Buying a duplex vs buying a house

Buying a duplex vs buying a house feature

Is a duplex or a house a better option for your family? Find out here.

With property prices at astronomical levels in some of Australia’s major capital cities, homebuyers are looking for alternatives to allow them to purchase a property in the area they want, but at an affordable price. One way to do this is to buy a duplex.

Duplexes can allow you to afford a modern home in a desirable area, but they do have a range of drawbacks and certainly aren’t the perfect solution for all buyers.

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. Duplexes can range from quite small in size, with only a couple of bedrooms, through to larger family-style homes with four or even five bedrooms.

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.

What are the benefits of a duplex?

The biggest advantage of buying a duplex is that they come with a significantly reduced price tag when compared to homes with a similar number of bedrooms. Despite this, they come with most of the same benefits of owning a home. In many cases, you can purchase a duplex for around half the price of a detached house located in a similar area, which could mean saving hundreds of thousands of dollars in today’s housing market.

With this in mind, a duplex could be well worth considering for a first homebuyer, families on a restricted budget, a retiree looking to downsize or simply anyone looking to buy in a premium location without paying full price. They offer many of the same benefits as detached houses – ample living space for a family, a backyard for a dog and where the kids can run around – but for a fraction of the cost. And because you effectively own only half of a block of land, your property and garden will be easier to maintain.

While you will obviously need to be willing to live in close proximity to your immediate neighbours, a duplex doesn’t require the same level of tolerance for your neighbours as apartment living does. It can also provide the benefit of extra security when you’re not at home and you’ll only need to get the approval of one neighbour (as opposed to the entire body corporate in an apartment block) if you want to renovate.

Finally, duplexes offer another big benefit for buyers who purchase both dwellings in the building: dual-living capability. You could live in one home and rent out the other to generate extra income, or perhaps you could use the second home to house grandparents or mature-age children who need their own space.

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 the 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.

Different configurations

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.

Building insurance

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.

Pros and cons of buying a duplex

Pros

  • 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.

Cons

  • 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.

Is a duplex right for me?

The answer to this question really depends on your own personal tastes and desires, as well as the properties available in the area where you want to buy. If you’re looking to downsize or you simply can’t afford to buy a house where you want to, duplexes are well worth a look. The same goes if you’re looking for a dwelling with dual-living capability, either as an investment property or to house your extended family.

If you do decide you’d like to purchase a duplex, make sure to thoroughly research your purchase before you sign the contract. Find a duplex with the right configuration that has all the space and features your family needs. If there’s anything about the property that’s not quite right or that could cause difficulties when you try to resell, walk away.

Finally, we can’t stress enough how important it is to have neighbours you get along with when you live in a duplex. Not only will you live in close proximity to one another but you’ll also need to agree on things like insurance and sharing the upkeep costs of common property (eg, the roof), so a good relationship with your neighbour is crucial to happy and harmonious duplex living.

Image: Shutterstock

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