What Is a Split-Level House? Should You Consider Owning One?

By Sarah Li Cain · March 06, 2023 · 6 minute read

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What Is a Split-Level House? Should You Consider Owning One?

As you’re starting your home buying journey, you may come across a style referred to as a split-level house. Popular in the 1950s through the 1970s, split-level homes appear to be making a comeback.

What is a split-level house? Keep reading for the answer and whether it’s the right style for you.

Characteristics of a Split-Level House

Often seen as a starter home, a split-level house differs from other traditional homes in that the home usually has three levels, connected by half-flights of stairs.

The most common design features the living room, kitchen, and dining room on the main level. A half-stairway leads up to the bedrooms, and a second half-stairway leads to a den, basement, and sometimes garage. The garage is often at grade level, with the bedrooms above it.

Often referred to as a trilevel home, though there can be a fourth or fifth floor, a split-level home has a low-pitched roof, large picture window, overhanging eaves, and an asymmetrical facade.

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

Recommended: Do You Qualify as a First-Time Homebuyer?

Pros and Cons of a Split-Level House

Consider the following advantages and drawbacks of a split-level home.


•   May be more affordable: Split-level homes are generally more outdated — or just feel that way — so you could find these homes at a bargain. (Try this mortgage calculator to get a feel for the numbers.)

•   Nostalgia is in: Sometimes it’s hip to be square. Young buyers may be drawn to the old-school feel of a split-level house.

•   Ability to qualify for home financing: If you can find a home at an affordable price, it might be easier to qualify for a mortgage.

•   More privacy: Split-level homes tend to offer more privacy because of the staggered levels. Upstairs or down, you might be able to set up a quiet home office.

•   May feel bigger: Split-level homes offer more square footage than many ranch-style homes, and they keep the rooms you use most frequently together.


•   Those stairs: People who aren’t very mobile or are afraid of climbing stairs as they get older may not be the best fit for split-level homes. Homeowners will need to use the stairs frequently, although they’re half-flights.

•   Could be hard to sell: When homebuyers are looking at the different types of houses, they may view split-level homes as awkward-looking or dated, so it could be hard to sell if you’re ready to move.

•   Remodeling can be challenging: The layout isn’t conducive to making any dramatic changes. Each level is meant to have a distinct purpose.

•   Subterranean space may not be valued: Thanks to the basement, a split-level home may not appraise as high as a one-level home.

Recommended: Understanding Mortgage Basics

Difference Between a Split-Level House and a Raised Ranch

Although some people use the term split-level to describe a raised ranch style, a true raised ranch has two levels, while a split-level home has three or more.

A raised ranch house is basically a ranch house that sits atop a basement or a first floor that contains a finished room and a garage. The story underneath the main floor of the home is meant to provide additional living space.

The building materials may be different: In most cases the basement or first floor is made of brick, with the upper level using aluminum or wood siding. There may also be more decorative details such as nonfunctional shutters.

Finding a Split-Level House

You’ll find most split-level homes in the Midwest.

Since these types of homes have basements, you’ll need to live in an area where that’s typical. Some parts of the country near the ocean or large bodies or water have poor soil types and won’t usually have homes with basements.

You might find a, well, staggering deal in one of the 50 most popular suburbs in the U.S.

Who Should Get a Split-Level House?

Those who are the best fit for a split-level house are buyers who are willing to climb stairs daily, families that value privacy, and those who see the value of maximum living space on a smaller lot.

Some people will find a one-level house, condo, or townhouse more their style. This home loan help center can be of use if you’re shopping for a home and a mortgage.

The Takeaway

If you value privacy and space and don’t mind stairs and a boomer aura, a split-level house could be just the ticket. Split-level homes can be a good value.

3 Home Loan Tips

1.    To see a house in person, particularly in a tight or expensive market, you may need to show proof of prequalification to the real estate agent. With SoFi’s online application, it can take just minutes to get prequalified.

2.    Not to be confused with pre-qualification, preapproval involves a longer application, documentation, and hard credit pulls. Ideally, you want to keep your applications for preapproval to within the same 14- to 45-day period, since many hard credit pulls outside the given time period can adversely affect your credit score, which in turn affects the mortgage terms you’ll be offered.

3.    Your parents or grandparents probably got mortgages for 30 years. But these days, you can get them for 20, 15, or 10 years — and pay less interest over the life of the loan.


Are split-level homes hard to resell?

Split-level homes may not be for all homebuyers, though that doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t sell this kind of home. The key to encouraging buyers to make an offer is to shine a positive light on the home. That could mean staging it, adding curb appeal, and making upgrades as small as paint and new fixtures.

Can you build up on a split-level house?

Yes. You may be able to add a level to the top, or put an addition on the side or back.

Are split-level houses expensive to build?

Because the home can be built on a smaller lot, it may be more affordable than other designs. The cost to build any home depends on the locale, materials, size, and contractor. If you’re considering building your own, shop multiple builders to see what you can get.

Can you get a loan to build a split-level house?

You may be able to get a construction loan to build a split-level house. It’s typically harder to get a construction loan than a mortgage, and construction loan rates tend to be higher than conventional mortgage rates.

Why are split-level homes cheaper?

Split-level homes tend to cost less than other types of comparable homes because of when they were built. Many homebuyers find the style unfashionable.

What are the disadvantages of split-level houses?

The main disadvantage of split-level homes is that they require homeowners to walk up and down stairs often to access different areas of the home. While it may not be a dealbreaker to some, those who are less mobile or are afraid of how they’ll age in the home may not find split-levels a good fit.

Are split-level homes a good investment?

Maybe. An investor who updates a split-level home while keeping some of its retro charm is likely to find takers.

Photo credit: iStock/davelogan

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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.


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