Guide to Buying a Duplex

By Janet Siroto · January 09, 2023 · 8 minute read

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Guide to Buying a Duplex

If you’re home shopping, you may be looking at duplexes. These properties are typically a single structure with two separate units. At face value, buying a duplex might seem like a BOGO (buy one, get one free) deal, but it isn’t as simple as purchasing two homes for the price of one.

It’s important to analyze the pros and cons of buying a duplex before you start bidding or sign a contract. In this guide, you’ll learn about the following topics:

Defining ‘Duplex’

A duplex is composed of two living units on top of each other or side by side.

Duplexes have separate entrances for each occupant. That means single-family homes that have been subdivided typically do not count as duplexes.

For a side-by-side duplex, both entrances are likely on the street. If a duplex is stacked, the second-floor occupant might share an exterior entrance with the first-floor occupant, and then have an entrance to themselves upstairs.

In addition to private entrances, the units have their own bathrooms, kitchens, and other living features. In terms of the exterior, occupants may share a backyard, garden, or driveway.

Every duplex has one thing in common: a shared wall. If the duplex units are side by side, the occupants will share a wall. One on top of the other? Occupants share a ceiling/floor.

Just because properties share a wall doesn’t inherently make them a duplex. Sometimes duplexes are confused with twin homes.

A twin home may look like a duplex, but the shared wall is in reality the lot line between the two homes. So it’s two connected properties, each on its own lot. A duplex is two properties, owned by the same person, on a single lot.

The square footage of each duplex half is typically quite similar to the other. In many, occupants will find that the layouts mirror each other (if they’re side by side), or duplicate exactly (if they’re on top of each other).

Properties with carriage houses or guesthouses are not considered duplexes: They usually do not share walls, and the smaller residence is considered an accessory dwelling unit or ADU.

Duplexes fall in the category of multifamily dwellings, which also include triplexes and quads (aka fourplexes). According to the National Multifamily Housing Council, more than 17 million renters (or about 17% of all renters) live in two- or four-unit dwellings.

First-time homebuyers can
prequalify for a SoFi mortgage loan,
with as little as 3% down.

Benefits of a Duplex

Duplexes have the exciting “two for one” energy, which can make buying them enticing. The style of living comes with benefits for the buyer, including:

•   Income to help with mortgage. Duplex owners who decide to live in one of the units can rent out or Airbnb the other, making income to help offset the monthly mortgage payments and upkeep.

Recommended: 25 Things to Know When Renting Out an Airbnb

•   Potential tax benefits. Mortgage interest is tax-deductible for a primary or secondary home if the home acquisition debt is $750,000 or less ($375,000 for a married couple filing separately).

   Resident duplex owners can write off mortgage interest and property tax only on the half of the property they live in. However, if they have a renter, they can write off repairs to that unit, any utility bills paid for the rental, and management fees. The IRS even allows the owner to depreciate the rented half of the property.

•   Flexibility in the future. Having two homes on one lot opens up options for owners. They can rent out a unit or use it as an office or studio space. In the future, the unit could become an apartment for aging parents or a guest suite for visiting family members.

•   Landlord proximity. If a duplex owner is getting into the landlord business for the first time, it might be beneficial to live close to the tenant. In the event of a repair or emergency, the tenant is just steps away.

   Additionally, because of landlord proximity, duplex owners might find that renters keep the home in better condition. If the landlord is living on the property, a tenant might be less likely to abuse features or leave problems unreported.

   A duplex could also be a good opportunity to live next to a family member or close friend. It means both parties live on the same property but not with each other. For some arrangements, it’s a good balance between living together while also apart.

•   Affordability. If you’re wondering how much duplexes cost, know this: Because it’s two properties with a single price, duplexes can be more affordable than two single-family homes. Plus, duplexes may often be located in more affordable neighborhoods.

Recommended: Factors That Affect Property Value

Drawbacks of a Duplex

Double the property doesn’t always mean double the fun. Here’s why a duplex might not be the right fit for all buyers:

•   Affordability. When numbers are crunched, two properties in one sounds like a deal, but the price of a duplex may be higher than that of a single-family home nearby. And if a duplex buyer does not plan to occupy the property, the down payment will typically be at least 15% of the purchase price, and homeowners insurance, known as landlord insurance, will usually be more expensive (often as much as 25% more) for an investment property. This can be a key concern when thinking about how to buy a duplex.

•   Tax season could be complicated. Yes, a homeowner can offset costs with a tenant in a duplex, but they’ve just signed themselves up for a more complicated tax scenario than with an owner-occupied single-family home.

•   Landlord responsibilities. Many homebuyers are drawn to the idea of a duplex because they can generate income while living there. However, being a landlord isn’t just about collecting rent checks each month. Duplex owners are responsible for their renter’s unit, meaning fixing issues and being available for general repairs.

   No one wants to address an overflowing toilet at 2 am, but as a landlord, that might well be a reality. It’s a 24/7 job, and not only will a duplex owner be responsible for fixing the issues, but the cost of repairs will have to come out of their pocket.

•   Finding good tenants. Finding renters can be challenging. Owning a duplex doesn’t automatically guarantee extra income, and the process of finding reliable renters can be time-consuming. Plus, duplex owners will have to start the process anew each time a tenant moves out.

   Remember, if the second dwelling is unoccupied, the duplex owner still owes the same amount each month. Before buying a duplex, it’s worth considering how much time owners can put into searching for the right tenant, and if they want to have that responsibility long term.

•   Bad tenants. Let’s face it, not all tenants will be perfect. In reality, they could be loud, rude, messy, and/or late on rent. There are a multitude of things that could go wrong with a renter, and duplex owners should be comfortable bringing issues to the table. Owners who decide to live onsite could get stuck with a less-than-considerate neighbor.

Recommended: 31 Ways to Save for a Home

Estimate a Mortgage Payment for a Duplex

Now that you know about the pros and cons of owning a duplex, if you’re still interested in the idea of purchasing one, use the mortgage calculator below to get an estimate of what future mortgage payments would be.

Obtaining a Mortgage

If, now that you know the pros, the cons, and the costs, you are still ready to move ahead, the next step is how to buy a duplex would be financing your purchase. A potential duplex buyer who plans to occupy one of the units can apply for an FHA loan, VA loan, or conventional financing. (Investors are limited to conventional mortgage loans.) FHA loans can be a good choice for first-time home buyers, those with less-than-perfect credit, and buyers who do not have a large down payment.

Check out our first-time home buyers guide for additional information on mortgages, loans, and closing costs.

Applicants may be able to use projected rental income to qualify for a loan. For rental income to be taken into account, though, renters usually must have already signed a lease. And not all of the projected income applies; a percentage is usually subtracted to account for maintenance and vacancies.

It makes sense for would-be buyers to have a good feel for their budget, as well as the potential costs associated with buying a property.

Knowing whether you plan to live at the address or rent out both units is a big consideration. Investors usually need a higher down payment than owner-occupants do. (Investment properties don’t qualify for private mortgage insurance, so typically a down payment of at least 20% is needed to get traditional financing.)

The Takeaway

Buying a duplex can be a great opportunity to own two properties, perhaps occupying one and earning rental income on the other. But there are pros and cons to be considered, as well as implications for your finances.

If you are moving ahead with buying a home, SoFi can help. SoFi offers mortgage loans with competitive rates, and qualifying first-time homebuyers can put as little as 3% down.

Great rates, available to view in minutes: See how easy SoFi Mortgage Loans can be.

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Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.

Third-Party Brand Mentions: No brands, products, or companies mentioned are affiliated with SoFi, nor do they endorse or sponsor this article. Third-party trademarks referenced herein are property of their respective owners.

Tax Information: This article provides general background information only and is not intended to serve as legal or tax advice or as a substitute for legal counsel. You should consult your own attorney and/or tax advisor if you have a question requiring legal or tax advice.


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