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Single-Family Home: What You Should Know

Molly Grace5-minute read

November 19, 2020

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Home sweet home can take on a lot of different forms, from cozy condominiums to towering townhouses.The single-family home, however, is probably the type of residential property most associated with our mainstream idea of what “home” looks like: four walls, a roof and a yard of your own. White picket fence optional.

What Is A Single-Family Home?

You’ll get slightly different answers on what, exactly, a single-family home is depending on who you ask. Some use this term to refer only to single-family detached homes, where the structure doesn’t share any walls with any other residences.

However, the U.S. Census Bureau, for example, includes certain attached dwellings, such as townhouses, in its definition of “single-family house,” as long as these dwellings are separated by a ground-to-roof wall.

Whether detached or not, a single-family home is typically defined by two elements: who owns what, and the property’s ability to function as its own unit.

With a single-family home, the owner of the home owns both the building and the land it sits on. Contrast this with condo ownership, where the owner only has claim to the interior of their individual unit and jointly owns common areas with other members of their association.

Single-family homes must also not share any utility, heating or air conditioning systems with any other dwellings. They have their own private entrances and exits and have direct access to the street.

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The Pros And Cons Of Single-Family Homes

Single-family homes are great for anyone in need of that quintessential homeownership experience and everything that comes with it: privacy, your own yard, the freedom to (mostly) do what you want with your home. However, with that freedom comes a lot of responsibility.

If you’re considering purchasing a single-family home, here are some things to think about.

Pros Of Single-Family Homes

  • More space. Though single-family homes can take on all sorts of shapes, sizes and square footage, in general, they tend to be a good choice for those who need more space – whether that means a bigger kitchen, more bedrooms or a basement for storage. Plus, if the lot your home sits on has sufficient space, you have the ability to construct outbuildings for additional storage or living space.
  • More privacy. Because you and your neighbors aren’t all squished together into adjacent units with shared walls, you don’t have to worry about anyone overhearing private phone conversations or judging your taste in music.
  • Fewer neighborly nuisances. Along with more privacy, single-family homeowners don’t have to worry as much about noisy neighbors. Vacuuming at 3 a.m. or practicing your tap dance routine is perfectly acceptable when you don’t have downstairs neighbors (though you probably should clear it with your housemates, as a courtesy).
  • Freedom to build or modify. Don’t like the color of your single-family home’s siding? Change it! Want to build an addition to your home? Go nuts. While other types of homeowners typically have less say over how the exterior of their home structures look or whether they can make significant changes to the property, single-family homeowners have much more freedom to decide what their home looks like, inside and out – which can be a great opportunity for those looking to buy a fixer-upper home.
  • Fewer rules. Although single-family homeowners in neighborhoods governed by a homeowners association (HOA) might have some limits on what they can and can’t do with the exteriors of their properties, these rules are typically less restrictive than some of the rules you might encounter with a condo association, which could include limits on the number and types of pets you can have or restrictions on things like smoking in your unit.

Cons Of Single-Family Homes

  • Higher purchase price. For the most part, single-family homes will come with bigger price tags than other dwelling types in comparable areas. This can make them cost-prohibitive for first-time home buyers, who might not have as much buying power. As cash-strapped buyers consider how much house they can afford, they might want to think about whether a condo might be more affordable for them.
  • Higher down payment and closing costs. With a higher purchase price comes the need for a larger amount of cash at the closing table. If you don’t have enough saved up for a down payment and closing costs, you likely won’t be able to get a mortgage to purchase the property.
  • More financial responsibility. Not only are single-family homes more expensive upfront, but they’ll also tend to cost more throughout the years you live in the home. Condos and townhouses often provide certain services and maintenance to the property’s exterior as part of the community’s HOA fees. When your single-family home needs a repair, 100% of that cost comes out of your pocket.
  • Sole responsibility for maintenance. In addition to being financially on the hook for maintenance and repairs with a single-family home, you’ll also be the one tasked with actually doing the work of making sure the property doesn’t fall into disrepair. This means mowing the lawn (or hiring someone to do so), cleaning the gutters, shoveling snow and regularly replacing air filters.

Alternatives To Single-Family Homes

If you’re not sure if a single-family home is for you, it might be helpful to consider some other types of homes that might be a better fit.

  • Multifamily homes. A multifamily home is a residential structure that is made up of multiple individual housing units. These units may be built on top of each other or side by side. These types of structures are good for buyers looking for an investment property, as they can either live in one of the units and rent out the others, or live somewhere else and rent out all the units in the building.
  • Condominiums. Condos can look similar to multifamily homes, with many individual units making up a larger structure. The difference is that each unit is owned by a different person, and everyone who lives in the condo building jointly owns the common areas of the condo. Condos are often a good choice for those looking for less maintenance or those who are looking for a slightly more affordable way into homeownership.
  • Townhouse. Townhouses are sort of like a hybrid between condos and single-family homes. Townhouse owners own the interior and exterior of their home as well as the land it sits on, like with a single-family home. However, these types of homes often operate more like condos when it comes to their governing associations, and you’ll typically see these homes in communities with shared amenities such as pools or tennis courts.
  • Modular homes. These types of homes are prefabricated, built in a factory and then transported in “modules” to be assembled onsite. These homes can be more affordable than more traditional home types and are very customizable if you’re building it new rather than buying one.
  • Apartments. In most cases, when you live in an apartment, you rent it rather than own it. If you own your apartment unit, it’s technically considered condo ownership, where you own the interior of your housing unit.

How To Finance A Single-Family Home

If you’re interested in purchasing a single-family home, you’ll probably want to get a mortgage preapproval before you start shopping around. Preapproval will give you an idea of how much your lender will let you borrow, so you’ll know what your price range is before you start looking at homes.

If you don’t have a lot of money saved for a down payment, you might want to look into any low down payment options that are available to you. For example, Fannie Mae’s HomeReady and Freddie Mac’s Home Possible offerings allow eligible borrowers to go as low as 3% down.

The Final Word

As you consider whether a single-family home is the right choice for you, think about the pros and cons of all the different types of home options and how each type fits into your home-buying budget.

Once you’ve decided what type of home you’re looking for, be sure to work with a real estate agent who’s an expert in the local market and can help you find exactly the right home for you.

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Molly Grace

Molly Grace is a staff writer focusing on mortgages, personal finance and homeownership. She has a B.A. in journalism from Indiana University. You can follow her on Twitter @themollygrace.