5 April 2022

What’s a duplex, and should you buy one?

Emma McLaren
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Looking for cheaper residential property in the real estate market? A duplex could be the answer. Read on to find out everything you need to know about duplexes, including:

  • How do they differ from other properties like houses, townhouses and apartments?

  • The pros and cons of buying a duplex.

  • Answers to duplex FAQs.

What is a duplex?

A duplex is a property that has two separate residences with a standard roof but a common wall that divides them. Each residence has its separate entrance and its own self-contained facilities (kitchen, bathroom, living areas, bedrooms, etc.).

A duplex differs from a townhouse in terms of the number of residences (two versus multiple).

The pros and cons of buying a duplex

Duplexes have their pros and cons. Let’s look at the advantages first.

Pros

  • A cheaper price than a freestanding house

This is arguably the most significant benefit if you’re looking to buy a residence for yourself. Australian property prices are at record levels, and housing affordability is low. Duplexes are often around half the price of freestanding houses in the same area. They are especially popular among first home buyers for that reason.

  • They are a great downsizing option for retirees

If you’re an empty nester who finds that your home has become too large for your needs, duplexes can be an excellent downsizing option to help you live a lower maintenance lifestyle. There is usually much less yard work to do since your duplex block is smaller, as well as a smaller home to clean internally.

  • Having just one close neighbour

If you buy into an apartment or townhouse complex, on the other hand, you’ll have several. Duplexes can therefore give you a greater sense of privacy than living in an apartment or townhouse.

  • You still have some land

You won’t if you buy an apartment. This land can be great for pets or outdoor entertaining.

  • No body corporate/strata fees

You do have these fees if you live in an apartment or a townhouse.

  • They can be great for changing family circumstances

If you one both residences in a duplex, you can use one to give your older teenagers and young adults more independence before they move out while still keeping an eye on them. More and more young Australians are living with their parents well into their 20s due to reduced housing affordability.

You could also have elderly parents move in so you can take better care of them as they get older.

  • They can maximise your rental income if you’re a property investor.

If you buy both residences in a duplex, you will have double the rental income of buying one for half the property cost. This can have a significant effect on both your investment return and capital growth prospects.

  • You can live in one residence and rent the other out

This can be a great way of making sure your tenants are looking after your property, as well as helping you to pay off your mortgage and take advantage of investment property tax deductions.

Cons

Of course, there are potential drawbacks to owning a duplex as well.

  • You are more limited in what you can do if you only own one residence

If you want to make any external changes to your single duplex residence, you will need to consult the other owner for approval (but you obviously won’t if you own both).

  • You may see your neighbours more regularly than you’d like

This is especially the case if your residence is at the back of the duplex, rather than side-by-side or at the front. If your residence is at the back, your neighbours may have to walk or drive past your place to get to their home.

However, you will have this same issue if you buy an apartment or townhouse. You won’t if you buy a freestanding house.

  • You may have to share common areas

For example, paths and driveways (like you would with an apartment or townhouse as well, but you wouldn’t if you bought a freestanding house instead).

Duplex FAQs

How are duplexes insured?

Building insurance for a duplex must cover both residences. Owners of both residences must agree on the insurer and total coverage.

Do duplexes have a body corporate/strata arrangement?

Not usually, but you should always check before you buy.

Can duplexes be sold individually, or must they both be sold together?

This depends on whether there are separate titles for each residence or not. If there is, you can buy one of the two duplex residences.

If there isn’t a separate title on each, they can be bought together.

Should you buy a duplex or an apartment, or a townhouse?

It depends on your needs and wants. Both types of properties have their pros and cons.

Should you buy a duplex or a house?

Again, it depends on your needs and wants, as well as what you can afford. If you can’t afford a house in the area where you want to live and a duplex is available, it’s certainly an option to consider.

Are duplexes cheaper than apartments/townhouses?

This depends on the features of the property and its location. They can be cheaper, but they can also be more expensive. It’s crucial to do your research into the area where you want to buy so that you know accurate market values.

Do you need special approval to build a duplex?

Yes. It will depend on how the land is zoned. You would need to get development approval from your local council for both the construction of a duplex and its design. The size of the block will be a key consideration. You will need to pay fees for council assessment and approval, just like you would for any other type of residential construction.

The bottom line

Buying a duplex can be a great way to buy a cheaper property to either live in yourself or to rent out to tenants as an investment.

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