What Is a Semi-Detached House? A Real Estate Expert Explains

published Feb 24, 2021
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Condo, townhouse, three-flat, single-family, attached, semi-detached… the amount of terms floating around when you’re looking for a place to live can be mind-boggling. Apartment Therapy spoke with real estate expert Bill Ramsey, a member of the board of directors at KTGY Architecture + Planning, to help demystify at least one type. Here’s what you need to know about semi-detached houses, the term typically given to duplexes.

In a semi-detached house, your home is at least partially attached to another.

When you live in a semi-detached house, your home will share at least one wall with another person’s home. That wall is generally for a room that doesn’t need as much privacy as other spots in the house.

“You want to detach spaces that want to be detached,” Ramsey says. “If you think about a duplex, oftentimes there will be three walls of the house that are open. The fourth wall, where it’s attached to the neighboring duplex, that’s where you put all your stuff that doesn’t need outside light. So your staircase, or the back of your kitchen. You attach the things that don’t lose anything by being attached.” 

Oftentimes semi-detached homes are attached by the garage, where it’s two service or accessory spaces that won’t cause any concerns by being attached. But things like bedrooms, bathrooms, or other spaces where you want visual and acoustical privacy, those rooms are generally on the unattached side of the house.

Sometimes, it might not actually be physically attached.

Oddly enough, sometimes semi-detached homes actually aren’t attached to another house at all — in that case, it’s just a term used for the type of property or land plotting.

“We hear the term used sometimes in what truly is a more detached setting, where the buildings are completely detached but in a non-conventional plotting, like multiple cottages or detached apartments,” Ramsey says. “They’re all sharing a lot so there’s not traditional single-family detached plotting, but they are actually detached physically.”

They can be cheaper than single-family homes.

Though you may get a little less privacy with a semi-detached house, you’ll make up for that in the purchase or rental cost. Semi-detached homes come with efficiencies gained on the construction and utilities side. Those cost savings are often passed on the form of a lower overall cost to buy or rent. Ramsey does note, though, that these homes are becoming more and more popular — so eventually the cost savings may not be as great.

There are two ways to own a semi-detached house.

Depending on your semi-detached setup, your house is going to fall into one of two buckets: either you’re responsible for maintenance or you’re not.

“It depends on the building,” Ramsey says. “You can map things where each person physically owns their portion of the building; then they’re in charge of the maintenance. Or, it can be set up where a homeowners’ association, or HOA, owns the building and you own the airspace, like with a condo.” 

With an HOA arrangement, all the property owners will pay dues to the association in exchange for maintenance of the building. For those who rent semi-detached properties, Ramsey says there’s almost always a property manager, management company, or landlord that’s responsible for maintenance — and that cost is included in the rent payment.