Can you tell the difference between a duplex and a duet home? This is either a duplex or a duet - how will you know which it is?The difference between a duplex and a duet home is not obvious, and many people may think they are the same thing.  Duplexes and duet homes both involve two attached residential units.  But legally and financially, the difference between a duplex and a duet home is huge!

Below we’ll review:

  • Video explanation of the difference between a duplex and a duet home
  • What is a duplex
  • What is a duet home
  • How do you know if a property is one or the other
  • Can the type or classification be changed?

The photo to the right is of a San Jose home I sold a few years back.  You cannot tell from the image, but there is a front door off to the right of the single car garage door, and back around on the left side, near the double car garage door, there’s another front door. There are 2 units. It is a duplex or a duet home?  You cannot necessarily tell by looking!


Video explanation of the difference between a duplex and a duet home


What is a duplex?

A duplex is a multifamily home, in the same category as a triplex or fourplex, meaning there are multiple living units.  Most of the time, they are attached to each other, but not always. But what is truly distinctive is the way they are bought and sold.  With multifamily homes, such as a duplex, all of these dwellings are sold together. (The units are not sold separately.)

If you buy a duplex, you get both sides.  If you buy a triplex, you get three units. Sometimes an owner will live in one of the homes and renters are in the rest.  Many times, though, all of these multifamily homes are entirely leased out.  (Duplexes are usually 1 story and many of the duplexes in the San Jose area were built in the 1950s and 1960s, but you cannot tell from looking at it what the zoning and class of housing are with certainty.)  These types of properties are considered income producing or investment properties.

With a duplex, the property owner is responsible for all of the outside maintenance. Normally there are no HOA dues, because there is just one owner.

What is a duet home?

 A duet home is considered an attached single family home. It’s one unit which you can purchase. With duet homes, each side is sold separately. (It’s more like a townhouse with just 2 units.) Most of the time they are 2 stories, younger, and both sides are owner occupied and they are considered “attached single family homes” while a house is usually a “detached single family home”.  Although just as with a house, there could be a tenant in a duet home, it is not presumed to be an investment property.

Duet homes may have HOA dues, as some of these housing units are inside of a home owner’s association – there may be private roads, shared pools, etc. Or they could be just a community of 2 units, both responsible for their own side.

Duet homes will have something like HOA documents, though, so that there is a financial instrument for how to manage issues such as re-roofing, re-paving a shared driveway, etc. Sometimes there are annual dues collected so that the shared, larger expenses can be managed without a big financial surprise.

How do you know if a property is a duplex or a duet home?

The preliminary title report will provide how the home is zoned, but county records also state the type. Sometimes the county records are unclear or possibly mistaken, so to truly know what sort of property this is, check the Preliminary Title Report.

The shortcut answer regarding the difference between a duplex and a duet home lies in how many owners there are. Does one person, couple, or family own both living units? If yes, it’s probably a duplex.

Can the classification or housing type change?

Is it possible to change the zoning and classification of housing?  Can a duplex become a duet home?  Possibly.  Sometimes owners will work to change the classification of the property. We see it especially with some former 4 plex units, McKeon built, which have been changed to condo ownership so that instead of one 4 plex, 4 distinct homes are sold (four condominiums). I know it can be done, but do not know how difficult it is to do it.

In Los Gatos, I knew of someone who purchased a parcel with two small houses on it and although they were not attached, they were “detached duplexes”.  I’d never seen that before!  Wisely, the owner of these two worked hard to change the classification and do a lot split – now there are 2 houses on 2 parcels and they are both single family homes, and worth more too.

What about that top image? 

Oh and that home in the top photo – it is a duplex! Since it’s two stories and younger looking, it appears to be more similar to a duet home. It underscores the fact that we need the legal info to know the difference.

Practically speaking, you’ll know the difference between a duplex and a duet home if you know whether each side is owned individually or if the same owner (or owners) owns both sides. The vast majority of the time the answer will lie there. But to be sure, you’ll need to review the preliminary title report.

Related reading:

What Is the Difference Between CID Ownership in a Condo, Townhouse or PUD?

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