What is a Single-Family Home?

by | Apr 22, 2020 | Real Estate Glossary

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Single family home. It’s one of many odd real estate terms that have sprouted up over the years that you’ll have seen multiple times in your real estate search. So what is a single-family home, exactly, and is it the right type of home for you?

What exactly is a single-family home?

There are both broad and narrow definitions. Some definitions are pretty broad and simple: A single-family home is “a freestanding home set alone on its own piece of property.”

Other definitions are a little more narrowly defined. According to the US Census Bureau, for example:

Single family homes “include fully detached, semi-detached (semi-attached, side-by-side), row houses, and townhouses. In the case of attached units, each must be separated from the adjacent unit by a ground-to-roof wall in order to be classified as a single-family structure. Also, these units must not share heating/air-conditioning systems or utilities.

Units built one on top of another and those built side-by-side that do not have a ground-to-roof wall and/or have common facilities (i.e., attic, basement, heating plant, plumbing, etc.) are not included in the single-family statistics.”

Some features that could define a single-family home should include:

  • Stand-alone, detached property – The house should have its own parcel of land, no shared property
  • Its own entrance and exit – The house should have its own private and direct access to a street or thoroughfare
  • Only one set of utilities – And these utilities may not be shared in any way with another residence or house. This applies to heating, electricity, water, or any other essential service like this
  • One owner – The house is the residence for one person, family, or household, where the owner is the only person with interest in the unit.

What is the difference between a single-family home and a multi-family home?

Multi-family homes have some characteristics that you won’t find in a traditional single-family house. A single-family home can’t have multiple units because that doesn’t meet the standards of housing set by U.S. government agencies.

Some multi-family homes began as larger single-family homes that an owner decided to split into more than one unit to make more money. Consequently, those living in multi-family homes may have less privacy than those living in single-family homes because of shared walls and/or other shared services.

Different addresses

Since there are multiple units on the property, it’s necessary for the units to have different addresses to mark them apart from the other units in the building or on the property.

Different kitchens and bathrooms

Multiple units with different addresses typically also means that each unit has its own kitchen and bathroom(s), and often this means that those units have their own utilities too.

Different entrances

Typically then, since these units are divided from each other by address, kitchen, bathrooms, and utilities, they also would each have their own private entrance.

What are some pros/cons of single-family homes?


Privacy – Since the owner’s house typically sits on its own property, and there are no shared walls, that means a single-family owner typically has a great deal more privacy than if the house shared walls or other features with multiple properties and people.

Space – Single-family homes generally have much more space for storage and room for family members too. Of the 840,000 new single-family homes built in 2018, according to the US Census Bureau’s new construction data, 45% had 4+ bedrooms and 36% had 3+ bathrooms. Of the 345,000 multi-family units built in 2018, just 10% had 3+ bedrooms.

Design – Personalizing your landscaping, exterior design, modifying the structure – all these things are easier with a single-family home, as no approval of the group or anything like that is required.


Income – Multi-family homes can generally have a wider variety of income possibilities than a single-family home. The owner could live in one unit and rent out the other unit(s) in a multi-family home quite easily, for example, where a single-family home would need to be rented out as one unit.

Responsibility – Owners of condos or townhomes that are part of an HOA that provides services to their units have less responsibility than a single-family home owner that needs to do all maintenance and repairs themselves or hire their own outside assistance to provide service.

Cost – If the owner is buying a single-family home on a large lot with a big backyard and a garage, many costs can be higher from purchase price to maintenance. And this relates to responsibility. Since the owner is footing the responsibility of owning a single-family home, that owner also foots the bills alone for those repairs and maintenance too.

Who are single family homes right for?

Single-family homes are typically better for families that can afford the luxury of more space and privacy. Single-family home owners have the time and money that general maintenance and lot or yard upkeep requires.

And here is a list of what types of housing might be more appropriate for different owners:


An apartment is a rented residential unit that’s part of one (or several) residential buildings. There is generally one owner or management company for all the units that handles the maintenance and upkeep.

They generally have more affordable costs than buying a condominium or single-family home, and can often have better walkability or location to shopping, entertainment, nightlife.


The main difference between a condo and an apartment is ownership. You have the option to purchase a condo, as you would a house. If you end up renting a condo, your property owner will differ from the unit next door. This also impacts the management of the property. Condo properties are usually managed by a Homeowners’ Association (HOA).

They appeal to owners looking for lower-maintenance living, a greater sense of security, easier opportunities to be social with neighbors, whether organized or not, and easier opportunities to participate in common property amenities like swimming pools, weight rooms, business centers, and so on.


A townhouse is a single-family dwelling with at least two floors that shares a wall with another house, and each townhouse is individually owned.

They can be a good option for first-timers on the home-buying circuit that don’t want to jump fully into single-family home ownership at this point or for budget-minded home buyers that want more space than typically available in a condominium. Townhomes sometimes also offer better locations for owners looking to be more centrally located to urban area lifestyle venues.

Single-family home

They are generally best for owners that prefer a bigger yard and more room to do their own thing. Single-family homes will not include benefits like landscaping, snow removal, home repair, exterior maintenance, and more that owners will often pay a monthly HOA for when they own a condo or a townhome however, but again, many owners of single-family homes prefer the upgrade in privacy, extra room and designability.

Multi-family homes

They can be best for owners interested in real estate investment and are okay with the added responsibility and time that comes with being a landlord but also are willing to be involved in these properties based largely on the extra income involved.

How to search for single-family homes

When the prospective buyer is ready to start searching for their home, online real estate listings either reference single-family homes, condominiums, and so on, directly by word choice, but there is also a type of real estate nomenclature that gets used too on occasion in reference to zoning rules for the land involved. For example, homes will be zoned “R,” which means “Residential,” followed by a number. Zoning rules can be somewhat different in different areas of the country, so the owner will want to do their own research.


Typically means the land has been zoned for one home only, a single-family home.


Often means a zoning district providing for low-density development, such as single-family homes but also multi-family homes, typically duplexes.


Provides for the development of a wide range of multi-family dwelling units, including but not always limited to, apartments and condominiums.

Bringing it all back

In closing, single-family homes appeal to buyers that want more space, more privacy, and more freedom to do their own thing. While it’s true that single-family homes may sometimes mean more suburban than urban, that isn’t always the case. And if you search in the right area, you can find what you want and where you want it.

And no matter what type of home you choose to buy, our top-rated agents at Trelora can help you find the right choice of home for you. And you should also know, if you buy a condo, townhouse, single-family, or multi-family home with us, we split our buyer’s agent commission with you 50/50 and give you the refund at closing. You can use that refund to do anything you want, such as remodel your kitchen or pay for your mortgage for a few months. It’s up to you.

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