Duplexes – The Overlooked Housing Type

As the immigrant population in the Vancouver area of Canada continues to grow, we are gradually transitioning from low-density to medium-high-density living. The number of detached houses is decreasing, and apartments and townhouses are on the rise. If we focus on the monthly statistics released by the Greater Vancouver Real Estate Board, the housing types in the Greater Vancouver area are divided into three categories: detached houses, apartments, and townhouses. However, in reality, there is a hidden fourth category of housing – duplex houses.

Duplex houses are generally built on larger individual lots, divided into two parts either side by side or front and back, or designed with stacked units. In any case, the two units are connected to each other. In terms of building and land area, they are relatively smaller than detached houses but larger than townhouses, representing an intermediate choice between the two.

Why Choose Duplex Houses? Here are the reasons:

  1. Affordability and Manageability: Compared to detached houses, duplex houses are relatively more affordable and easier to maintain. This makes them a good choice for homebuyers with budget constraints or families that do not require a detached home.
  2. Location Factors: Detached houses in prime locations often come with higher prices, and duplex houses provide a balanced choice between price and geographical location.
  3. Family Relations: In situations where relatives, such as parents and children or siblings, have close relationships but prefer not to live under the same roof, sharing a duplex house can be a good option. This allows mutual care while maintaining independent lives.
  4. Comparative Advantages Over Townhouses: Compared to both detached houses and townhouses, duplex houses offer significantly larger living spaces. The price per square foot is comparable, making duplex houses more cost-effective. With independent front and back yards, larger living spaces, and more land, duplex houses provide better value for money. New duplex houses often come with individual indoor parking and EV charging stations, enhancing convenience for car owners.

Moreover, unlike townhouses and apartments, duplex houses do not have strata management fees. Although the square footage of townhouses is much smaller, owners still need to pay a few hundred dollars in management fees each month. Apartments require even higher management fees, typically around fifty cents per square foot. A thousand square feet apartment would incur at least five hundred dollars in management fees, and the fees increase with larger areas, especially in buildings with amenities like swimming pools.

In addition, the management fees for apartment and townhouse complexes increase annually with inflation, and additional repair costs must be separately paid during major renovations. Living in a duplex house eliminates these concerns. While there are costs associated with maintaining a duplex house, such as lawn care, snow removal, and upkeep, these expenses are mostly individual decisions and do not require coordination with neighbors. Compared to maintenance work for detached houses, taking care of a duplex house is much easier. In case of repairs that require joint decision-making with neighbors, such as roof replacement or exterior painting, it is common to see cases where only one side of the duplex undertakes the work. Furthermore, the maintenance workload for a duplex house is generally lighter. If you purchase a brand-new duplex house, roof replacement may not be necessary for two decades or more.

The water, electricity, and gas systems of duplex houses are separate, and the property rights are independent, allowing for individual buying and selling.

In reality, living in a duplex house can be considered safer than a detached house. Establishing good relationships with duplex neighbors often results in mutual care when one family is away or out of the country, ensuring the vacant house is looked after. From a family development perspective, individuals or newlyweds can choose to live in townhouses or apartments initially, serving as a starting point in the property market. As the family grows, duplex houses become more suitable to meet the increasing need for living space, especially when there are children or parents living on both sides.

Some may ask, why not buy a detached house, which seems to be a more cost-effective, private, and better choice? While a detached house is the ideal choice among these housing types, budget constraints must be taken into account.

The interior and exterior living spaces of duplex houses are already quite close to detached houses, with each having independent front and back yards and clearly defined boundaries. The interior space and design of duplex houses also closely resemble the feeling of detached houses, featuring mostly open, high-ceiling spaces with higher construction standards and larger rooms, offering better living experiences compared to townhouses and apartments. If the budget is limited and avoiding townhouses is preferred, a duplex house is a good choice.

In summary, compared to townhouses, duplex houses offer larger indoor and outdoor areas, making them more comfortable to live in without the need for management fees. Most of the time, rental income from a secondary unit can help offset some of the mortgage. Duplex houses are cheaper than detached houses, with lower taxes and a smaller financial burden, catering to a wide range of family needs.

For first-time homebuyers preparing to enter the market, it is advisable to purchase and choose the first property based on your financial capacity. Having a property, regardless of its size or conditions, is better than renting from someone else, and it contributes to your mortgage payments. As the real estate market rises, the value of your property will increase. Even if the property is small or in less-than-ideal condition, having your own home is far better than renting. When the real estate market is on the rise, the value of your property will increase. If the market declines, having a smaller property to exchange for a larger one makes financial sense. Be strategic – enter the market and defend your position. Consider these factors and make wise choices based on your specific situation.

What Are the Drawbacks of Duplex Houses?

One side of a duplex house shares a wall with the neighbor, leading to concerns about potential poor sound insulation and mutual disturbance. In reality, through clever design, the main living spaces of the houses can be separated, with secondary rooms like laundry rooms or garages being connected. Additionally, modern building techniques and government regulations have raised soundproofing and fire wall standards, making soundproofing and fire resistance less of a worry.

Another drawback is that both sides of the duplex must use the same insurance company, meaning the entire house shares one insurance policy. If an issue occurs on one side, such as a fire, both families would need to share the increased insurance costs. In fact, apartments and townhouses face similar issues. For instance, if there is a leak in an upper-level unit of an apartment, causing significant repair costs flowing into lower units, the insurance fees for the entire apartment may increase in the coming years. Each homeowner has to bear the respective increased insurance costs.

Some articles mention that duplex houses may have poor side lighting, and some bathrooms may lack windows. In reality, detached houses may also face similar issues due to the requirements for fire separation distances, making it impossible to have large windows on the sides of the house. However, through clever design, our newly built duplex houses can make good use of side lighting, with every bathroom having windows for ventilation. If you are interested in purchasing, designing, and building a duplex house, you can contact us, and our website is citidesign.ca. We can provide a comprehensive service, including selecting and purchasing land, designing and obtaining permits, building the house, and future after-sales service.

Some may argue that the total price of duplex houses is relatively high compared to townhouses. However, most duplex houses now come with a small rental unit (with a separate entrance!). Considering the ongoing trend of rising rents, banks also consider the potential rental income from the rental unit when approving loans, thereby increasing the loan amount. In theory, direct purchase of a duplex house is a feasible option for many families.

In terms of regional location, duplex houses may be relatively farther from transportation hubs compared to apartments and townhouses. However, evaluating the merits and demerits of a house should not be based solely on the proximity of transportation hubs. Many duplex houses are very convenient for walking to schools and shopping centers compared to detached houses.

In conclusion, duplex houses have their unique advantages compared to townhouses and detached houses. Although the supply of duplex houses is not large, they cater to the budgets and lifestyle needs of some residents. If you are interested in duplex houses, you can visit our website burnabyhouse.com to view existing duplex house listings in various communities. If you have any questions or need assistance in real estate, please feel free to contact Gary Gao.

Gary Gao, licensed Realtor® with Grand Central Realty, a licensed real estate brokerage in BC. Gary is also the principal of CitiDesign Build Inc., which is not affiliated with Grand Central Realty. CitiDesign and Gary are licensed builders in BC. Contact Gary.

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