On the most basic level, buildings are defined by ownership structure and how they’re used, such as a single-family home, condominium, or townhouse.
Types of houses can be further defined by architectural style, like a colonial, victorian, or ranch home.
Newly constructed homes may combine elements of different architectural styles.
Your home insurance needs will depend on the type of house you own and how you use it.
When you’re looking for a home, your real estate agent may ask you what type of house you’re interested in buying. While your dream home may immediately come to mind, describing it accurately can often prove to be the difficult part.
The truth is, there are many different types of building and architectural styles you’ll want to get acquainted with before beginning your search. Here’s a rundown of the different types of houses by building structure and architectural style.
Types of houses by building structure
Houses are first classified based on the building’s layout, use, or ownership structure. For example, a single-family home can have the same layout as a multi-family home, but they’re considered different types of buildings since one is meant for a single family or group of people, and the other is for multiple. Similarly, a single-family home and a condo home may appear to be similar buildings, but they’re classified differently since the ownership structure is different.
Single-family homes are what you think of as your regular old house. These are homes that are detached, or aren’t wall-to-wall with the neighboring building. There’s usually a front yard, back yard, and a garage somewhere on the property — all of which you would own.
A single-family home is named as such because it’s meant for one family or group of people who want to reside in the dwelling together. Single-family homes may be part of a residential community.
On the other hand, multi-family homes are meant to house more than one family or a group of people. Apartment buildings are one example of a multi-family building, but a house that’s divided into two or more separate dwellings would also qualify. For example, if the basement level of a house was properly outfitted into its own dwelling with a separate entrance, then the building would be considered a multi-family home.
A mobile home, or manufactured home, is a type of prefabricated structure — meaning it’s constructed in a factory before being transported to its permanent (or temporary) location. There are two main varieties of mobile homes: single-wides and double-wides. Triple-wides and other types of larger mobile homes are also available — although they’re less common.
An apartment is a housing unit that shares a common wall with a neighboring unit within a large building. The owner of the apartment building rents each unit out to separate tenants.
Townhouses are like single-family homes in training. You own the home and the land it sits on, but the amount of land is usually limited — townhouses are built very close together and are often connected to each other. They are narrow and have multiple floors, and may be part of a townhouse community.
A condo is typically a unit in a large building, but it may be a smaller multi-level home attached to others. Although condos may resemble apartments or houses, this type of housing is defined by ownership. The defining characteristic of a condo is that when you buy one, you only own the airspace within the walls of your dwelling, but everything else is jointly owned with other condo owners. Condos typically come with many shared amenities and common spaces. You must also pay fees to the condo owners association.
While co-ops resemble apartments or condos, the people who live in co-ops don’t technically own their homes — they own a share of the corporation or cooperative that owns the building and all the homes in it. Co-op buildings are well maintained but have strict rules set by the co-op board, which might not always square with residents who want more autonomy.
Types of houses by architectural style
When most people think about what type of home they want, they’re usually daydreaming about the architectural style of the house. How the floorplan is laid out, the shape of the roof, the color of the door, what type of material is used, the chimneys, the porch, and everything else.
We’ll go through some of the most common styles of houses, but keep in mind that there’s usually even more variance within the styles — or substyles if you will. In the U.S. especially, many newly constructed homes combine elements of different architectural styles.
Mansions and McMansions
Mansions typically combine different architectural styles and are not a type of house. They are terms used to describe the size of a house — usually a single-family home.
The amount of square feet a house must have to be considered a mansion is up for debate, but homes greater than 5,000 square feet typically qualify. Numbers aside, if it feels palatial and has two pools, then you can probably call it a mansion.
The term “McMansion” describes a mansion typically built with little consideration toward aesthetics and design. McMansions are constructed of cheap materials and have a hacked-together appearance. They may also be smaller than the traditional mansion, usually measuring in at 3,000 to 5,000 square feet.
On the other end of the spectrum are tiny homes, which are extremely low in square footage and only meant to house the bare minimum.
One of the more popular styles of contemporary houses, a colonial-style home usually has two or three stories and an attic and basement. The floor plan includes a central staircase that leads up to the bedrooms, while the living room, dining room, and kitchen are on the first floor.
On the outside, the colonial is a simple and symmetrical rectangle with a row of windows on either side of the door. The roof is steep and sits over the gables (the triangular part of the wall underneath the roof) on both sides of the house. The exterior materials of a colonial-style house change based on region.
A ranch-style home is a single-story house with an open horizontal floor plan — though doors are often installed to divide the space. There is usually another door that leads directly to the backyard.
Victorian is an architectural style referring to homes that have features of those from the Victorian era. A popular example of a Victorian-era home in the U.S. would be a Queen Anne-style home, which has an asymmetrical facade and features prominent front-facing gables, large overhanging eaves, and wraparound porches.
This type of home is most common in the warmer weather states and resembles a villa. Based on Spanish and Italian architecture, Mediterranean-style homes have a light-colored stucco exterior, brightly tiled roofs, and courtyards or verandas.
Other common types of houses
Coachman or carriage house
What type of insurance do I need for my house?
Insurance companies offer various policy types depending on both what type of house you own and how you use it.
For example, if you own a normal house in the suburbs, you’ll get regular home insurance; but if you own a condo or mobile home, you’ll need to purchase a policy that’s more tailored for those specific house types.
Your insurance needs will also depend on how you use the home. If you own a seasonal home that you rent out to tourists when you’re not there, for example, homeowners insurance will likely suffice — but you may need additional coverage to reflect the heightened risk. If you rent out property long term for business income, you’ll need special landlord insurance.
Here’s a look at different types of home insurance policies and the type of properties that each one covers.
Homeowners insurance provides coverage for the structure of your home, belongings, and liability in case of damage, theft, or an accidental injury on your property.
Condo owners are only responsible for insuring their specific unit — not the exterior of the building or shared areas.
For that reason, insurers offer separate HO-6 condo insurance to complement the condo association’s master policy. Condo insurance is generally intended for the following type of structures:
Condo units in a building
Landlord insurance covers the structure of the rental property, items on site like maintenance equipment, and loss of rental income, but it does not cover the tenant’s personal belongings. Rental property insurance is intended for all types of properties, including:
Older home insurance
If your house is older, you may have no issues getting home insurance. However, there are a couple caveats to keep in mind: Insurance costs may be significantly higher than that of a more recent build; and the insurer may only agree to cover the property with an HO-8 home insurance policy.
This is a type of home insurance that is intended for homes that have a higher replacement cost than market value. An HO-8 policy may be required for the following:
Older homes 50+ years old
Homes constructed with rare materials
Mobile home insurance
If you own a mobile home, you’ll need special mobile homeowners insurance, or an HO-7 policy. This policy type is similar to regular homeowners insurance, the difference being that mobile home insurance is written specifically for homes that were constructed or manufactured somewhere else.
An HO-7 policy may be required for the following:
Single-wide mobile homes
Double-wide mobile homes
Second home insurance
If you own a home that you use as a secondary residence or rent out on short-term rental websites like Airbnb, you’ll likely have to pay more for insurance due to the added risk. Some insurers may also require you to add an endorsement to your policy (like second home or short-term rental coverage) for an additional cost.
If you own any of the following, talk to your insurance company to ensure it’s properly covered:
Airbnb or VRBO property