What is a Duplex? Rent or Buy? (Honest Pros & Cons)


Duplex apartments successfully combine the convenience of apartment living and the layout of traditional homes. While they come in a variety of sizes, one of the things that duplex apartments usually have in common is space on two separate floors that are connected by an interior staircase. Here is what you need to know about duplex apartments, from the slightly varying descriptions to what you can expect from renting such a unit.

The duplex is one building within has two single-family units attached, either above each other as apartments or next to each other like townhouses. Each unit has a separate entrance, and there is no interior connection between them.

Within the apartment, you will find all the rooms that are usually featured in a normal rental unit or home, but they often include amenities that are not as common in typical apartment buildings such as porches and patios, driveways, and in-unit laundry, and if you are lucky, garages. The entire duplex is usually under the proprietorship of one owner who also owns the land on which the duplex is situated.

Duplex apartments are especially popular with families since they offer plenty of room while still allowing for privacy. They are often house-like, and in some ways, they are a cross between a private rental and an apartment complex. There may be some variation in the definition of duplex apartments depending on where you are.

What to expect if you decide to rent a duplex apartment

Before you sign a lease for that tempting duplex apartment, here are some pros and cons you should keep in mind.

Pro: Privacy

Duplex apartments are among the larger apartments you will find in the real estate market. They are generally more spacious, and since you will be only sharing space with one other unit, privacy is not as big an issue as compared to if you lived in an apartment complex. In general, duplexes tend to feel more like houses than rental units.

Con: Still Need to share

While sharing is on a much smaller scale in a duplex apartment, it might still take some getting used to sharing a driveway and the yard with your neighbor. In addition to this, you will also have to share a wall or a roof. This may present some new problems such as noise filtering from one unit to another especially if the duplex is not adequately soundproofed.

Pro: Amenities

You are likely to find amenities such as backyards, porches and patios, in-unit laundry, and driveways in duplex units. If you are lucky, you may even have access to a garage. These are amenities that you rarely find in apartment complexes.

Con: More responsibilities

In a sense, living in a duplex is like owning a home. While this has many perks, there are some downsides to keep in mind as well such as having to be responsible for many of your own minor maintenance and repairs.

Pro: Affordability

Duplex apartments are generally more affordable than similarly-sized single-family homes. As a result, you can easily rent in a higher-value location.

Duplex house interior video

Con: Duplexes not common within city centers

Duplexes are not as widely available as smaller units such as studio apartments within city centers.

Pro: More outdoor space

Since a duplex apartment is generally just one building on a single lot, there is more outdoor space to enjoy for the occupants of the unit. This is especially convenient if you have young children or pets that like to run around in the yard.

Pro: More freedom to customize the unit

You are likely to have more freedom to customize your living space if you rent a unit in a duplex as opposed to renting in an apartment building. This is because a duplex is more likely to be owned by a sole proprietor, while an apartment in a complex is more likely to be under the ownership of a property management company. It is much easier to approach a landlord than a company about adding your personal touch to a rental unit, and you are more likely to get approval.

Pro: Common spaces sharing with only one other unit

As previously mentioned, a duplex apartment is made up of two separate family units. This means that you only have to share the common amenities and spaces with one other unit as opposed to a whole building of people.

What to expect if you choose to invest in a duplex unit

Owning a duplex apartment comes with its own set of advantages and disadvantages. Here are the most important ones to keep in mind if you intend to invest in one.

Pro: Potentially high yield investment

If you choose to rent out both units, you can generate more rental income and a higher interest return over time than if you invested in a standard rental property. If a tenant wants to rent both units, you will still make a significant profit.

Con: Limited options

As ideal as duplexes seem, they are not easy to come by in the rental market. This is especially true if you intend to purchase one within the city.

Pro: Great resale value

Duplexes are regarded to have a higher resale price compared to conventional homes with a detached suite. This is because potential buyers enjoy the benefit of separate units that are fully functional on their own.

Con: Cost of maintenance may be higher

You will have to bear higher costs of maintenance and other similar expenses since you own two separate homes. Additionally, these activities will take up a significant portion of your time if you decide to take care of them on your own.

Pro: A great introduction to property investment

If you are new to property investment, you may want to start by buying a duplex since they are generally affordable to purchase, and you have the option to keep an eye on your property from next door.

Con: Living next to your tenant may result in disagreements

If you opt to live in one of the units and rent out the other, living so close to your tenant could result in a number of issues, including a reduced sense of privacy and potential disputes. It may help to put boundaries in place so as to prevent conflicts.

Pro: You can pay off your mortgage faster

If you plan to live on one of the properties, you will still be earning an income from renting out the separate space. You can use this extra income to pay off your mortgage quicker.

A duplex apartment in New York and Chicago

In Manhattan, a duplex apartment is often a single-occupancy unit located in an apartment complex that is spread over two floors which are connected by an indoor staircase or an elevator. In some cases, duplex apartments that are found in condominium or co-op buildings are created when the proprietor buys the unit below or above their home and renovates it accordingly.

 The staircases in these units often vary in terms of style and width, but unless the apartment is exceptionally huge, they usually employ a space-saving technique. Most duplex apartments that are smaller in size tend to feature a spiral staircase, which is meant to be both stylish and space-saving.

Although duplex units that are on the market for sale or for rent in New York are often among the largest apartment types, the architectural quirks that are commonplace in older buildings may sometimes result in one-bedroom duplexes. The upper floor of such units is in many cases just one room that sometimes comes with a bathroom. This upper space of the unit is typically used as the bedroom, while the downstairs is used as a living area and kitchen.

Unlike multi-family duplex units that usually offer a reasonably priced alternative for those who seek the experience of living in a house-like apartment, Manhattan single-unit duplexes are often some of the most expensive rental units in New York. You will encounter these units in upscale neighborhoods such as Tribeca, Chelsea, NoHo, West Village, Central Park West, Fifth Avenue, and the Meatpacking District.

The quality of duplex apartments tends to vary widely. In some neighborhoods, the upper mezzanine level in a duplex apartment is more of a slightly claustrophobic sleeping loft rather than a second floor. These “duplex” units are understandably cheaper, but if you are looking for a spacious apartment, you will want to avoid these.

In Chicago, you will find similar single-unit duplexes in many family-oriented upscale neighborhoods.

Other cities

In Dallas, a duplex apartment is a unit that contains two self-contained dwelling units located on a lot. This definition is not too different from that of Philadelphia’s, which considers duplex apartments to be a unit that is occupied by two families under one roof, with each family living in a separate unit. In San Francisco, the term “duplex” is used interchangeably with “two-family dwelling”, while in cities like Detroit and Buffalo, you will come across the term “two-family flat” that refers to a duplex.

Final Thoughts

Duplex apartments are a viable option whether you plan to rent or invest in one. As a renter, you get to enjoy perks such as more privacy and a variety of amenities. As an investor, you are likely to earn higher revenue by renting both properties, and they have great resale value. However, before you go ahead and rent or buy one, it is important to take into consideration the downsides as well. Examine your needs as well to determine whether duplex apartments are the best option for you.

Melanie Asiba

Melanie is an author. She enjoys traveling, reading and trying out new things. In addition to writing for Apartment ABC. Connect with her at [email protected]

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