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Living in a single-family home has plenty of upsides – your own space, privacy, and the ability to make as many design changes as you want. As long as you stay within regulations! Even taking into account the positives, the single-family home life isn’t for everyone and it depends on your personal circumstances. Maybe you don’t want to be constantly mowing the lawn or painting the house and they also tend to more expensive than other types of property.

If you really want to buy a house but you’re not sure whether a single-family home is for you then there are a couple of options to consider.

What Exactly Is a Single-Family Home?

In the land of real estate and construction, a single-family home is usually defined as a purpose-built, individual-family, detached house. Site built means that it was built in the location that it stands and this defines it from modular homes that were built off-site and then transported into position.

The definition of detached is that there are no external walls that touch any other property, no utilities that are shared and you have direct access to the outdoors surrounding your property. In some cases, you also have a patio or a backyard, but this isn’t a definition of a single-family home.

In the United States, detached single-family houses are by far the most common type of property across the country. In the 2020 US census data over 60% of all residences in the country are defined as single-family units. However, that leaves a whopping 40% that are other alternatives.

Let’s look at some of the other alternatives.



A condo, or condominium, can sometimes be a more affordable alternative to a house if you’re in an area where single-family units are expensive. If you live in a multi-story building then a condo will look exactly the same as a rental apartment. If you put them side by side, they might even look like townhouses.

What defines a condo as a condo is what exactly you own. When you purchase a condominium, you have individual and sole ownership of all of the walls and everything that resides inside the unit. You also get joint ownership of shared and outdoor spaces alongside the other condo owners.

To manage the joint ownership aspect of a condo, it’s usually handled by a homeowner’s association. This HOA or homeowners association is paid a monthly fee to look after all shared spaces. This takes the leg work out of maintaining your condo. This makes it an easier option to maintain than a house.




You might think that a townhouse and a condo are the same things, but there are differences. The one key difference is that in addition to owning everything within the unit when you own a townhouse, you also own the land that is built on. This means that you are responsible for maintaining the land even if your townhouse is attached to another unit.


Cooperative Housing

When you buy a cooperative house or co-op instead of owning the specific unit that you live in, you’re a shareholder in the whole development or building. The number of stocks or shares that you have in the building will be directly proportional to the size of your unit, the value, and how the finances of the co-op are structured. Many assume that co-ops are just apartment or condo blocks, but they can be used for any type of living. It could even be used for individual family units. A co-op is a different type of ownership instead of a different type of property.


Modular Homes

You’re right, a modular home is actually a detached single-family unit. And actually so are manufactured homes. There’s a key difference though. This key difference is the method of construction. If you remember above, a single-family home is built on the land that it resides on whereas the modular home is built off-site and then constructed on-site. Even though modular homes are made in a different way to single-family units, they still have to follow the same building codes.

Regardless of what type of property you want to buy, you’ll still want to start with the same steps. Look at whether you’re ready for home ownership, follow our 15 steps to home ownership and find a mortgage that works for you. After that, you can look at what home or property works for you. If you’re interested in knowing more about condos vs home ownership you can read our guide.


A Multifamily House

What’s the difference between a multi-family home and just a number of units side by side you might ask. It’s all about sharing within a unit. A multi-family home might share an attic or a basement or even utilities or just not be completely divided. Most multifamily homes in the US are often duplexes and have two separate properties next to each other. They’re typically owned by one person. In other situations, you’ll find a single-family home that has been split into smaller units.

In a multi-family house, every property has its own entrance and mostly has its own address. In some cases, you’ll find what looks like half of a duplex for sale and this is actually considered a twin home. They share a plot of land and a wall but are actually legally considered two separate lots. It’s much more common to have sole ownership of multifamily property and if you’re looking to purchase one we suggest you look out for the full property.


Mobile or Manufactured Homes

You might be asking what’s the difference between a mobile home and a manufactured home? It’s all to do with how old it is. It’s age. On the 15th of June 1976, the department of housing and Urban development created a guideline that outline the construction of these homes.

In actuality, the term mobile home is only referring to a movable home that was manufactured before the 1976 HUD guidelines. A manufactured home is the same thing but it was manufactured after the guidelines came into place. Any manufactured home must meet the 1976 code and have the documentation to prove it.

Whether you actually move a mobile or manufactured home, both are built on a permanent chassis so can be moved if you want to. Many types of homes are actually manufactured, but because they cannot be moved on a trailer they do not count as a manufactured home. This is the case for mortgage lenders too.



Richard Allan

Richard Allan

Richard Allan is the founder of Capital Bean and a passionate writer about personal finance, budgeting and how to save money at home and work.

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