What Is a Duplex? 5 Reasons You Should Consider Building One

Rose Morrison

Feb 10, 2023

What is a duplex

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What is a duplex? These structures still line some city streets, separated by alleys. Some have stores below with living quarters above, while others feature two families living side-by-side. 

This practical building style refers to a multifamily home where only two domiciles exist in the same building, not three, four or ten. Some have one unit on top of another, while others share a side-by-side arrangement. 

These properties feature a condo-style ownership interest. What does that mean? You own your unit, but you share the land on which your house sits with the other tenant. However, unlike a condo, you only share your yard with one other family, not multiple. 

Duplexes have existed for well over a century, meeting their heyday in the 1920s. However, they’ve recently made a comeback. Here are five reasons you should consider building one if you have a plot of land. 

1. Pay for Your Mortgage 

Getting a construction loan isn’t easy — but the right blueprint for a duplex could get you through the approval process. You’ll still need up to a 25% downpayment to secure the loan, but you might improve your chances of a positive answer. Banks consider these instruments riskier than traditional mortgages, and one of the factors they’ll consider is your ability to repay your loan once construction completes and you begin paying principal, not just interest. 

The simple solution? Live in one-half of your duplex and rent the other out at a sufficient rate to cover your mortgage. If you’re a savvy builder who knows how to save money on the front end, you won’t have too much trouble in many markets. Affordable housing is in short supply, with rents up as much as 30% in some areas, making it easier to secure quality tenants for the right lease price. 

2. Create an Ideal Space for an Older Relative

The cost of retirement living likewise continues climbing. Private retirement homes can cost anywhere from $3,000 to $7,000 a month. Even selling the family property isn’t enough to carry some older adults through their sunset years. Furthermore, many prefer to age in place rather than go to an assisted living facility, assuming their independence allows them to safely do so. 

Building a duplex offers a hybrid solution. Your older relatives can still enjoy having their own home — and the peace of mind that comes with knowing you’re right next door in an emergency. 

Some home builders have already capitalized on this idea, offering duplex-like floor plans with smaller in-law suites featuring private kitchens and living areas. Some of these feature separate, private entrances, making them true duplexes, although the dual living areas may differ slightly in size. 

3. Support Your Adult Children 

Over 40 years of wage stagnation have taken their toll, not on the ones responsible for creating the problem but on their children. Many jobs today pay less than $20 an hour when the median price of a new home is nearly half a million dollars. There’s no way that working for a living will provide many with any stability and corporate buyouts of residential rentals leave many trapped on a hopeless treadmill, trying desperately to keep up with rising prices while their paychecks barely budged. 

Building a duplex provides a beautiful way to help your kids on their path to homeownership. If you both agree, you’ll benefit by having them closer as you age, not to mention the extra help with the yard work. If they have kids, you’ll be close to your grandchildren and they’ll have willing and eager babysitters. 

4. Share Lawn Maintenance Duties 

Lawn maintenance can be less stressful when you own a duplex. Both you and your neighbor have an equal ownership interest in the land, meaning that you should split maintenance responsibility. 

Make maintenance even easier by xeriscaping. This style of landscaping involves little-to-no grass, instead opting for native plants that require minimal water and care. It’s better for the environment and frees up your weekend for more pleasant activities than mowing. 

5. Enjoy a Closer Relationship With Your Neighbors

Even if you rent the other half of your duplex to a stranger, not a family member, you’ll likely enjoy a closer relationship. If you dreamed of living next door to your BFF as a child, you could finally fulfill your wish. 

What if you plan to turn the other half into a short-term rental, placing it on Airbnb or VRBO? Please check your local ordinances first. Some municipalities and homeowner’s associations limit the number of such establishments to reduce noise complaints, but many have no such restrictions. Your city hall or community governing board is the right place to go. 

What Is a Duplex? 

What is a duplex? When executed correctly, this architectural style can be a first-time landlord’s best bet for a reliable income stream. 

This building type also offers various advantages for families — and extended clans — in today’s changing economy. It’s an old architectural style, but it will be interesting to see if modern realities make it the hottest “new” real estate market trend. 

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