024 by

Lacey Stark
Summary:
There are a lot of options when choosing where to live. Multifamily housing, such as apartments and condos, provide budding real estate investors with an opportunity to get started. One option to consider is living in a duplex apartment. Duplex rentals can sometimes be a more affordable option than a whole house, but they still come with a separate entrance, outdoor living areas, and more space than an apartment.
A duplex apartment can retain a house-like feel while being less expensive than a single-family home. The biggest difference between a duplex apartment and a home is that the former has a shared wall between you and the next-door neighbor. But that just might be desirable for you. Perhaps a family member could live there and you could hang out as much as you want while still maintaining separate residences.
But there are other factors to consider when deciding if renting a duplex is the right decision for you. There can be a lot of perks, but there are also some downsides to having such a close neighbor. We’ll walk you through the ins and outs of duplex living and help you decide if this is the best choice for you.

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What is a duplex apartment?

The traditional definition of a duplex is a multi-family home consisting of two attached but separate units forming a single property. The apartments are often side by side, but they can also be stacked vertically. Each dwelling might consist of one or two floors, and they will usually have similar square footage. The two units also have separate entrances, but they will usually share at least some of the outdoor space, including driveway, yard, and porches or patios.
A duplex differs from other multi-unit housing, such as condos or townhouses, in that it has a single owner and both of the dwellings are rented out. A savvy investor, however, may choose to live in one unit and rent out the other. This can be a great way to help with the mortgage, perhaps freeing up money for other investments.

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Because it offers more privacy, a duplex apartment can be a great alternative to traditional apartment living where you might share walls, a floor, and a ceiling with other units. In a duplex, by contrast, because there are only two separate units, there will only be one common wall, or a shared floor/ceiling.

Advantages and disadvantages of duplex apartments

Let’s take a deeper look at the pros and cons of living in a duplex apartment.
WEIGH THE RISKS AND BENEFITS
Here is a list of the benefits and the drawbacks to consider.
Pros
There are a lot of great reasons to live in a duplex house as opposed to an apartment building. For one thing, it’s more like living in a traditional home, which can be very attractive for many renters. Here are some other good incentives for renting a duplex.
  • Cost: It can often be less expensive to rent a duplex than a single-family home in many areas. This allows you to live not only in a nicer neighborhood, perhaps, but also in a dwelling with a more traditional-home feel than you might otherwise be able to afford.
  • Privacy: For a number of reasons, you can gain a lot more privacy than in apartment buildings. Because there are only two units, you only have one neighbor (or family) next door. You also have your own entrance, so you don’t have to deal with running into a bunch of neighbors in hallways, lobbies, or laundry rooms. And, theoretically anyway, a duplex apartment should be quieter because there are fewer people around.
  • Amenities and space: A duplex might offer other amenities that an apartment would not. Often you will have a washer and dryer in the unit and sometimes a garage. A garage can be great for storage space. And, if you live in a colder area, you might even use it as a place to park your car.
Cons
Of course, there are sometimes drawbacks to living in duplex buildings — your one neighbor could be very loud — but depending on your needs, they might be worth the risk. Or they might even turn out to be benefits for you.
  • Sharing: Living in duplex apartments usually means you’ll be sharing some outdoor space — and an interior wall. The driveway, yard, or maybe even the garage could be common areas used by both tenants. This might not be a big deal if you are both considerate, but there is always the chance you will wind up with a terrible neighbor who doesn’t respect the shared areas.
  • Increased responsibilities: Since the building is privately owned, you may be required to take some responsibility for the upkeep and maintenance of the outdoor areas. You might have to cut the grass in the summer and shovel snow in winter, for example. Apartment buildings usually handle those things for tenants. But maybe you like to do yard work, so it’s not a problem for you. Also, hopefully, your new neighbor will share the chores with you.
  • Landlord as neighbor: Oftentimes the owners of duplex houses will choose to rent one unit out and live in the other. It can be a great investment. We’re not even sure if this qualifies as a con. It can be handy to have the landlord nearby if something breaks, and an on-site landlord might even manage the outdoor chores, as well. On the other hand, a landlord neighbor might be more strict about the use of the outdoor living spaces, noise, and other issues than a less invested neighbor.

How to finance a duplex apartment?

Buying a duplex apartment can be a smart way to invest in real estate. If you live in one of the apartments, you will typically find it easier to secure financing. If you don’t live in one of the units, getting a mortgage will be a little more challenging. Typically, you’ll need to have a larger down payment and meet more stringent eligibility requirements.
If you need a mortgage to finance an apartment duplex — or any other multifamily property — make sure you compare offers from multiple lenders. The comparison tool below shows mortgage lenders that offer multifamily property mortgages.

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Is a duplex apartment right for you?

Do you want some outdoor living spaces? Maybe you like to garden or entertain outside. If so, you’ll likely prefer a duplex over an apartment in a complex. The latter may not offer much outdoor space at all, aside from your parking spot.”
In the search for your dream apartment, it’s important to first ask yourself a lot of questions about what you’re looking for in your new abode. Do you want some outdoor living spaces? Maybe you like to garden or entertain outside. An apartment complex may not offer much outdoor space at all besides a parking spot — maybe not even that if you live in an urban area.
Perhaps you like the idea of having two floors of your own to separate your indoor space, which is common in duplex buildings. And having an in-unit washer and dryer can also be very convenient, especially if you have a family. Furthermore, maybe you’d like for family to live nearby, but not quite in the same house. Renting a duplex can be great in that regard, too. You’re all in one building, so close enough to visit as often as you like, but you have more privacy and two separate entrances. Close, but not too close.
In some cases, the shared spaces of duplexes will be partitioned off, like the backyard, giving you even more privacy. If all of these aspects of duplex living check your boxes, the perfect duplex apartment might be right around the corner for you!

Being a good neighbor

Hopefully, we all strive to be the kind of neighbor everybody wishes lived next door. We don’t make a ton of noise; we leave the common areas tidy, and maybe we invite them to our parties. Here are a few tips to be that good neighbor.
  • Because you share a common wall, try to keep the noise to a minimum, especially later at night.
  • Keep shared spaces picked up and clean.
  • Alert your neighbor if you plan on having guests or parties that may cause parking or noise issues.
  • Offer to share duties related to your common spaces, such as alternating turns to mow the lawn or shovel the driveway.

FAQ

Is a duplex considered a house or an apartment?

It’s really both. A duplex house only has two units, so it has the look and feel of a more traditional home (with one neighbor close by) but is rented out like an apartment.

Which is better, duplex or apartment?

That depends entirely on what you want out of your living space. Sometimes, apartments come with pools, tennis courts, or workout spaces, and that might be exactly what you want. They also come with a lot more neighbors. Duplex apartments only come with one neighbor, more privacy, and a yard.

Is a duplex considered attached or detached?

Actually, a duplex is considered semi-detached. It’s a single residential building with two units that are connected by a common wall or, in some cases, a common floor/ceiling. Because the duplex units have separate entrances, neither unit can be accessed through the other apartment.

Is a duplex more expensive than a house?

Renting standalone houses is usually more expensive than living in duplex apartments. This isn’t always true, depending on where you live, but it’s usually the case. A duplex, however, can be a great middle ground between living in an apartment building versus a single-family home.

Key takeaways

  • A duplex apartment offers the feel of a traditional home and a lot more privacy than you’ll find in a regular apartment.
  • A duplex can be less expensive to rent than a single-family home.
  • Living in a duplex is a great way for extended families to live near to each other while still maintaining the privacy of separate homes.
  • Because a duplex has two units, it can make a great investment property — either to rent out both units or to live in one and rent out the other.

Duplex apartment or duplex investment?

Living in a duplex can be a great experience and an excellent alternative to an apartment building. If you don’t mind one close neighbor, it’s a nice way to have more space and privacy.
It could even be a good arrangement if you don’t have to rent. If you have the means to buy a house, or believe you can finance one if you just find the right lender, but you don’t need a whole detached home to yourself, why not look into buying a duplex?
The demand for multifamily housing will likely keep rising as more people find detached homes unaffordable.
Better rental earnings through regulation. Back in July 2017, the Urban Institute hosted a panel discussion on apartment demand through 2031–2032. In addition to expecting demand to grow, panelists pointed to “extensive permitting processes and overly restrictive zoning” having “a chilling effect on housing production,” noting how “these regulatory restraints artificially reduce the amount of developable land.” So, wherever local governments maintain tight controls on development, you can probably expect your investment in existing rental housing to pay off especially well.
You could turn rising rental demand to your advantage by purchasing a duplex and renting out one unit — at least until you decide you need to upgrade to a detached home, if that ever happens. Take advantage of SuperMoney’s advanced search tools and unbiased customer reviews to find the right lender and loan to get your duplex investment off to a good start.

SuperMoney may receive compensation from some or all of the companies featured, and the order of results are influenced by advertising bids, with exception for mortgage and home lending related products. Learn more

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