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Multifamily Home Need-to-Knows

By Kevin Brouillard · September 27, 2022 · 6 minute read

We’re here to help! First and foremost, SoFi Learn strives to be a beneficial resource to you as you navigate your financial journey. Read more We develop content that covers a variety of financial topics. Sometimes, that content may include information about products, features, or services that SoFi does not provide. We aim to break down complicated concepts, loop you in on the latest trends, and keep you up-to-date on the stuff you can use to help get your money right. Read less

Multifamily Home Need-to-Knows

Whether shopping for a home or investment, buyers may come across multifamily homes.

The first need-to-know, especially for financing’s sake, is that multifamily properties with two to four units are generally considered residential buildings, and those with more than five units, commercial.

Let’s look at whether multifamily homes are a good idea for homebuyers or investors.

What Is a Multifamily Home?

Put simply, a multifamily home is in a building that can accommodate more than one family in separate living spaces. Each unit usually has its own bathroom, kitchen, utility meter, entrance, and legal address.

Of the more than 100 million Americans who rent, around two-thirds live in multifamily homes.

Among the different house types are duplexes, which contain two dwelling units, while a triplex and quadruplex consist of three and four units, respectively. A high-rise apartment building is considered a multifamily property.

What about ADUs? A home with an accessory dwelling unit — a private living space within the home or on the same property — might be classified as a one-unit property with an accessory unit, not a two-family property, if the ADU does not have its own utilities and provides living space to a family member.

Multifamily Homes vs Single-Family Homes

On the surface, the differences in property types may seem as straightforward as the number of residential units. But there are other considerations to factor in when comparing single-family vs. multi-family homes as a homebuyer or investor.

Unless you plan to hire a manager, owning a property requires considerable time and work. With either type of property, it’s important to think about how much time you’re able to commit to handling repairs and dealing with tenants.

If you’re still weighing your options, here’s what you need to know about single-family and multifamily homes.

Multifamily Homes Single-Family Homes
Comprise about 27% of U.S. housing stock. Represent around 67% of U.S. housing stock.
Can be more difficult to sell due to higher average cost and smaller market share. Bigger pool of potential buyers when you’re ready to sell.
Higher tenant turnover and vacancy can increase costs. Often cheaper to purchase, but higher cost per unit than multifamily.
More potential for cash flow and rental income with multiple units. Less cash flow if renting out, generally speaking.
Usually more expensive to buy, but lower purchase cost per unit. More space and privacy.
Small multifamily homes (2-4 units) may be eligible for traditional financing; 5+ units generally require a commercial real estate loan. Greater range of financing options, including government and conventional loans.

Pros and Cons of Multifamily Homes

There are a number of reasons to buy a multifamily home: Rental income and portfolio expansion are two.

And buying real estate is one ticket to building generational wealth.

But there are also downsides to be aware of, especially if you plan to purchase a multifamily home as your own residence.

So what are multifamily homes’ pros and cons? The benefits and drawbacks can depend on whether it’s an investment property or personal residence.

As Investment

Investing in multifamily homes can come with challenges. Take financing.

A mortgage for an investment property tends to have a slightly higher interest rate, the qualification hurdles are higher, and a down payment of 20% or more is usually required, though there are ways to buy a multifamily property with no money down.

Government-backed residential loans don’t apply to non-owner-occupied property, but there is a commercial FHA loan for the purchase or refinancing of apartment buildings with at least five units that do not need substantial rehabilitation. Another FHA loan program is for new construction or substantial rehabilitation of rental or cooperative housing of at least five units for moderate-income families, elderly people, and people with disabilities. Another FHA loan pertains to residential care facilities. Upfront and annual mortgage insurance premiums (MIP) apply.

Before adding a multifamily home to your real estate portfolio, take note of the pros and cons of this investment strategy.

Pros of Investing in Multifamily Homes Cons of Investing in Multifamily Homes
Reliable cash flow from multiple rental units. Upfront expenses can be cost prohibitive for new investors.
Helpful for scaling a real estate portfolio more quickly. Managing multiple units can be burdensome and may require hiring a property manager.
Opportunity for tax benefits, such as deductions for repairs and depreciation. Property taxes and insurance rates can be high.
Often appreciates over time.

As Residence

Buyers can choose to purchase a multifamily home as their own residence. As an owner-occupied multifamily home, they live in one of the units while renting out the others.

Owners can use rental income to offset the cost of the mortgage, property taxes, and homeowners insurance while building wealth.

Another advantage is financing. With a multifamily home of two to four units, an owner-occupant may qualify for an FHA, VA, or conventional loan and put nothing down for a VA loan or little down for a conventional or FHA loan. (It isn’t all hearts and flowers, though. Most VA loans require a one-time funding fee. FHA loans always come with MIP. And putting less than 20% down on a conventional loan for an owner-occupied property, short of a piggyback loan or lender-paid mortgage insurance, means paying private mortgage insurance).

What are multifamily homes’ pros and cons as residences?

Pros of Multifamily Homes as a Residence Cons of Multifamily Homes as a Residence
Reduced cost of living frees up cash for other expenses, investments, or savings. Vacancies can disrupt cash flow and require the owner to cover gaps in rent.
Self-managing the property lowers costs and can be more convenient when living onsite. Being a landlord can be time-consuming and complicate relationships with tenant neighbors.
Potential for federal and state tax deductions. Less privacy when sharing a backyard, driveway, or foyer with tenants.
Owner-occupied properties qualify for more attractive financing terms than investment properties.

It’s worth noting that an owner-occupant can move to a new residence later on and keep the multifamily home as an investment property. This strategy can help lower the barrier to entry for real estate investing, but keep in mind that loan terms may require at least one year of continued occupancy.

Who Are Multifamily Homes Right For?

There are a variety of reasons homebuyers and investors might want a multifamily home.

Multifamily homes can be helpful for entering the real estate investment business or diversifying a larger portfolio. It’s important to either have the time commitment to be a landlord or pay for a property manager.

For homebuyers in high-priced urban locations, multifamily homes may be more affordable than single-family homes, given the potential for rental income. It might be helpful to crunch some numbers with this mortgage payment calculator.

Multigenerational families who want to live together but maintain some privacy may favor buying a duplex or other type of multifamily home.

What to Look for When Buying a Multifamily Home

There are certain characteristics to factor in when shopping for a multifamily home.

First off, assess what you can realistically earn in rental income from each unit in comparison to your estimated mortgage payment, taxes, and maintenance costs. Besides what the current owner reports in rent, you can look at comparable rental listings in the neighborhood.

When looking at properties, location matters. Proximity to amenities, school rankings, and transportation access can affect a multifamily home’s rental value.

The rental market saturation is another important consideration. Buying a multifamily home in a fast-growing rental market means there are plenty of renters to keep prices up and units filled.

The vacancy rate — the percentage of time units are unoccupied during a given year — at a property or neighborhood is an effective way to estimate rental housing demand.

Depending on your financing, the condition of a multifamily home may be critical. With a VA or FHA loan, for instance, chipped paint or a faulty roof could be a dealbreaker.

Read up on mortgage basics to learn about what home loans you might use for a multifamily home and their terms.

Finding Multifamily Homes

Like single-family homes, multifamily homes are featured on multiple listing services and real estate websites. Browsing rental listings during your multifamily home search can help gauge the market in terms of vacancy rates and rental pricing.

Working with a buyer’s agent who specializes in multifamily homes can help narrow your search and home in on in-demand neighborhoods.

Alternatively, you can look into buying a foreclosed home. This may help get a deal, but it’s not uncommon for foreclosed properties to require renovations and investment.

View SoFi’s Home Mortgage Rates

Buying a multifamily home as a residence or investment property can provide rental income and build wealth.

It’s also a major financial decision. SoFi’s home loan help center is full of resources to unpack real estate terminology and equip homebuyers.

Whether you’re planning to be an owner-occupant or not will affect your financing options. SoFi offers home mortgage financing for owner-occupied primary residences, second homes, and investment properties of one to four units.

You can view your rate in just a few clicks.


Photo credit: iStock/krzysiek73

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