Duplex Vs. Townhouse: What’s The Difference?

Duplex vs. Townhouse - 1

When you are looking for a new home, you usually have a number of options to choose from. Duplexes and townhouses are among these viable options, and as much as these unit types share some similarities, there are some key differences between the two to be noted. If you are unable to make the decision on whether to go for a duplex or townhouse or you are just curious to see what they are all about, here is a little more information on these unit types.

What’s the difference between duplex and townhouse? A duplex is made up of two separate units in the same building that is located on a single lot, whereas a townhouse is typically found in a row of other similar yet independent houses. A duplex is occupied by two families, with each living in the separate units whereas a townhouse is occupied by one family.

For a townhouse, in addition to owning the interior of their home, each resident also owns the exterior of the structure as well as the land on which the property is found. On the other hand, despite consisting of two separate units, a duplex is usually owned by just one person who may or may not occupy one of the units. More often than not, townhouse communities are governed by a Homeowners Association (HOA) that requires members to pay fees and abide by certain rules while a duplex is more likely to be on a single lot with no such governing body.

Duplexes and townhouses share some notable similarities like being spacious and being generally considered to be best suited for families. Having said that, here are the differences between these two unit types.

The differences

1. Structure and design

A townhouse is a single unit that is connected to a row of other identical but independent houses. Townhouses on a street typically have a similar aesthetic that results in uniformity, hence the term “row houses” that is sometimes used to describe them. In many cases, townhouses occur in small lot areas and are multi-level with two to three stories.

On the other hand, a duplex may seem like a typical single-detached house at first glance, but when you take a closer look, you will notice that there are separate entrances on either side of the structure. This is because a duplex structure comprises of two separate units, each with their own kitchen, bedrooms, bathrooms, and general living spaces. Duplexes are commonly two stories high.

2. Ownership

Another notable distinction between a townhouse and a duplex is ownership. With a townhouse, the occupant of the unit also owns the exterior of the home as well as the land on which the property sits.

On the other hand, a duplex is occupied by two different residents, but only one of them owns the property and the land on which it is located. The other unit is usually rented out to another occupant in order to allow the owner to earn an extra income.

3. Occupancy

As previously mentioned, each townhouse is occupied by a single family whereas each unit in a duplex is occupied by two different families.

4. Neighbors

With both duplexes and townhouses, you will share at least one wall with an adjacent unit. However, with a townhouse, several units are in close to proximity to one another due to the row design of the units, so that if your home is in the midst of a townhouse community, you are flanked by other units on both sides. As for a duplex, you only a wall with your immediate neighbor whose unit is adjacent to yours. In both cases, it is important to go for units that are soundproof to avoid having the noise from your neighbors unit filtering into your and disturbing your peace and quiet.

5. Presence of an HOA

On the other hand, duplexes are less likely to be governed by an HOA. The owner/landlord usually comes up with the rules and regulations that he/she expects the tenant to follow. These stipulations are usually indicated on the lease so that by signing the agreement, the tenant accepts liability if the rules are disregarded.

6. Common areas

In addition to private spaces such as driveways and backyards, townhouses may also have communal spaces such as a swimming pool, a small playground, or a park. This is especially true in bigger neighborhoods with more rows of houses. On the other hand, duplex living means having to get used to sharing a yard and a driveway with your immediate neighbor. While amenities such as in-unit laundries are private, most outdoor spaces are shared between the two adjacent units.

7. Cost

Location is an important factor when it comes to determining the cost of both townhouses and duplexes. Other factors that may influence the value of both units include size, property taxes, and the included amenities. In terms of the purchase price, duplexes may be more expensive than townhouses since you are essentially buying two units in one, which automatically means more square footage to pay for. However, it is not unheard of to find townhouses that are bigger than some duplexes, so this may not always apply.

8. Investment value

Duplexes have an edge over townhouses when it comes to investment value. With a duplex, repair, maintenance, and your rental schedule are fully in your control assuming you own both halves. With a townhouse, since an HOA is in control of several aspects of your unit, you have no choice but to conform to others’ wants and needs. For example, the HOA may have a no pets rule for all the townhouses in the community. This will have a negative impact on your available tenant list and probably your rental income as well.

Having compared and contrasted townhouses and duplexes, it is also important to take into consideration the positive and negative aspects of both unit types.


Pros of duplex

  • Greater investment value – In the long run, duplexes have greater investment value than townhouses. For beginners, you have more flexibility and control in terms of maintenance and repairs as well as your repair schedule when you own both units of a duplex. You can also choose to rent out both of the units instead of living in one so as to generate more rental income and a generally greater interest over time than if you opt to invest in a standard rental property.
  • You only share a wall with one other unit – When you live in a duplex apartment, you will be sharing a wall with only one other unit, hence your space will still feel quite private.
  • Freedom to customize the unit – Owning a duplex gives you more freedom to experiment with different designs for your unit. Even as a renter, you are more likely to get permission from your landlord to add a personal touch to the unit than if you lived in an apartment complex under the administration of a property management company.
  • Great way to get started in property investment – If you intend to get into property investment, purchasing a duplex is a great place to start since you can opt to live next door to your tenant and keep an eye on your property.

Cons of duplex

  • They are not easily available – Duplexes do not come by easily in the rental market. As a result, you are less likely to find a duplex within an urban area.
  • More responsibilities at hand – As an owner of a duplex, you are obligated to take care of the maintenance and repair needs of both units, which may be quite costly and time-consuming.
  • Potentially living next to your tenant – If you choose to live in one of the units of a duplex you own, you will be right next to your tenant. This may potentially result in disagreements especially if there are no boundaries set for both the landlord and the tenant.


Pros of townhouse

  • Spacious – Townhouses are usually spacious, typically covering two to three floors. This makes them popular with families.
  • Frequently occur in urban areas – Townhouses commonly occur in urban areas, allowing you to live in proximity to your workplace and reduce the distance of your commute.
  • Amenities available – In addition to private spaces such as driveways and backyards, you may also have access to amenities such as pools and playgrounds.

Cons of townhouse

  • You still have individual maintenance requirements even with an HOA – Even with the presence of an HOA, you will still have individual maintenance responsibilities. For example, if there is a leak in your roof, you may be responsible for fixing it.
  • Limitations of an HOA – HOAs in some neighborhoods are unreasonably strict, limiting your freedom to renovate your unit or even rent it out.

Final Thoughts

Making the decision on whether to go for a duplex or a townhouse comes down to comparing the differences between the two unit types as well as weighing all the pros and cons in order to come up with the best fit for your family, your budget, any future plans you may have. All in all, it is important to carry out as much research as you can so as to make an informed decision on what unit to go for.

Melanie Asiba

Melanie is an author, and she enjoys traveling, reading, and trying out new things. In addition to writing for Apartment ABC.

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