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December 8, 2023

What is a duplex? What You Need to Know

What is a duplex? What You Need to Know

Ever wondered what is a duplex? Think of it as a home that’s split into two separate living spaces, each with its own entry. These unique properties combine the comfort of a single-family house with the practicality of having two units in one building. Let’s explore what makes duplexes a popular choice for home seekers and discover their intriguing features.

What is a duplex?

What is a duplex?

What is a duplex?

A duplex represents a property divided into two distinct living units, arranged either side by side or stacked on top of each other. Each unit operates independently, boasting its own entrance, and sometimes includes individual garages and yards.

Typically, these units share a common wall, and their interior layouts are often similar. The layout arrangement hinges on whether both units face the street or if one unit has its entrance at the rear.
In multi-floor duplexes, the shared wall tends to align with the stairwell. For ‘one-up, one-down’ duplexes, an external staircase might lead to the upper unit. In side-by-side configurations, garages often occupy a central position, with each unit situated at opposite ends.

Usually, a duplex property is owned by one person who can decide to either live in one unit and rent out the other, or rent out both units. However, in spots like New York, duplexes can actually be some of the most expensive properties around.

What is a duplex apartment?

In some urban areas, the term ‘duplex’ takes on a unique meaning, especially in apartment buildings. It refers to an apartment spanning two floors, distinct from the typical single-level layouts. These duplex apartment designs feature two floors connected by an interior staircase or a private elevator, providing easy access between levels. Often, each floor has its own entrance leading to the building’s hallways.

In this context, ‘duplex’ describes the number of levels within a single-family unit, rather than indicating multiple separate units, offering a distinctive living space within an apartment complex.

What makes a duplex unique?

What makes a duplex unique?

What makes a duplex unique?

Duplex vs Penthouse

A penthouse is like the king of the castle, sitting atop a tall building, usually on the highest floor, offering amazing views and a luxurious layout. It’s all about the panorama and lavishness, taking up a whole floor for itself.

On the flip side, duplex houses can be on any floor and are more budget-friendly since they share space with other units.

Penthouses come with unique layouts, think sky lofts and garden flats, with fancy features and tall ceilings that you won’t usually find in regular duplexes.

Duplex house vs two-storey house

A duplex is a special kind of two-storey building where both levels are connected inside by stairs, creating two separate living units under one roof. However, not all two-story houses are duplexes.

Some two-storey houses might not have this internal connection or might not be completely separate units; they could be attached or not freestanding at all.

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Duplex house vs independent house

While a duplex falls under the category of an independent residence, it’s not the only type. Independent homes encompass a variety of residences like big houses, villas, farmhouses, and even duplexes.

These independent houses often span across two stories and may consist of duplexes or substantial bungalows. Essentially, while a duplex is considered an independent residence, various other types of homes fall under this category, offering different sizes and layouts.

Advantages of living in a Duplex Apartment

Advantages of living in a Duplex Apartment

Advantages of living in a Duplex Apartment

Additional income source

A duplex house doesn’t just provide a place to live but also offers tax benefits and an extra income stream. You can live in one part and rent out the other, which boosts the returns on your property investment.

Both buyers and tenants get better mortgage options with a duplex. If you’re an owner and rent out part of the duplex, you can even recover some of the mortgage interest, making it a financially savvy move.


The design of a duplex house is versatile and can serve multiple purposes. If you need an office space, you can easily set up a home office on one floor. And let’s talk about space—duplexes are spacious, giving you enough room to play with different functions.


Another bonus: duplexes are perfect for joint families looking to stay together while respecting everyone’s privacy. With separate living areas within the same building, each family unit gets to have its own space while staying connected.

Disadvantages of Living in a Duplex Apartment

Disadvantages of Living in a Duplex Apartment

Disadvantages of Living in a Duplex Apartment

Noise Concerns

Living in a duplex can bring noise issues because of the shared wall between units. Sounds tend to travel, causing disturbances for both sides. It’s like sharing a bit too much noise between neighbors, which can be bothersome.

Tenant Challenges

Renting out a duplex with an internal stairway can be tough. People might worry about using the shared space, affecting their privacy. Finding tenants who prefer separate entrances can be tricky, especially for those who value their privacy.


Duplexes are often found in quieter areas outside the city with more space available, which can mean longer commutes for homebuyers who need to be closer to the city. Some builders place duplexes towards the outskirts, making it a bit of a trek for those who work downtown.

Investment Consideration

While owning a duplex might seem appealing, it might not always be a sure bet for profits. In places where land is limited, high-rise buildings are taking over, impacting the long-term value of duplexes.

Selling Challenges

It can be challenging to sell a duplex house since fewer people prefer this type of housing. Those interested often want it for personal use, making it harder to sell at the right price. It’s not impossible but definitely a bit more challenging.

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Buying a duplex: What you should know?

Buying a duplex: What you should know?

Buying a duplex: What you should know?

Duplexes can be a smart and more budget-friendly purchase because they’re like owning two homes in one.

If you own a duplex, you can live in one unit and rent out the other, making it great for first-time investors, people living together, or families who want to be near each other.

When it comes to buying, you’ve got financing options similar to those for regular homes, such as regular mortgages or FHA and VA loans. However, if you’re buying a duplex with a typical mortgage, you might need a higher down payment, usually between 15-25%, especially if you plan to live there.

Renting a duplex costs about the same as renting a regular apartment or house with the same number of rooms in the same area.

Yet, if you prefer having your own space, renting an entire house might be a better choice, unless having someone close by brings you comfort.


Are duplex houses considered to be costly?

Duplex houses are generally pricier compared to other nearby homes. These houses are made up of two units and need careful planning by architects.

Because of their complex construction and layout, duplex houses end up being more expensive. On average, they can cost around one-third more than other houses in the same area.

What does a duplex look like?

Duplexes are built to look and feel like a big single-family home. They’re made up of two equal-sized units that often mirror each other, each with its own way in and out.

  • Size: On average, duplexes in the U.S. are around 900 square feet.
  • Floor plan and style: The units might have the same floor plan or look different in style, layout, or finishes. Duplexes come in various housing styles and can look different based on where they’re located.
  • Price: They’re seen as a more budget-friendly choice compared to single-family homes, especially in places like college towns or busy cities.

How to find duplexes for sale?

Websites can be helpful when searching for duplex properties. It’s also a good idea to network with real estate investors and join local groups as they might know about suitable duplex deals.

Working closely with a real estate agent can be advantageous too, as they can give you early access to new duplex listings.

So, duplexes offer a unique blend of comfort and practicality. They’re not just a residence; they’re an investment opportunity too. Whether you’re considering living in one unit and renting out the other or looking for a versatile home setup, duplexes provide that balance.

Keep in mind their pros and cons when making your decision. Remember, while they might not suit everyone, they can be an excellent choice for many looking for a distinctive housing option.

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Tom Tran

Tom Tran

Tom Tran is a seasoned entrepreneur and expert in real estate property management with a diverse background in business ventures. He is the Founder, Chairman, and Chief Executive Officer of Hexa Property Management, LLC, based in Houston, Texas.

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