Should You Buy a Patio Home?

The charming feature of these homes is not the patio—it’s the price.

An older patio home with a porch out front
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Perry Mastrovito / Getty Images

Patio homes can be good options for buyers wanting an affordable, low-maintenance property without the hassles and headaches that come with a traditional single-family home. But they’re not right for everyone. As with any type of real estate, patio homes have their pros and cons. You should weigh these so you know what you're getting into before moving forward with a purchase.

Key Takeaways

  • A patio home is a small, single-family home with a small yard. These homes sit close to one another on shared lots.
  • These homes are most often found in communities that have homeowners associations (HOAs). The HOAs will charge dues and enforce rules.
  • They tend to offer group events and other forms of social opportunity, but the flip side is that you might also lose some privacy.
  • The process of getting a mortgage is the same as if you were to buy a standard house, but the price is often quite a bit less.

What Is a Patio Home?

Patio homes should not be confused with houses that simply have a patio. The term “patio home” speaks to a specific style of real estate, not to any single outdoor feature. Other common terms for this type of home are "carriage homes" or "garden homes." What defines a patio home can vary greatly, but for the most part it is a smaller home with a compact yard and lot size. Most of the time they are just one story, though in some cases they may be larger. They also tend to be attached to other neighboring homes via a shared lot or yard that is rarely fenced.

You may hear builders and planners describe patio homes as “zero lot line” homes. This is because they are designed to reduce land use and better serve a high volume of people looking to buy homes by doing away with the classic yard, or the need for distinct lots for each home, or for set lines between homes.

Most patio homes can be found in groups, as they tend to be part of larger communities. They may share outdoor spaces, or have common areas or rec rooms that are shared by all, but that you can reserve for private events. They often have homeowners associations (HOAs) as part of the deal, which charge dues to pay for the upkeep of the common areas or other perks. They may also offer clubs, events, and other social affairs for the people who live there.

Patio homes tend to be popular among empty nesters who want to reduce the amount of effort needed for a larger home, or for first-time buyers working with a smaller budget.

Patio Homes vs. Condos and Townhomes

Patio homes are often confused with townhomes and condos, though the three differ slightly.

Townhomes share walls with adjoining townhomes, either on one side or both sides of the property. Most townhomes also have yards, both front and back, and a driveway, that the owner must maintain.

Condos also share walls with adjoining units, though they may have these on either side of the property, or above, or below the unit. Most condo owners do not have yards to maintain, nor are they in charge of any exterior repairs that may be needed.

In both cases, the upkeep of the shared areas is run by the HOA or other type of managing body, and the condo or townhome owners must pay fees for this service. Condo dues are often higher due to the extra exterior maintenance needed.

Pros and Cons of Patio Homes

Patio homes are designed with the least amount of hassle in mind. Unlike traditional single-family homes, their small lots demand very little upkeep. Still, they offer some degree of privacy, unlike condos, townhomes, and other types of setup that are more communal. Because of their smaller size, patio homes tend to cost much less than other types of homes.

On the downside, patio home communities almost always have an HOA. Owners must pay dues each month (or in some cases each year). These can get costly, though the exact price depends on the scope of work needed at any given community, as well as any extra amenities they offer, such as a pool, golf course, park or playground, outdoor grill, shared kitchen, rec room, etc.

Pros
  • Easy to maintain

  • Cheaper than larger homes

  • Come with a community of neighbors

Cons
  • Smaller than other homes

  • May lack privacy

  • HOA fees can be costly

Finding the Right Patio Home

You won’t find patio homes in all regions, and not all builders offer these types of homes. To find one, you might need to look for specific patio home communities and builders in your region. You may want to ask a real estate agent in your area whether they know any local patio homes or builders.

When you're thinking about what patio home to purchase, make sure you factor in:

  • HOA dues
  • Community features and perks
  • Distance between neighbors
  • Cost to maintain
  • Social opportunities
  • Options to upgrade
  • Custom models or options
  • Price and closing costs
  • Size, style, and layout

How to Finance Your Patio Home Purchase

Unless you’re paying for your patio home with cash, you’ll need to finance the purchase using a mortgage loan. Despite the home’s smaller size and scope, this process should look the same as any other real estate transaction.

If you worked with a real estate agent to find your home, they can help with the purchase as well. Or, if you found a patio home on your own and are ready to finance, you might prefer to work with a real estate agent to secure a mortgage and go through the purchase process. Some even specialize in buying and selling these types of homes.

Make sure you’re aware of how your HOA dues are handled before leaving your closing. In some cases, your mortgage escrow account may cover these costs for you as part of your monthly payment. In others, you may need to pay them out of pocket. Be sure you’re clear on your HOA rules, so you don’t fall behind in payments or break any rules (which could incur more fees).