What Is a Ranch Style House?

Article Summary:

Ranch-style houses can be a great option when you’re searching for a new home. They offer a variety of sizes and models to choose from, are safer and easier to maintain, and are available in almost any price range. It’s not surprising that ranch-style homes are one of the most popular home styles around.

As part of the home-buying process, it’s critical to ask yourself exactly what you want in a new home. Are you interested in two-story living with a lot of rooms, or would you prefer a more open living space with seamless access to your backyard and patio area? If you’re looking for a single-story home with an open plan and affordable options, a ranch home might fit the bill.

Let’s explore what a ranch-style house is and why it may be the right choice for you.

What is a ranch-style house?

While there are a large number of variations under the ranch-style umbrella, the traditional ranch-style architecture, also known as a rambler house, normally consists of a single-story, rectangular shape. Or some versions favor an L- or U-shaped design. But ranch homes all typically feature wide eaves, large windows, and a low-pitched roof.

Open interior layout

Inside, the ranch home’s main living space usually has an open-concept layout, with kitchen, dining room, and family room as one large space with very few walls. Bedrooms and bathrooms are usually set apart from the family living areas and accessed by a hallway.

Indoor-outdoor living

Ranch-style homes are also designed with the intention of making the most of outdoor living areas. They often have large windows and sliding glass doors at the back of the house. These features, leading to a devoted patio space in the backyard, provide an inviting and appealing blend of indoor and outdoor living.

Think 50s TV backyard barbecue

Additionally, ranch houses are usually wider than they are deep and often built on a concrete slab. However, many now come with a finished basement or a crawl space. The style was popularized in the mid-20th century, and you can just picture that old 50s TV show. Kids, parents and the family dog are having a backyard barbecue.

Recap: Ranch style house typical features

  • Usually one story
  • Rectangular, L-shaped, or U-shaped
  • Wide eaves
  • Large windows
  • Low pitched roof
  • Open-concept interior layout
  • Large windows (often)
  • Rear sliding doors
  • Backyard patio
  • Wider than they are deep
  • Traditionally set on a concrete slab
  • Crawl space or basement increasingly common

Types of ranch-style houses

To explore the ranch-style architecture further, let’s look at some of the variations to be found. There are different styles for almost every budget and taste.

California ranch

This was arguably the first type of ranch-style house and it took its influence from Spanish colonial architecture. It’s characterized by an open-concept floor plan and L- or U-shaped design, and the back of the house lets in a lot of natural light through big windows. First popularized in the southwest, it didn’t take long for the California ranch style of home to spread across the country in both similar and newer forms.

Suburban ranch

Sometimes lumped with the California ranch, the suburban-style ranch is probably what most people picture when they think of a ranch house. They picture this style’s square or rectangular single-story box, low to the ground, with no front porch — sometimes with a garage attached. The suburban ranch became popular after World War II when there was a housing shortage. The style quickly spread as these homes were relatively easy and inexpensive to build. They were also considered very family-friendly because of the open-plan concept and access to the backyard.

Raised ranch

Unlike the traditional ranch-style house, a raised ranch differs in that it has two livable floors. It’s distinguished by the fact that the front door opens to a mid-level landing with a half staircase up to the main living spaces and bedrooms, and a similar set of stairs down to additional rooms on the lower floor. Often a deck rather than a patio is built off of the back of the upper floor.

Not to be confused with raised ranches, split-level ranches have three levels, but not three separate floors in the traditional sense. Usually, the kitchen, living room, and eating areas are on one level, with a small set of stairs to the bedrooms and another set to other rooms of the house, like a den.

Storybook ranch

As the name implies, storybook ranch styles take their cue from houses you see in fairy tales. They usually have steeper-pitched roofs, windows that are longer than they are wide, and more embellishments. If you see a ranch-style home that has a castle-like feel to it, it’s probably a storybook ranch, sometimes known as a fairytale ranch.

A few quick side notes:

  • Whether you choose a ranch-style house or some other design, you’ll need to arrange financing.
  • One way to reduce the amount you have to finance could be to buy a house at auction.
  • If you’d like to turn your home purchase into an investment, buying a multiple-family property and renting out the extra units might be a sound solution.

Pros and cons of living in ranch style homes

Unless you have your heart set on a three-story Victorian or are passionate about Craftsman-style homes, there are enough varieties of ranch-style houses to please almost any buyer. Let’s look at some of the pluses and minuses of owning a ranch.


Here is a list of the benefits and the drawbacks to consider.

  • Easy maintenance: Because you’re living on one level (in most cases), it’s much easier to do basic exterior maintenance for ranch homes. The roof is low, so cleaning windows and gutters is a snap, and there’s easy access to the highest points of the roof. In most cases, you can probably get away with just a step ladder.
  • They’re safer: This is due to the lack of stairs, for one. Who hasn’t fallen down a set of stairs at one time or another and gotten hurt? Also, because it’s just one floor, it’s easier to evacuate in case of a fire or other emergency. If the hallway is blocked, for example, you can hop out the window without worrying about much of a drop. This is true even in raised ranches, as the top floor is still not as high as in a traditional two-story home.
  • Smaller yard: While this is not always true, due to the more sprawling nature of a ranch house, you may wind up with less of a lawn. This also may limit your ability to make an addition to the house. Unless you plan on building a second story, adding to the house will further diminish your green space.
  • Privacy: All of your living spaces are at ground level, and ranch homes usually feature large windows. As a result, it is theoretically easier for neighbors or pedestrians to see into your home. It’s more difficult for people to peer into second-story rooms. But, if you keep your curtains or blinds drawn when you want privacy, this probably shouldn’t be much of an issue.

Is a ranch-style house right for you?

It very well might be. The ranch house style is really for anyone who likes the idea of single-story living. For example, the elderly or disabled might prefer the open-concept interior and lack of a second floor. It can make getting around much easier and more convenient, as well as safer. Depending on your age, consider the future — you might not have trouble with stairs right now, but what about 10 years down the road?

Good for aging pets and people who dread maintenance

You might consider this for your pets, too. Large, rambunctious puppies eventually turn into big, old dogs who may have a harder time managing stairs. This is something to think about if you have a penchant for large-breed canines.

But it’s also for folks who are simply looking for a home that provides easier exterior maintenance, as well as having a more open floor plan and a focus on indoor-outdoor living.

Great for first-time buyers and downsizers

Ranch houses, especially smaller ones, can also be a great option for first-time buyers or those who are looking to downsize. The ease of maintenance and lower cost are valuable considerations.

And for assorted other home seekers

Finally, because there are so many different ranch house sizes and styles — from California ranches to storybook, and square footage ranging from 700 to 3,000+ — there really is a ranch home option for (just about) any buyer.

Find a ranch home that suits your tastes. Ranch-style houses vary widely in styles and prices. There is likely a ranch home option built just for you.

How to finance a ranch-style home

There are multiple ways to finance a ranch-style home. You can use a conventional mortgage, a jumbo mortgage, government-insured mortgages, fixed-rate mortgages, or adjustable-rate mortgages.
If you want low interest rates and attractive loan terms, the best thing you can do is shop around. Compare several different lenders against each other, and read reviews from their past customers. The more lenders you compare, the likelier you are to find competitive rates and terms.


What makes a house a ranch style?

The main feature of ranch-style homes is that they have a single-story floor plan, except for a couple of variations. Even then, the primary living areas, including bedrooms, are generally all found on the main floor. They also tend to have low-pitched rooflines, wide eaves, and sliding glass doors to the outdoor space.

A ranch home should not be confused with a bungalow-style house, which is also just one floor. A bungalow home has more of a box shape and usually has a number of steps up to a large front porch. Ranch house style doesn’t usually include a porch at all, but if there is one, it’s usually quite low to the ground and more likely in modern ranch styles.

Can a ranch have a basement?

While originally built on concrete slabs, ranch-style houses can now be found with a crawl space or basement. When included, a basement can make for a nice storage area or workspace. Many ranch homes now feature a finished basement, offering additional living space. It can be a great area for the kids to hang out when the grown-ups are entertaining upstairs. Or you can add a dartboard or pool table for the whole family to enjoy.

Where are ranch homes most common?

While you can find ranch styles homes in virtually all parts of the country, you won’t see too many in the Northeast or in urban areas. Most ranch homes are in suburban or rural areas of the country. While they originated in the Southwest, it didn’t take long for their popularity to spread far and wide across the country, especially after World War II. Today, they’re pretty much everywhere. But they’re most common in California, Texas, and North Carolina, as well as most of the Midwest.

What is modern ranch style?

Ranch-style homes have come back into popularity as buyers again embrace the concept of single-story living, open-plan layouts, and an indoor-outdoor way of life. Modern ranch architectural styles now almost always include a porch, a finished basement for more living space, an attached garage, as well as more varied landscape features.

Key takeaways

  • The traditional ranch-style architecture, also known as a rambler house, consists of single-story, rectangular shape.
  • Ranch homes can be especially attractive for first-time buyers and those looking to downsize their house.
  • Most ranches feature easier maintenance than two-story houses.
  • A ranch-style home can come in a wide variety of shapes, sizes, and prices.
  • For the elderly or disabled, a ranch house is convenient and safe for getting around without stairs or a lot of walls between rooms.

Next step

Only you can decide which is the right home for you, but the ranch-style offers many options to consider. Some buyers might favor a split-level ranch, while others may lean toward a more whimsical-looking storybook ranch. Still, others might find a sprawling California ranch is more to their taste. But whichever way you go, there might just be a style that’s perfect for you and your family. Maybe all that stands between you and that just-right ranch home is finding the right financing.

View Article Sources
  1. Home on the Ranch — Los Angeles Conservancy
  2. Identifying the 1950s Ranch House Interior as a Cultural Resource — National Center for Preservation Technology and Training
    This subdivision of the National Park Service will be moving to a subdirectory of that agency’s website. As of early 2022 when this post was written, however, a search for the article on the new site returned no results.
  3. One Story Ranch House Plans — Bruinier & Associates
    Helpful examples of the ranch style courtesy a building design firm based on Oregon.
  4. Best Mortgage Lenders — SuperMoney
  5. How to Buy a House at Auction: Step-by-Step Guide — SuperMoney
  6. Home Purchase Mortgages: Reviews & Comparisons — SuperMoney
  7. How to Buy a House — SuperMoney
  8. How to Finance a House — SuperMoney
  9. What is a Multifamily Home? Everything You Need To Know — SuperMoney