Should You Buy a Duplex?

Often the talk around home purchases concentrates almost entirely on house vs. condo. However, depending on your situation, a duplex could be a very intriguing option. Here are a few ways a multi-unit dwelling might or might not fit into your plans.

Pluses

  • It may better fit your family situation. It’s becoming very common for three generations or more to live under the same roof. However, it can be more than a bit challenging to keep the peace with so many people sharing one living space. A duplex allows you to partition and allocate better, and can help everyone feel like they have their own sanctuary.
  • Help with the mortgage. If you buy a single family dwelling, the mortgage payment is up to you and you alone each month, unless you allow an additional renter into your space. However, with a multi-unit home, you not only get help with the mortgage payment each month, but you may potentially also be able to pay off your mortgage faster than you would if it were just you in the house.
  • You have proximity to your investment. If you are buying a duplex as a way to generate some rental income, you are in luck. If an issue arises with a tenant, you don’t have to drive across town or rely on someone else to resolve the situation. You know right away what is going on and because of this, solutions tend be much simpler.
  • You may get some tax breaks. Because some improvements or repairs you make to your property also affect the rental portion of the building, you may find that they are tax deductible. Talk to a tax professional to find out how this might apply to your situation.

Minuses

  • You have to put up with long-term house guests. Yes, you have your own living space. However, if you rent out the remaining space, you will have to put up with any idiosyncratic behavior your renters choose to engage in. Have a small child? Renting out the other unit may mean noisy neighbors making loud child-waking noises at all hours of the day and night.
  • You need to make repairs. By renting out a portion of the duplex, you become a lessor. As such, you are responsible for making repairs to the property you are renting. With most people this won’t be a big hassle, but if you own an older duplex, or are renting to particularly persnickety tenants, you may find yourself either spending a lot of time on fixes or spending a good chunk of money to hire a professional.
  • It can be more expensive. The price of a duplex is of course offset by the rent payments you are able to receive each month. However, remember that you have to account for times when your tenants have moved out and you are awaiting new renters. This isn’t as much of an issue in active rental markets, but if you are in an area where the pool is a bit shallower, you may need to set aside money for the lean months.
  • Problem renters may be tough to remove. Laws that protect renters are generally a great thing, but be aware that some areas have laws that make it extremely difficult to remove problem renters. Talk to some real estate agents in your area to get a sense for the experience of past duplex owners who have dealt with this type of situation.

The idea of taking on landlord/landlady duties with your new home may not sound immediately appealing, but it is wise to consider a duplex as an option if the potential long-term benefits fit with your goals.

Revised January 2016

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