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What Is A Single-Family Home And Is It Right For You?

April 24, 2024 5-minute read

Author: Molly Grace


From cozy condominiums to towering townhouses, “home sweet home” can look different for everyone. However, a single-family home is probably the residential property type most associated with our mainstream idea of home: four walls, a roof, a yard and an optional white picket fence. Let’s dive into the definition of a single-family house and explore the pros and cons of this housing type.

Single-Family Homes: Defined And Explained

The single-family home definition you get will vary based on who you ask. In general, a single-family home is a free-standing residential structure intended for use by one owner as a single-dwelling unit. With rare exception, it has no shared walls and it stands on its own land.

Are Attached Dwellings Considered Single-Family Homes?

In some cases, yes. For example, the U.S. Census Bureau considers attached dwellings, such as townhouses, to be single-family homes if they’re separated by a ground-to-roof wall.

Detached or not, a single-family home is typically defined by two fundamental factors: who owns what and the property’s ability to function as a standalone unit.

Terms Of Ownership For A Single-Family House

The owner of a single-family house owns the building and the land it sits on. Contrast this with condo ownership, where an owner owns what’s inside their unit and jointly owns common areas with other condo association members.

Single-family homes can’t share any utility, heating or air conditioning systems with other dwellings, and they must have 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 home buyers looking for the quintessential homeownership experience and everything that comes with it: privacy, a yard and the freedom to do (mostly) what you want with your home. However, that freedom comes with a lot of responsibility. If you’re considering purchasing a single-family house, you should also consider its advantages and disadvantages.

Pros Of Single-Family Homes

Here are some advantages to single-family homes:

  • More space: Single-family homes come in all shapes, sizes and square They’re typically a good choice for prospective buyers who need more space, which may mean a bigger kitchen, more bedrooms or a basement for storage.

  • More privacy: Because you and your neighbors aren’t living side by side with shared walls, there’s less chance of them overhearing And if your neighbors are noisy, you’ll hear them less because of the distance between you.

  • Freedom to build or modify: Unlike homeowners who have less say over exterior home modifications or can’t make significant changes to their property due to regulations, landmark designation, etc., single-family homeowners have much more freedom over what their home looks like inside and out. If you prioritize personalization, consider buying a fixer-upper home and unleash your creative home design ideas.

  • Fewer rules: Single-family homes associated with a homeowners association (HOA) may limit what homeowners can and can’t do to the exterior of their properties, but HOA rules are typically less restrictive than condo association rules.

Cons Of Single-Family Homes

Here are some disadvantages to single-family homes:

  • Higher purchase price: Single-family homes typically have bigger price tags than other dwelling types in similar areas, which may make them too expensive for first-time home buyers with less buying power. As cash-strapped buyers consider how much house they can afford, they may decide a condo would be more affordable.

  • Higher down payment and closing costs: A higher purchase price naturally translates to more cash at the closing table. If you don’t have enough money saved for a down payment and closing costs, it may be more challenging to secure a mortgage to purchase the property.

  • More financial responsibility: Single-family homes are more expensive upfront and tend to cost more the longer you live in them. When the home requires a repair, which can happen more often as the home ages, 100% of that cost comes out of your pocket.

  • Solely responsible for maintenance: In addition to being financially on the hook for maintenance and repairs, you’re the only one responsible for making sure the property doesn’t fall into disrepair.

Single-family homes typically offer more privacy, space and greater flexibility than other types of housing – but the perks come with a higher price tag. To ensure you can afford this type of property, consider getting a mortgage preapproval. With initial approval, you’ll know whether there’s a single-family home in your area within your budget or if it’s time to explore alternative housing.

Alternatives To Single-Family Homes

If you’re not sure whether a single-family home is for you, consider other types of homes that may be a better fit.

  • Multifamily homes: A multifamily home is a residential property with multiple individual housing units. The units can be built on top of each other or side by side. These types of properties are suited for buyers looking for an investment Investors can either live in one of the units and rent out the others or rent all the units in the building.

  • Condominiums: Condos can look similar to multifamily homes, with many individual units in a larger building. The difference is that each unit has an individual owner while all condo residents jointly own the condo’s common areas. Condos are often a good choice for buyers who prioritize less maintenance or want a slightly more affordable entry into homeownership.

  • Townhouses: Think of a townhouse as a hybrid condo and single-family home. Townhouse owners own the interior and exterior of their home and, like a single-family home, the land it sits on. Like condos, townhouses often belong to a homeowners association, and you’ll typically find these homes in communities with shared amenities, such as pools or tennis courts.

  • Modular homes: Modular homes are prefabricated, built in a factory and transported in modules that are assembled on-site. Modular homes can be more affordable than traditional home types and are customizable.

  • Apartments: Most people rent rather than own apartments. If you own your apartment unit, it’s technically considered condo You own the interior of your unit and share responsibility for the building’s common areas with other apartment owners.

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Get Approved For A Single-Family House

If you’re interested in purchasing a single-family home, consider starting the approval process before you start shopping around. Getting preapproved will give you an idea of how much a lender will let you borrow, so you’ll know your price range before you look at homes. When you apply with Rocket Mortgage®, you can upgrade your initial approval to a Verified Approval1 by providing additional documentation. Initial loan approval signals to sellers that you're a serious buyer ready to make a serious offer.

The Bottom Line: Single-Family Homes Can Provide Privacy And Freedom

As you consider whether a single-family home is right for you, think about the pros and cons of all different home options and how each type fits into your home buying budget. If a single-family house is the right fit, work with a real estate agent who knows the market you’re interested in to find an affordable new home.

Ready to begin the process? Get started today.

1 Participation in the Verified Approval program is based on an underwriter’s comprehensive analysis of your credit, income, employment status, debt, property, insurance and appraisal as well as a satisfactory title report/search. If new information materially changes the underwriting decision resulting in a denial of your credit request, if the loan fails to close for a reason outside of Rocket Mortgage’s control, or if you no longer want to proceed with the loan, your participation in the program will be discontinued. If your eligibility in the program does not change and your mortgage loan does not close, you will receive $1,000. This offer does not apply to new purchase loans submitted to Rocket Mortgage through a mortgage broker. This offer is not valid for self-employed clients. Rocket Mortgage reserves the right to cancel this offer at any time. Acceptance of this offer constitutes the acceptance of these terms and conditions, which are subject to change at the sole discretion of Rocket Mortgage. Additional conditions or exclusions may apply.

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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.