Types of Homes: A Guide for Buyers

A site-built, single-family house isn't the only type of home you can buy. Depending on your needs, a condo or modular house may be a better fit.

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Types of Homes

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The traditional single-family house has plenty of upsides: privacy, space and the freedom to make as many changes as you want (within the scope of zoning regulations, of course).

But they aren't for everyone, and they're far from the only type of home you can buy. Depending on your needs and location, alternatives like a condo or a factory-built modular home may be a better and less-expensive option.

Here's a primer on the types of homes out there.

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Site-built, detached single-family houses

When you're looking at real estate, "single-family home" usually means a site-built, detached home designed for one household. Site-built — indicating the house was built at its location — distinguishes this type of home from manufactured and modular homes.

"Detached" means direct access to the outdoors and no common walls or utilities shared with other residences. Typically, there is also some outdoor space of your own, maybe as little as a strip of land on each side of the house.

Most residences in the U.S. — about 61% — are detached single-family houses, according to 2022 U.S. Census Bureau data.


A condominium, or condo, can be a more affordable alternative to a single-family home. Condos in a multistory building are virtually indistinguishable from rental apartments, and side-by-side or detached condos may look like townhouses.

What sets condos apart is what you own. When you buy a condo, you have sole ownership of the walls and everything inside the unit. You also have joint ownership of outdoor and shared spaces.

The joint ownership aspects of the complex are handled by a condominium association, similar to a homeowners association for single-family homes. As a condo owner, you’ll pay a monthly association fee for all the maintenance, landscaping and other upkeep that takes place outside your unit.

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A townhouse is a blend of a detached single-family home and a condo. When you buy a townhouse, you have sole ownership of your unit's parcel of land and may be responsible for maintaining it. Generally, townhouses are built alongside rather than on top of one another, so you share walls with other units, but don't have neighbors living above or below your space.


When you buy a co-op (short for cooperative housing), instead of owning an individual unit, you're a shareholder in the building or development. The amount of stock you have in the co-op, and what it's worth, will depend on the value of your individual unit and how the co-op's finances are structured. Though you might assume all co-ops are apartment buildings or condo complexes, any type of living situation, including a development of single-family homes, can be a co-op. A co-op is really a type of homeownership rather than a type of home. If you buy into a co-op, be prepared to pay maintenance fees and abide by the co-op board's rules.

Multifamily homes

What makes a building multifamily, and not just a couple of condos? It's all about sharing: A multifamily home might have units that share utilities or storage space (like an attic or basement). Multifamily homes are often duplexes, which have two units that are usually side-by-side and have one owner. Other times, you'll see large, older houses that have been split into multifamily units; the house has a sole owner, and the units are rented out.

Since each unit has its own entry — and usually its own address — you'll sometimes find what looks like half of a duplex for sale. That's actually a "twin home," which resembles a duplex. These share a wall and a plot of land but are considered two separate lots. Sole ownership of multifamily homes is much more common, so if you're looking to purchase, you're more likely to buy the entire property and rent out units.

Manufactured homes

Manufactured homes are built on chassis in factories, transported in sections and installed on-site on permanent or semi-permanent foundations. Although sometimes the terms manufactured home and mobile home are used interchangeably, there's a key difference. Manufactured homes are constructed according to U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) standards. Mobile homes are those that were built before HUD standards went into effect in 1976.

You can purchase a new manufactured home from a retailer or buy a used manufactured home through a real estate agent, an online manufactured home marketplace, or in some states, a manufactured home development.

A manufactured home can be placed on a leased lot or on land you rent or buy. Generally, manufactured homes must be titled as real property with the land and permanently fixed on a foundation to be financed with a mortgage. Manufactured homes that are titled as personal property are eligible for chattel loans, which generally have lower upfront costs and quicker closing times, but higher interest rates than mortgages.

Modular homes

Like manufactured homes, modular homes are also built in factories. But they are constructed according to local and state building codes like traditional single-family homes. After the pieces are transported to the home site, local contractors assemble the parts and place them on permanent foundations.

Modular construction can save time and money because most of the work is completed in a factory, unaffected by weather delays or other on-site issues, according to the National Association of Home Builders. So it may be a less-expensive option than building a home the traditional way.

Tiny houses

Tiny houses are generally under 400 square feet and can be movable or built on permanent foundations. If they are at least 320 square feet, they can be built to HUD standards for manufactured housing. They can also be built to comply with recreational vehicle or International Code Council standards.

Tiny houses grew in popularity as people looked for a way to live simply and economically. Tiny homes cost less, use less energy and take up less space than traditional homes.

If a tiny house sounds appealing, first think about whether you want a movable home to park at different locations, similar to an RV, or a home on a permanent foundation. Then, research state and local laws and zoning codes. The Tiny Home Industry Association has a resource map with links to information on local legislation, builders and tiny home communities.

No matter what type of home you ultimately decide to buy, you'll want to start with the same basic steps: Calculate your homebuying budget, compare lenders, get a mortgage preapproval, then start shopping for your new place.

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