Buying a duplex vs buying a house
Buying a duplex is often cheaper than buying a house. But you have to share a wall and possibly a driveway with your neighbour.
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Buying a duplex can allow you to afford a modern home in a desirable area, because they typically cost less than free-standing houses. But duplexes are often smaller and you need to look at the specifics of the property title before buying. And you'll be living very close to your neighbours.
What is a duplex?
A duplex is two residential homes that are situated on the same property and that share a common central wall. In other words, it’s a single building with two separate residences within. Each home has its own driveway, entrance, garden, backyard, bedrooms, kitchen, bathroom and everything else you’d expect to find in a detached house.
Both homes in a duplex building are constructed at the same time, but they may be sold together or separately depending on how the building is titled. If the building is strata-titled, each individual dwelling can be owned and sold separately. If the building is not strata-titled, both duplex homes can only be sold together.
Finally, the homes in a duplex will usually have separate postal addresses, for example 2a and 2b Smith Street.
Pros and cons of buying a duplex
- Cheap. Buying a duplex is a much cheaper option than buying a house and in many areas it’s possible to get a duplex for half the cost of a fully detached house. In addition, there are usually none of the body corporate fees associated with owning an apartment.
- Buy in premium areas. The reduced price tag of duplex homes could make it possible for you to buy in a highly sought-after area without breaking your budget.
- Most of the benefits of a house. Despite their low prices, duplexes offer ample space, a backyard for pets and many of the other advantages of owning a house.
- Low maintenance. If you only own one dwelling in a duplex then you will only own half of the block of land, which means less lawn space to mow and less time spent maintaining the garden.
- Value increase. Buying a duplex means you own a piece of land, which can often help the value of your property appreciate quicker than if you own an apartment.
- Dual-living capability. If you purchase both dwellings in a duplex, you can live in one home and let elderly relatives or perhaps mature children live in the other. Alternatively, you can lease out one of the dwellings to provide rental income.
- Only one close neighbour. Unlike living in a high-rise apartment, where you’re forced to share with scores of other residents, duplex living means you only have one set of close neighbours.
- Security. Having a close neighbour living on just the other side of the wall can provide extra security without getting in each other’s way.
- Proximity to neighbours. There’s no getting away from the fact that you will live in very close quarters to your immediate neighbours. This can be a big turn-off for some people.
- External renovations and insurance. You’ll need to get approval from your neighbour if you want to make changes to the external facade or any common areas of the property. You will also need to agree on an insurance policy that covers both dwellings.
- Not as big as a house. Duplexes do not provide the same room to move as houses do, either indoors or out.
- Living next door to your tenants. If you do decide to buy the entire duplex and rent out one dwelling, keep in mind that you’ll be living next door to your tenants.
What you should be aware of when buying a duplex
There are several factors you should be aware of before buying a duplex, so let’s take a closer look at each of these issues below.
How the duplex is titled
This is an important factor as it will determine whether the two properties can be sold separately or together. Duplexes on one title traditionally tend to be harder to sell because the market is narrowed to owner-occupier investors or owner-occupiers who want to offer the second dwelling to family members.
Duplexes come in a variety of configurations, the most common of which sees the two homes sitting side by side and separated by a common wall in the middle. These properties are usually one or even two storeys. However, there are some two-storey properties where the floor between the two storeys separates the two dwellings.
Some duplexes are set out where one home is at the back of the block of land and the other is at the front. This can create issues with the residents of the back property walking past the front property as they come and go at all hours of the day or night, and is an issue to be aware of before you buy.
Make sure there’s easy access to both properties in a duplex, including to the backyard, without disturbing your neighbours.
One of the quirks of owning a dwelling within a duplex is that the owners of each separate home will need to agree on a building insurance policy that covers both dwellings within the building. This will require you and your neighbour to join forces and come to an agreement, while you will also need to share expenses for the maintenance and upkeep of any common property.
Meeting the neighbours
Another key factor to consider is the importance of meeting your neighbours before you move in. Even though you’re in separate homes, you’re probably going to spend several years living in very close proximity to the people living in the adjoining duplex home, so it’s vital that you know what you’re getting yourself into before you buy.
Noisy or annoying neighbours can make your life hell, while neighbours who don’t keep up with the maintenance of their property can drag the value of your home down. Make sure you meet them before you sign the contract, as you’ll need to be able to live side by side with them and also come to agreements about insurance, renovation plans and the like.
The local area
It’s also important to consider the property market in the local area before buying a duplex. If there’s a large number of other duplexes in the same suburb, you may not be able to enjoy as much capital gain as you would like. But if the duplex is a rare commodity in that particular area, it will be easier to sell in the future.