Home Types

Owning a home is an investment and a hedge against inflation. It usually appreciates in value and offers valuable tax deductions. It gives a homeowner a place in the community, and a desire to make it better.

The concept of home ownership has taken many forms, to satisfy the different needs of people buying property — needs that differ primarily in affordability, required maintenance, or amenities that are offered. A dwelling includes any structure that serves as a residence.

Single-Family Housing

The most familiar type of housing is the single-family home, which is a structure housing a single family or group of individuals sharing the same living space. Although some walls and common areas may be shared, they generally have separate entrances, and a separate heating and plumbing system.

A detached house is a dwelling which has separate walls and is usually surrounded on all sides by land that is part of the real estate. Cluster housing are detached houses on small plots of land that share open spaces.

Various modifications of the detached house have been designed to make it more affordable, which is accomplished by sharing walls and restricting the amount of land in the residential unit — row houses and duplexes, and townhouses, and other types of multifamily housing.

A row house is a dwelling that shares side walls on 1 or both sides — often called party walls — with similar units, and usually has a yard in the back. A duplex is 2 residential units that share a roof and 1 side, but with the other side of the house separate from other units. An extension of this concept includes triplexes and quadruplexes.

A townhouse also has party walls, but is more like adjacent units than typical row houses, and often shares common areas, such as walkways and parking lots. Townhouses are often constructed with several floors to each residence.

Modular Homes (aka Prefabricated Homes)

A modular home has most of the characteristics of a single-family house, but is much cheaper. Each room of a modular home is assembled at a factory, then transported to the construction site where it is fastened to a foundation, and connected to the rest of the house. Plumbing and wiring are done onsite. The owner of the modular home owns the land. Lenders and insurers treat a modular like a conventional home.

A modular home can cost as little as 2/3 per square foot as a conventional home. However, restrictive covenants or neighborhood deed restrictions may forbid modulars on particular properties. Depending on the size and complexity of the house, it usually takes less than 2 months to build all the sections at the factory, and from 1 to 4 months to assemble it onsite. Unlike manufactured housing, the blueprints for the modular home must be approved by the local planning board and a building inspector must inspect the completed home and approve it for meeting local codes.

Manufactured Housing (aka Mobile Homes)

Manufactured housing are built completely at a factory, then usually transported to a mobile home park, which provides space and hookups for water, electricity, cable, telephones, and gas. Often, the land is rented or leased from the park owner. However, mobile homes are much less expensive than homes constructed onsite, and even modular homes.


Microhouses, or minihouses, are small houses that range from a few hundred to a thousand square feet. More living space is achieved by using the vertical space more effectively, such as putting beds in lofts or putting a patio or deck on the roof, and using small appliances and furniture. Some of these houses, as small as 64 square feet, are added onto existing property for personal space, or specialized needs. I'm sure that a few wealthy people will buy one for their kids as good way to start teaching them how to manage a household.

Microhouses seem like a good idea for the many single people today. Less cost, property taxes, maintenance, cheaper to heat and cool, cozier, don't have to walk too far to the bathroom, and more privacy than a condo unit or a co-op.


Apartment buildings have multiple dwellings within a single exterior, and usually share hallways, walkways, and entrances. Typically, each dwelling is wholly contained on a single floor. Apartment buildings can be small or giant skyscrapers, containing hundreds or thousands of units. They are designed either as affordable dwellings or as a means to maximize the number of dwellings on limited land, as in many large cities. Affordable units may range from 1-room efficiencies to several bedrooms, and are usually rented. In large cities, apartments may also be sold separately. There is usually very little or no land associated with the dwellings.

Condominiums (aka Condos)

Condominiums are usually a lot like apartments in structure and many of them are rented, but the individual dwellings are individually owned. Sometimes the condominium form of ownership is the result of a condominium conversion of apartments.

The legal foundation of the condominium is the declaration of condominium ownership, which is a legal document describing the property, including a description of the units and the common elements, the rights and duties of the owners and the owners' association, and the procedures for amending the bylaws.

The owners have an ownership interest in the common elements, such as, elevators, stairways, halls, walkways, parking lots, open areas, and recreational facilities. The ownership interest of the common elements is usually in direct proportion to the number of units that each owner owns, but it may differ depending on the condominium bylaws. Thus, if an owner owns 2 condos in a 6-condo unit, then she will have a 1/3 ownership interest in the common elements.

The main appeal of condominiums is that they are generally more affordable than single-family houses in the same area, and there is usually no maintenance, since condominiums are generally maintained by outside contractors and paid by condominium fees assessed on each owner. The condominiums are governed by a condominium owner's association composed of the owners, who sets and enforces the rules for the common elements, pays outside contractors for repairs and maintenance, and introduces and approves changes in the bylaws.

Cooperatives (aka Co-ops)

Cooperatives are much like condos in that multiple dwelling units are contained within a larger building and they include common elements. However, co-ops are owned by a corporation created specifically for the co-op, and ownership is acquired by purchasing shares in the corporation. The owner receives a proprietary lease rather than a deed to the property. However, federal tax laws allow the tenant stockholder to deduct interest and property taxes. A co-op also has a board that promulgates rules and pays for repairs and maintenance of the common elements. Co-ops can also be more restrictive as to who can own shares in the corporation. Many large cities have co-ops, and many individual units can cost millions of dollars — each.

Planned Unit Developments (PUDs) (aka Master Planned Communities)

Planned unit developments develop a community as a unit (hence the synonym master-planned communities) under a special zoning ordinance that limits density and maximizes open space by reducing lot and street sizes, providing for not only homes but also recreational facilities and commercial retailers. PUDs may range in size from a few houses to an entire town. A community association governs the development and collects fees from the homeowners, but the owners do not have an ownership interest in the common areas.

Mixed-Use Developments (MUDs)

A vertical variation of the PUD is the mixed-use development, which is a high-rise development that incorporates virtually an entire city in one high-rise building, with commercial establishments, mostly on the lower floors, and dwellings in the upper floors. The retail space usually includes shops, a grocery, personal-care shops such as a beauty salon or a barbershop, and may include movie theaters, a swimming pool, and other recreational facilities.

Retirement Communities

The main advantage that retirement communities offer is onsite medical facilities and greater security for older adults. They often offer many amenities and activities for senior citizens.

Timeshares (aka Fractional Ownerships)

Sometimes a property is owned by several people who have the right to possession to the property only for specific times of the year. These timeshares are almost always located in resort communities, and are used by the owners for vacations. The real estate is managed by an owners' association, which pays the expenses of the real estate by charging the co-owners an annual fee.

Other Dwelling Types

There are other dwelling types that describe the building containing the dwellings or some other aspect of it. For instance, converted-use properties are usually apartments, condos, or co-ops that were built by modifying a pre-existing structure, such as a warehouse or a factory. Other types of dwellings are the condos being built as part of a hotel complex, — so-called condo-hotels — which offers many of the hotel's services, such as concierge services, to the owners for a periodic fee. There are also destination or equity clubs that allow members to buy timeshares for the use — but not the ownership — of vacation properties.