One-Story vs a Two-Story Home: Which Is Better to Buy?

Two Story Homes in Suburbs
••• Two story homes can overshadow single story homes. © Big Stock Photo

Question: One-Story vs a Two-Story Home: Which Is Better to Buy?

A reader asks: "My daughter and her husband are planning to buy a home in the suburbs. They have been living in a cramped city apartment for the past several years. But now with a little one on the way, they've decided to buy a home. My son-in-law says they must buy a two-story to protect their investment; however, their real estate agent is telling them a one-story home is more popular. I've never really thought about it, yet I'd hate for them to buy the wrong home. Which is a better buy -- a one-story or a two-story home? -- Grandma Jackie"

Answer: Whether a one-story home is a better investment than a two-story home depends much on the eye of the beholder, your local real estate market, and the adage location, location, location. I know that people always want a stock answer to these types of questions, and while a two-story home offers many benefits, there are also inherent drawbacks to them.

Comparing a One-Story Home to a Two-Story Home

You will find people who say single-level homes are more visually appealing than a multi-level home, but that's a matter of personal taste and architectural style. Here are 3 more factors to consider:

  1. The yard of a one-story home might be smaller.If all the homes on a city block are conforming, say, for example, with lot sizes of 40-feet wide by 80-feet deep, that equals square footage of only 3,200 square feet per lot. Some city codes might allocate a small percentage of that .07 acre lot size to a structure. If city code says a building cannot occupy more than 40% of a lot, the footprint of your home in that instance could not exceed 1,280 square feet.
    1. That means if some homes are two-story homes and others are one-story, the single level homes will have a maximum square footage of 1,280, while a two-story home could be twice that size or 2,560 square feet or more. A one-story home is often priced more per square foot than a two-story.
    2. But more often the configuration you will find is a one-story home might take up more of a lot than a multiple-level home. Builders might make the foundation, say, 900 square feet for a 3-story home, which would increase the usable space in a 3,200 square-foot yard. A foundation of 900 square feet would utilize about 28% of the lot versus 40%. Therefore, people with families who want bigger yards would tend to gravitate toward the 3-story homes and larger square footage of 2,700 square feet.
  1. Sound might travel between floors.I know of a contractor in Chicago who says joists should be spaced 12 inches apart on a second level to reduce squeaks and sounds from the floor. The older the home, the further apart the joists. Although, to be fair, the older the home, typically the larger span of the joists.
    1. If a bedroom, for example, is located directly over a family room, the sound from a television might travel to the second floor at night. This would make it difficult for a person who is trying to sleep in that bedroom while another person watches TV in the downstairs' family room. If you are a first-time home buyer who has rented for years, you might be tired of listening to sounds traveling through the walls.
  1. Stairs can be dangerous, cumbersome or inconvenientThere is a reason why many homes in an active adult community are single levels. As people age, it becomes more difficult to climb stairs. Knee problems or aches and pains make it almost impossible for some older people to easily go up and down stairs. This is why some new home communities have begun incorporating elevators into their construction. They want to attract an aging population.
    1. People with young children are not big fans of stairs, either. It's too easy for a child to slip and fall down the stairs. Many parents install gates at the top and at the bottom of stairs to prevent their children from using the stairs at all. But that doesn't always stop curious children.
    2. Depending on the layout of the house, the staircase, the treads, risers, and landing can take up valuable space inside a home. If the stairs face the front door, it's considered bad feng shui. It can also be a lot of work to run up and down stairs all day. If you are upstairs and want a drink of water, you might need to go all the way downstairs to reach the kitchen instead of walking a short distance down a hall. Carrying laundry up and down the stairs is a hassle, too. Note where the laundry is located in a two-story home versus the bedrooms before you buy it.

    Still, I believe personal taste will win over whether your daughter and her husband should buy a single story or a two-story home. In most suburban areas, a one-story home is often prized and might sell faster than a two-story home. In older city neighborhoods, people generally prefer two-story homes. One caveat to remember: do not buy a one-story home that is surrounded by two-story homes. And good luck with your new grandbaby.

    At the time of writing, Elizabeth Weintraub, CalBRE #00697006, is a Broker-Associate at Lyon Real Estate in Sacramento, California.