Single-Family Homes, Townhomes, Condos, & Duplexes: What's the Difference?

What's the Difference Between Different Types of Real Estate?When looking for properties, the same terms are going to pop up again and again. But real estate jargon is not always clear to buyers, especially when it comes to the types of properties available. Sometimes real estate professionals may even get terms mixed up, depending on regional differences in nomenclature. Learn more about the inherent ways to distinguish between single-family homes, duplexes, townhomes, and condos so there's less confusion for Oakland home buyers when narrowing down the choices.

Single-Family Homes

A single-family home is likely the most identifiable type of real estate. It's essentially a free-standing property with one kitchen, no shared walls, and no shared utilities. These homes may be one story or multiple stories. And whether it's two bedrooms or seven, it still counts as a single-family. This dwelling has long been the most popular type of real estate, owing largely to the privacy and amenities it affords. However, changing lifestyles have opened the way for many other types of spaces to emerge.


Townhomes are typically either two or three stories, and they're built close together in an attempt to squeeze more residences into city streets. They will share walls, but they do not share ceilings or floors as a standard apartment will. One townhome can be sold differently from the next, so it's important to understand the terms of the mortgage agreement before buying. Some townhomes are sold like a condo where the buyer owns the interior of the property. If the townhome is purchased as a home though, the buyer will own both the interior and exterior of the property.


A condo is essentially an apartment that people purchase instead of rent. It may have shared walls, ceilings, and floors, depending on the position of the unit. Condos can either be purchased outright, or the buyer can choose to join a co-op where they buy shares in a corporation instead of buying the property. Buyers considering any type of home as a condo should find out how decisions are made about the communal areas of the complex. Most of the time, this information is available from pre-selling sites like Precondo as it helps you decide and weigh options online. It helps to know how maintenance and repairs are carried out so buyers know everything before moving in.

Condo complexes of today are evolving to meet a wide variety of resident needs. These live-work-play spaces may incorporate everything from a small dog park to a gym to a salon. As the nation evolves, many people are finding that these homes are closer to what they're looking for as opposed to a larger and more demanding single-family home.


Duplexes are defined by the following facts and criteria:

  • A duplex is typically one unit meant for two households.
  • Each household will have its own separate entrance.
  • Households may be located either side-by-side (sharing a wall) or on separate floors.

The term duplex is likely one of the least defined, as some people may refer to four-unit buildings as duplexes. In general though, duplexes tend to be close to the size of a normal single-family home whereas apartment complexes with more than two units tend to be far larger.

Choosing a home comes down to how much space a buyer needs and what type of amenities they're looking for. A townhome can be the perfect compromise between a single-family home and a condo. Knowing the terms before looking will help buyers decide if they're ready to share the structure or not.

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