What Is a Single-Family Home? Should You Consider Owning One?

By Austin Kilham · January 06, 2024 · 8 minute read

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What Is a Single-Family Home? Should You Consider Owning One?

If you’re in the market for a home, you may have come across the term “single-family home” and wondered what it means and if that is what you are looking to buy.

Generally, a single-family home refers to a freestanding home set on its own piece of property. It can be occupied by a single individual or a large family, as long as it’s occupied by a single household.

Owning a single family home comes with a number of benefits, including more privacy and space than other types of residential properties. However, this type of home also tends to come with a higher price tag and more responsibility. Here’s a closer look at what single family homes are and the pros and cons of buying one.

What Is a Single-Family Home?

Generally speaking, the term single-family home refers to a home that is designed for, occupied by, and maintained by one person or household. When you buy a single-family home, you will own both the home and the property it sits on. This is in contrast to other types of properties, such as condominiums (condos), where you only own the interior of your unit and share ownership of common areas with other homeowners in the complex.

In most cases, a single-family home is defined as one that is freestanding and not attached to homes owned by other individuals. However, the government has a broader definition. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, a single-family home includes fully detached homes, as well as semi-detached row houses and townhouses. In the case of attached units, the units must be separated 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.

In some places, a single-family home is defined in part by how many kitchens it has. Depending on zoning laws, adding a second full kitchen to an in-law’s apartment, for example, can cause a house to be redefined as a multi-family building. If you’re planning on doing this type of renovation, be sure to check local zoning laws beforehand.

Whether a home is classified as a single-family or multi-family home can have an impact on the type of mortgages you qualify for. Both single-family homes and two- to four-unit properties fall under residential lending guidelines. (A property with five or more units is considered commercial property.) You can use a conventional mortgage to purchase a home with four or fewer units, whether it’s a single- or multi-family home. If you’re buying a multi-family home with five or more units, you must use a commercial mortgage. Commercial mortgages have different terms than residential mortgages do.

💡 Quick Tip: When house hunting, don’t forget to lock in your home mortgage loan rate so there are no surprises if your offer is accepted.

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

Pros and Cons of a Single-Family Home

As you shop for homes, it’s important to consider the various advantages and disadvantages of a single-family residence.

Some of the advantages are:

•   More space Single-family homes tend to offer more space than other types of housing, and it belongs to you alone. They may have large yards where children and dogs can play or where you can plant a vegetable garden. They may also have storage in attics, garages, or basements, which aren’t shared between multiple units.

•   Privacy Single-family units that don’t share walls with neighbors offer more privacy. You are less likely to hear neighbors’ activities, and they are less likely to be bothered by yours.

•   More design features Single-family homes may be available in a broader range of designs and layouts, from Cape Cods or colonials to ranch homes and contemporary designs. You can also make changes to the building or landscape design without input from neighbors with a shared interest in the space.

•   Room to grow Single-family homes may offer you more options for additions if you have a growing family or if aging parents may come to live with you. For example, single family detached homes with larger plots of land may allow additions that wouldn’t be possible in condo units.

•   May offer higher appreciation Single-family homes tend to appreciate in value more than condos and townhouses.

•   Option to rent As the sole owner of a single-family home, you have the option to rent out the house if you decide to move and wish to hang on to the property.

While these factors are attractive, it’s important to weigh potential disadvantages of buying a single-family home as well. Here are some to keep in mind:

•   More expensive Single-family homes tend to be more expensive than other types of homes. That can mean a larger down payment and higher closing costs, and your mortgage payments may be higher.

•   More maintenance Unless your single-family home is part of a homeowner association (HOA) that provides basic services, you’ll be in charge of all home maintenance like lawn mowing and roof repairs. You’ll either have to take the time to do it yourself or hire help.

•   Possible HOA fees Planned developments usually require HOA fees to cover the upkeep of common areas and shared structures.

•   Less income potential With multi-family homes, you have the option to live in one unit while renting out the others. This allows you to bring in regular income to cover the cost of the mortgage and maintenance expenses.

Finding a Single-Family Home

Before you start looking for a single-family home, you’ll want to first determine how much home you can afford. You might start by calculating mortgage costs and getting prequalified for a home loan; prequalification often only takes a few minutes and provides an estimate of how much you might be able to borrow and at what rate (without impacting your credit).

You’re probably already searching real estate listings online and noting the property types. You might also want to do some research on housing market trends, especially if you live in one of the nation’s real estate hot spots.

You may also want to engage a real estate agent. They have expertise in local housing and zoning laws, know whether a list price is fair or above or below average, and can help you negotiate the price of a home you’re interested in buying.

If there’s any question about how a house is zoned, you can often look up zoning information through a particular city’s website.

Recommended: First-Time Home Buyer’s Guide

Who Should Get a Single-Family Home?

Single-family homes are a good fit for people who can cover the higher price tag, want privacy and flexibility, and are willing to take on a lot of responsibility.

If you qualify as a first-time homebuyer, there may be help available to buy a single-family home in the form of down payment assistance and low- or no-interest loans.

If you’re looking for a more affordable home and don’t mind giving up some privacy, you might want to consider a condo or townhouse.

A condo is like an apartment but is available for purchase. These units share walls with neighboring units, but you generally won’t have to worry about maintaining the property.

A townhouse, on the other hand, has multiple stories and will share one or two walls with other units. Like condos, townhouses are typically less expensive than single-family homes. Unlike a condo, you’ll own the property that the townhouse sits on.

If you’re looking to invest in real estate, you might consider buying a multi-family home. While this will likely cost more than a single-family home, you may be able to recoup the added cost (and, over time, earn even more) by collecting rent from tenants.

💡 Quick Tip: To see a house in person, particularly in a tight or expensive market, you may need to show the real estate agent proof that you’re preapproved for a mortgage. SoFi’s online application makes the process simple.

If You’re Thinking of Purchasing a Single-Family Home, SoFi Home Loans Can Help

Single-family homes are one of the most popular real estate options and often what people envision when they think about achieving the dream of home ownership.

This type of property typically sits on a parcel of private property and doesn’t share walls with neighbors, affording you a high level of privacy. You generally have more control over making enhancements to your home than you have with other types of properties, and usually have access to extra storage, including exterior storage space like a shed or garage.

However, don’t forget to consider the added responsibilities and costs when deciding on the right type of home for you and your family.

Looking for an affordable option for a home mortgage loan? SoFi can help: We offer low down payments (as little as 3% - 5%*) with our competitive and flexible home mortgage loans. Plus, applying is extra convenient: It's online, with access to one-on-one help.

SoFi Mortgages: simple, smart, and so affordable.


How much does a single-family home cost?

The median price for an existing single-family home — one that’s already standing, not new construction — was $387,600 as of November 2023, according to the National Association of Realtors.

How much do I need to build a single-family home?

The cost of building a single-family home (not including land) can range anywhere from $42,000 to $900,000-plus depending on the home’s type and size and where you build. On average, the cost to build a house in the U.S. is about $329,000.

Can you get a loan to build a single-family home?

If you’re planning to build a single-family home from scratch, you can apply for a construction loan. With this type of loan, money is usually advanced incrementally during construction, as the home-building project progresses. Typically, you only pay interest during the construction period. Once the construction is over, the loan amount becomes due, and it is converted into a regular mortgage.

Photo credit: iStock/Dean Mitchell

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