What Is an Efficiency Apartment, Anyway?

published Aug 29, 2020
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Credit: Ana Kamin

Efficiency apartments were the original bachelor and bachelorette pads, thanks to their small size and wide-open floor plans. They offered—and continue to offer—a cost-effective way for single folks to live alone, though they’re best suited for those with minimalist values.

What is an efficiency apartment?

An efficiency apartment is one of the smallest types of apartments you can find, according to John Harrison, a CORE agent with the Harrison Grandelli Team. “It is not designed for luxury and space, but rather solves the problem of providing a home on a budget,” he says, adding that efficiencies usually include just enough space for one person, and generally (but not always) have “some form” of a kitchen and a bath. (Hello, hot plate and communal shower.) 

What’s the difference between a studio and an efficiency apartment?

Similar to the idea of a studio apartment, efficiency apartments are just one room. But unlike a studio, which can range in size, an efficiency is decidedly smaller. “Size is the defining factor, with studios at 400 to 500 square feet, being larger,” says Gerard Splendore, a real estate broker with Warburg Realty. “So, an efficiency apartment, designed for efficient living, is a compact living space, [this is] typically for a single individual who does not entertain or have frequent guests.”

Is an efficiency apartment right for you?

Efficiencies are really designed to support one person at a time, according to Harrison. While it might be possible to squeeze two people in one, it would require a very minimalistic lifestyle (and probably a very close relationship, since there are no walls separating the bedroom from the rest of the space). “Because of the size and cost, it might be a great home for someone that is just starting out or new to the city,” he says. 

Splendore agrees, and says that efficiency apartments are typically located in prime urban areas (such as New York and Los Angeles). You’re most likely to find them near transportation, business centers, and restaurants. The accessibility of the location, combined with affordable rent, is what makes them appealing for some people. “Many residents of this type of home are between homes or have been relocated for their careers,” Splendore says.

What efficiency apartments don’t have

In addition to efficiency apartments, you may see listings for small studio and loft spaces as well, but these terms are not interchangeable according to Harrison. “A ‘studio,’ for example, could potentially be any size,’ he says. “A ‘loft’ usually refers to a larger open studio-type space, that might exist in an older building with more of an industrial origin.” Additionally, there’s a style called a “Single Room Occupancy” (or SRO), which can be even smaller than some efficiency apartments, since they typically share a kitchen or bath with other SRO residents within the same building.

What you need to know before moving into an efficiency unit

Chances are that space isn’t the only thing your efficiency apartment is going to be slim on: the walls that separate you from your neighbors may be sparse as well. “Thin walls and tight spaces may amplify the noise you hear or share with neighbors,” Harrison says. So, if you’re someone who needs a lot of quiet, you’ll want to invest in some noise cancelling headphones. 

And before you move, you’ll need to take a thorough inventory of everything you own and figure out where it will go before you get there. “People often forget the amount of stuff they have piled away in closets and cabinets and really need to plan ahead on what they will take with them when moving into an efficiency,” Harrison says.