The Characteristics That Define a Single-Family Home

You’ll see the phrase “single-family home” often when browsing through real estate listings. A single-family home seems easy to define: It’s a home for a single family, right? Not exactly. To be classified as a single-family home, there are requirements the property must meet. Here, takes a closer look at those prerequisites.

What is a single-family home?

The legal description for a single-family home is “a structure maintained and used as a single dwelling unit.” So what does that mean exactly? A single dwelling unit will have these characteristics:

  • No common walls:A single-family home is a stand-alone, detached property, meaning the home doesn’t share common walls or a roof with any other dwelling.
  • Land:A single-family home has no shared property but is built on its own parcel of land. The area around the building is for the private use of the owner.
  • Entrance and exit:A single-family home has its own private and direct access to a street or thoroughfare as opposed to an apartment, which has hallways and a lobby that lead to street access.
  • Utilities:Only one set of utilities can service a single-family home and can’t be shared in any way with another residence. This applies to heating, electricity, water or any other essential service.

One owner: A single-family home is built as the residence for one family, person or household, whose owner has an undivided interest in the property.

Single kitchen: A single-family home has one kitchen. Adding a kitchen to an in-law suite or carriage house will alter a home’s zoning classification.

Benefits of buying a single-family home

The type of home you buy depends on your budget and needs. A single-family home will suit you if you are seeking privacy. Since it is built on its own slice of land, you’ll have some distance from your neighbors. You’ll also probably enjoy the extra storage space of an attic or garage in a single-family house. Single-family homes also come in many different architectural styles—ranch, Colonia, Mid-Century Modern and Cape Cod, for example—as opposed to the more straightforward design of a condo.

Disadvantages of buying a single-family home

Although owning a single-family home will mean total independence, there are a few factors that can be seen as downsides. Single-family homes usually don’t have community amenities, while condos, townhouses or multifamily properties may come with common gyms or pools open to all owners. The purchase price of a single-family home also tends to be higher, since you’re buying an entire lot. That translates into a larger down payment and closing costs, as well as recurring expenses such as insurance and property taxes.

Searching for single-family homes

When you’re looking at a real estate listing, you’ll see a zoning letter in the house’s description. A single-family home will be zoned “R,” which refers to “Residential,” followed by a number. An R1 rating indicates that the land allows only one home. Multifamily residences normally have an R2 rating, meaning two residential dwellings can exist on the property, typically in the form of a duplex. And an R3 rating permits multifamily units, such as apartments or condominiums.