Guide to Buying a Duplex: Pros & Cons of Owning a Duplex
Searching for a home, especially your first, is one of the most exciting pursuits of your life. You’ve got financial freedom and you’re ready to use it to get a place all your own! And while you might be eager to ditch the shared walls of an apartment complex, don’t rule out buying into the shared walls of a duplex. There are plenty of reasons why purchasing a duplex could be the right choice for you. Let’s take a look.
What Is a Duplex?
Duplexes are very popular in the U.S. The National Multifamily Housing Council claims that about 1 in 5 households currently live in a duplex. Although they may not have been on your radar while shopping for homes, owner-occupied duplexes can be a wise investment. Similar to a single family home, duplexes are essentially two homes that share a wall with another home.
How does a duplex work?
Each home in a duplex can be either independently owned or by one entity. These owner-occupied duplexes can be split if the owner wishes to sell one or both. But what makes them so attractive is that duplexes — when one side is rented out — can help to generate income and pay down half the mortgage at the same time.
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Why Is a Duplex a Good Option for First-Time Homeowners?
To many, the prospect of renting out one half of a duplex is considered a good option. As far as starter homes go, it can also be a sound financial decision, too. If you’re thinking about buying a duplex as a first-time home buyer, it’s important to weigh your options and your long-term goals before making the call.
Buying a duplex and renting half out to a tenant is a big responsibility. You’ll be legally responsible for keeping the unit in a habitable state. And if something should go wrong with the HVAC or the water heater, you’ll need to be able to react — both physically and financially — to make repairs and line up service personnel if you can’t. Another consideration when buying a duplex as a first home is to be sure you’ve got the financial reserves in place to pay for the rental’s mortgage in case the tenant doesn’t work out. You may have trouble replacing the tenant if they unexpectedly move out.
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Owning a Duplex: Pros and Cons
Buying a duplex and living in one half while renting out the other seems like a smart idea — and it can be a very good investment! However, like all investments, there are always some negatives to take into account. Let’s explore the pros and cons of having an owner-occupied duplex and see if it’s the right fit for you.
Pros of owning a duplex
One of the biggest reasons most people consider buying a duplex when they’re searching for their first home is the investment opportunity. Check out why it’s a good financial move to invest and live in a duplex.
Income on your property. With a tenant contributing to half of your monthly mortgage, you’ll be poised to build savings.
Renting your duplex could help you during the loan process. When you plan on renting out one side of a duplex, you may be able to factor that into your income and qualify for a larger home loan. Talk to your mortgage officer for specific details.
Your tenants help pay your mortgage. When you’re living in one side of the duplex and renting out the other, you’re taking a big chunk out of your mortgage payment every month. When you compare your reduced mortgage payment to what you’d be paying if you purchased a single-family home, duplex living seems like a no-brainer.
Tax benefits. Not only do you get your standard deductions for being a homeowner, but you can also deduct the expenses you incur while renting and maintaining your rental unit. Selling an owner-occupied duplex may also give you some exclusions from capital gains taxes since it’s treated as two properties.
Talk to your tax professional for more specific advice, but since your duplex is producing income, it’s technically a business — and that means you’ll have some opportunities for tax benefits that you wouldn’t have if you’d picked a single-family home.
Beginning of a real estate portfolio. A duplex is a great stepping stone for anyone looking to invest in real estate. While you live in half, you can pay down your mortgage. Then, when you move out, you can rent out both sides — doubling your rental income.
Rent goes up. In general, rent goes up over time, but a fixed, 30-year mortgage stays the same. So while your mortgage payments don’t change, you can charge more for rent, adding to your income over the years.
Close to your tenants. There’s nothing like living next door to your tenants for property checks and maintenance issues.
Cons of owning a duplex
If the income portion of owning and renting a duplex sounds good to you — great! But don’t let that drive your entire decision. There are plenty of other work, social and risk factors to consider before you jump into the rental game. Check them out:
Twice the expenses. There are many financial benefits to a duplex but some of the expenses double — maintenance is one of the biggest considerations. Make sure you do the math at the outset to see how your finances line up.
Tenants have expectations. When your tenants are next door, they may expect you to deal with any issue they encounter immediately.
The landlord business. Once you rent out the other half, you become a landlord. Whether you love being a landlord or could leave it, it’s a business and needs special attention. Some mortgages require you live in your half for a year. Are you able to commit to staying put for a year? Or do you need more flexibility?
Location limitations. Your region may have zoning limits on where multiple family units can be located, which could restrict your location options.
Handling an empty unit. If the other side of your duplex doesn’t have a renter, you need to be prepared to advertise, show the unit, maintain it and handle months of no rent payments. Make sure you’re able to devote as much time as necessary to keep the unit in good shape and get it occupied.
Sharing walls. If you had your heart set on privacy that your old apartment couldn’t offer, you might not love the fact that your unit will share at least one wall, ceiling or floor with your neighbors. Be prepared for the occasional noises, especially if your tenant likes to entertain.
Respecting shared property. You’ll probably be sharing a driveway, a lawn or other parts of your property with your tenants. Making sure that you’re both respecting the shared property and cleaning up after yourselves is an important part of creating a healthy tenant and landlord relationship.
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If You Decide to Purchase a Duplex
Buying a duplex to live in can be appealing. And joining the ranks of the hundreds of thousands in duplex ownership is a great way to have a go at being a landlord for the first time. Unfortunately, buying and renting out a duplex isn’t a “set it and forget it” kind of investment. Before you ever show the unit to a prospective renter or hold an open house, you’ll need to brush up on some landlord basics. Here are some tips for learning to become a duplex landlord:
Research rent prices in your city, town or neighborhood. Setting a fair rental price is a major key to getting renters and keeping your other unit occupied. Look for similar units and compare and contrast the features, prices and location to yours.
Check out local rental and landlord laws. Depending on the location of your duplex, you’ll have different rules and regulations to abide by. Your tenant’s rights will depend on your location, too. These laws will cover things like security deposits, what you’re required to disclose about the unit to potential renters and more.
Prepare for repairs. If you don’t fancy yourself a handy person, ask around and search online for a reputable maintenance person in the area. You’ll be doing yourself and your tenants a favor by making sure you’ve got someone trustworthy to handle the unexpected maintenance issues that come with renting.
Don’t expect regular, on-time payments. It’s a tough pill to swallow, but as a landlord, you won’t always be paid promptly by your tenants. That’s why you should work to build a strong rapport with whomever is living on the other side of the duplex. Give your tenants the respect and honesty you’d expect to get, and you’ll be better off — both financially and personally — in the long run.
Learn about the required insurance
Get in touch with an American Family Insurance agent to get the coverage and peace of mind you deserve. Here are the policies you should consider:
Homeowners insurance. One last consideration when buying a duplex is your homeowners insurance. In most situations, if you have an owner occupied duplex, you can insure both sides through a traditional homeowner’s policy.
Business insurance. But, if you decide to move and rent both units you may need to look into business insurance. Your American Family Insurance agent will be happy to navigate these policy options with you so you can find the best option for your unique situation.
Landlord insurance. While you handle the day-to-day of managing your rental unit, you also want to make sure you’ve got landlord insurance that protects you from the surprises that come with the job.
The next steps to purchasing a duplex
Once you’ve made the decision to purchase a duplex, you’ll need to make preparations for the purchase in much the same way that you would if you were buying a home for the first time. As you’re considering how to buy a duplex, you’ll need to apply for a mortgage and figure out how much cash you can put towards a down payment.
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Frequently Asked Questions
How can I buy a duplex with no money down?
You’ve got a few options if you’re looking to purchase a duplex with no money down. In addition to working out a lease-to-own arrangement with the current duplex owner, you could join forces with a financial investor who’s willing to partner with you on the deal.
How can I buy a duplex with bad credit?
In order to qualify for financing, you’ll need a minimum FICO credit score around 580 – 620. With that, you may qualify for an FHA loan to buy the duplex.
Can you buy a duplex with a USDA loan?
USDA loans are reserved for owner-occupied dwellings only. You’ll be able to purchase half of a duplex — but not a multi-unit or income-producing property — with this type of loan.
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Remember to check in with your American Family Insurance agent and get a quote on your duplex. Your agent can help draft a custom-designed policy that carefully insures of your investment, both as a homeowner and a new landlord.