The Differences Between a Halfplex and Duplex

duplexes at dusk

RichLegg / Getty Images

Real estate terminology can be confusing. Take the common housing types "duplex" and "halfplex."

Both of these terms refer to dwellings that are differently configured than a detached, single-family dwelling. However, duplexes are multifamily homes that contain two units that typically sell together, while halfplexes are attached units that typically sell separately.

Halfplexes may be known by other names, including "duet homes" and "twin homes." But regardless of the name, the idea is the same: an attached home that sells separately from its neighboring dwelling, with which it shares a wall.

Key Takeaways

  • A duplex is two living units that share a common roof or wall. It’s deeded as one dwelling, with a single titled owner.
  • A halfplex is literally half of one dwelling, and each portion is deeded as a separate property.
  • A halfplexes can be a good choice for first-time homebuyers, because it's generally much less expensive than a free-standing single-family home.
  • A halfplex can belong to two separate homeowners, which can lead to disagreements when it comes to maintenance, repairs, and improvements.

Differences Between a Halfplex and a Duplex

A duplex is two units attached and deeded as one parcel. Think of it as a two-unit residential building with a shared common wall or ceiling. Each unit may be identical to the other in size and configuration, or it may be different—such as a one-bedroom, one-bath on one side, and a three-bedroom, two-bath on the other. Duplexes can be side by side, one story, or a two-story structure with one unit upstairs and one unit downstairs.

A halfplex is one-half of an attached residence. You will find two halfplexes per building, but each is deeded separately, and each has its own parcel number. Generally, a halfplex is a personal residence, but it could also be an investment property.

Halfplexes tend to mirror each other; each side may be the same. They do not share common floor space; that is, they are not generally built on top of each other but are situated side by side.

Halfplexes usually share a backyard, divided by a fence. Sometimes they are separated by the garages.

How Maintenance Is Handled in a Halfplex

Unless the halfplex sits within the confines of a homeowner's association, generally each separate owner is responsible for maintaining the halfplex and its land. Here are common maintenance issues that should be considered before buying a halfplex:

Painting the Exterior of a Halfplex

You will see colorful Victorians in San Francisco or attached housing units in Ireland painted a variety of colors. However, in most communities in America, people want the exterior of their homes to match. If you want to change the exterior color of your home, you may want to encourage your attached neighbor to participate in the cost and labor to repaint.

If your neighbor decides to paint his or her side a bright purple, there may not be anything you can do about it. (That is another good reason to talk to the neighbors before buying a home!)

Refinishing or Replacing a Halfplex Driveway

Let's say you own a home with a shared driveway. Your neighbors don't want to pay to pour an asphalt drive. They overhear you talking on your cellphone outside about putting a fence down the middle of the driveway. Suddenly, they decide to pony up half the cost of new asphalt. 

Of course, cooperation is unnecessary if each of you has your own driveway.

Repairing or Replacing the Roof of a Halfplex

Ask any roofer about insurance companies who want to pay to reroof only half of a roof after a hailstorm, and you'll quickly find out that's not the best option. You can make repairs to your own roof, but if it has to be replaced in its entirety, you will need to come to an agreement with your neighbor or pay for it yourself.

Installing a Fence in the Yard of a Halfplex

Usually, only one fence will separate your yard from your attached neighbor's yard. Depending on the configuration of your yard, you may have another neighbor on the opposite side, plus a different neighbor behind you.

Most fences are shared, so to put in a new fence, you may need to talk with three or more neighbors and get each to agree to share a proportionate share of the cost. If none will agree, one remaining option is to build a new fence in front of the old one and absorb the cost yourself, but you will lose several inches of yard space that way.

Repairing Adjoining Walls

Who owns adjoining walls? Most often, the answer is: both homeowners. Consult local laws or your HOA governing documents if you're unsure of the rules. Often, you will own to the center of a common wall, which means that if you have water damage or a hole in the wall, repairing your side of the wall is at your expense.

Before you buy a halfplex, it's a good idea to walk through the neighborhood. Meet up with other halfplex owners, and talk about the community. Consider buying flood insurance for your halfplex, and maintain your own insurance policy.