Duplex vector art

First-time homebuyer's dilemma: Duplex or single family home?

By Liz Keuler

October 2017

During our house hunt, I heard the same refrain from my parents, my aunts and uncles, family friends – even acquaintances at weddings: “You HAVE to buy a duplex.”

The common wisdom is that you live in one half while renting out the other, and the rent will defray the cost of your mortgage while you build up greater equity. What’s better than putting other people’s rent money to work for you?
We were unreasonably excited to live in a freestanding structure with no shared walls, no one stomping around above us, and no significant floor cracks amplifying every conversation in the apartment below. Plus we are not remotely handy. So in the end, we didn’t go for the duplex.
But the idea got me thinking and researching the possibilities (check out the links at the end of this article for more resources). If you have the right temperament and a somewhat entrepreneurial mindset, purchasing a duplex can be a springboard now toward your dream home later. Let’s run down the pros and cons.

Pros to owning a duplex

  • You could qualify for a larger mortgage, because lenders may take the potential income from the rental unit into consideration. You’ll need to research rental rates in the area. And as long as you are an owner-occupant, you can qualify for low-down-payment options as you would with a single-family home
  • Build equity faster. If you can’t afford a home now in your dream neighborhood, buying a duplex in a more affordable neighborhood can help you build equity faster and move up to your dream house later – at a faster rate than building your savings while renting. Check out our Buy Now vs Wait calculator to see how the numbers might work out for you
  • Rental income may cover half the mortgage. Depending on your location, the rental income may cover more than half the monthly mortgage payment. That income could help subsidize “your half,” as well, meaning you’ll enjoy the perks of a nicer unit with a lower out-of-pocket monthly cost
  • Tax benefits. If you itemize deductions on your tax return, you can write off various expenses related to the rental portion of the property, like repair and utility costs
  • Vacation rental potential. If your local regulations allow for it, you could make even more money renting out half your duplex on the vacation market – while leaving it available for occasional personal use if you have visitors or need for a studio
  • Real estate experience. If you think you might be interested in real estate investment in the long term, a duplex can be a great crash course in how to be a landlord

Cons to owning a duplex:

  • Being a landlord isn’t for everyone. You must learn the landlord-tenant laws in your state as well as the intricacies of leases and screening potential tenants. You must be available to your tenants 24 hours a day in case of emergency
  • You’re on the hook for all repairs to the rental unit as well as your own. You can save money by handling repairs yourself – but if you aren’t handy and need to hire someone, this can eat into your savings. Make sure you have enough wiggle room in your budget to afford repairs and appliance replacements
  • Limited locations. Looking for a duplex may limit your location options. Not all neighborhoods in every city offer a mix of single-family, duplex and multi-family units for sale
  • Resale issues. Generally, there’s less demand for duplexes than single-family homes, so reselling may take longer
  • Property insurance rates are higher
  • Appreciation is lower for duplexes
  • Higher up-front cost. While you can qualify for low-down-payment options as mentioned above, you’ll likely spend more on the duplex than you would on a single-family home. So even if you only put 3% down, you may face higher up-front costs
  • Rental income is not guaranteed. Just because you have a space to rent does not mean you will see that rental income each and every month

All familial advice aside, the only person who can determine whether a duplex or a single-family home is right for you – is you. So get yourself into a Zen head space and do some soul-searching.

4 questions to ask yourself when considering a duplex

  • Can I afford the up-front costs of buying a more expensive duplex rather than a single-family home?
  • Will my duplex mortgage be affordable even if I don’t have a tenant every single month? Will I be able to build enough savings to cover repairs or unexpected expenses related to both living spaces?
  • Am I emotionally, mentally and/or physically prepared to be a landlord? Am I prepared for my home to also be my business?
  • Am I looking for a home for the long haul, or a starter home that might be a stepping-stone?

More resources:


Thank you

Ashari Wallace

duplex pros and cons

Levi Armstrong

It's good to know that there's more demand for single-family homes than duplexes, making them a better investment since I wouldn't have any resale issues. My dad recently left me a large amount of inheritance. I plan to invest in real estate, so thanks for this helpful article. I'll start looking for single-family homes to invest in soon. Thanks.

Abdirahman A Mohamed

Thank you for sharing this article. I appreciate it dearly.

Jackson Williams

Thanks for this! Me and my partner have been contemplating about this exact same thing right now as to what kind of property should we buy from the upcoming housing community that we saw on this site We've been thinking about the possibility of buying a duplex and living in one while renting out the other and after reading some of the points you shared here, I feel like we're up to the task and we'd be able to pull it off. I guess we'll be mov


interesting thoughts, we are considering building a duplex and selling our current family home. So it would be home for ourselves and adult family / multi generational home or later on to be an investment for the family.

Damon Weaver

This was very useful

Justin Salisbury

It was helpful

Justin Salisbury

It was very educational

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Liz Keuler is the editor of Readynest. She spent a decade meandering through radio, nonprofits and the corporate world before convincing MGIC to hire her based on her staunch grammatical convictions. She lives in a charming 100-year-old bungalow on Milwaukee’s East Side. Her interests include old Ernst Lubitsch films, new action movies, 60s girl pop, Regency romance novels, word games, sewing and shallots.
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