Feature article

Why buying a duplex can be a good idea for first home buyers

A duplex can be a good first step on the property ladder.

As you research the market for an affordable home, it’s likely you’ll come across a few duplex homes on your travels. A duplex is a building where two homes are connected by a shared wall in the middle.

They’re very common in the United States and the UK, where they’re known as semi-detached units. They were a popular design for the New Zealand government when building state homes during the 1930s and post-war 1940s and they’re still popular today with new developments all over the country, including duplexes in the mix alongside standalone homes and terraced units.

Loan Market mortgage adviser, Mikey Smith, thinks the Auckland market will see more duplexes as they offer buyers greater variety when looking at a housing subdivision.

“It’s definitely an option for those who don’t want to be in a 300 unit building,” says Mikey. They work well as an investment product too, he adds.

Fletcher Living sales consultant, Tracey Pedersen, who’s marketing some brand new duplexes in Stonefields, says these homes tend to hold a higher value than a terraced home as they only share a wall with one neighbour and there’s often a little bit more land. 

One of the biggest differences between a townhouse or terraced house in New Zealand, and a duplex, is that the latter usually has more windows too.

16 Penehareti Rise, Stonefields, Auckland

Kiwis choosing the duplex life

For those living the duplex life, there are some key features that these homeowners enjoy about them.

Ray White Royal Oak agent, James Burry and his partner, bought a duplex as their first home in the Three Kings/Mt Roskill area. They actively sought out duplexes when they were house hunting for their first home, he says.

“We realised, for our first home, we weren’t going to be able to afford something free standing. We looked at units too,” says James.

They focused on duplex homes of a certain era, those built in the 1930s and 40s as state houses.

“We got the benefit of a time period when the best houses were built, they used good timber, and they’re not complicated structures,” says James.

Their duplex home was brick, heritage-protected in an art deco style, and on a cross lease. “It’s a nice midpoint if you don’t want a unit and you want a character home,” explains the Ray White agent. If they had bought a stand alone house like their duplex, he thinks they would have had to pay 50% more.

The couple liked having a fellow duplex owner over the fence.“The interaction can be very minimal but you have a micro-community there if you want,” says James.

The safety and security of a duplex

If you search ‘duplex’ on the Trade Me Property, you’ll find a wide variety of versions around the country, the bulk in Auckland.

In the case of architectural graduate Brigitte Teller, her Sandringham duplex was built and designed by an English architect in the late 1920s.

Both Brigitte and her duplex neighbour, a young woman in her early 30s, are living alone, though Brigitte’s adult children stay at times. The two women like the fact that they’re on the other side of the wall from each other. “You don’t hear voices but more of a muted tone,” says the duplex owner.

“It’s reassuring to have someone living nearby,” Brigitte says. “And the architect likes the fact she has three walls of light with a duplex.

Affordability played a part in her choice of a duplex  too. The duplex owner thinks she would have had to pay $300,000 to $400,000 more for a stand alone three bedroom house in the same style and size as her home.

The pros of owning a duplex

Duplex living suits most types of buyers apart from large families, which make these homes easy to sell, says Emma Duncan from Anne Duncan Real Estate.

Emma’s selling a spacious duplex in Mt Albert at the moment, built in 1970, a home which the owners bought off the plan and where they raised their family. Interested buyers for the 143 sq m north-facing home with a double internal garage, include first home buyers, downsizers in their 50s looking for a lock ‘n leave home, and an investor.  “It ticks the box for every type of buyer. It suits couples, singles, and mature people looking for something safe and easy,” says Emma. And having a neighbour next door gives a nice bit of community but still plenty of privacy. 

Duplexes allow people to buy into an exclusive area at an achievable price. Barfoot & Thompson agent Matt O’Brien is currently marketing a picture perfect Art Deco home in Ponsonby’s Albany Road. In this case, it’s actually a triplex rather than a duplex, because there are three of them, says Matt. “It's a really good use of the land,” he says. They border each other on the boundary and this one is on the northern side so there’s sun in every room, he adds. The home is appealing to a number of women considering it as a safe place to live alone in the trendy suburb of Ponsonby. 

With an asking price of $1.695m, he believes a standalone home like this would cost 25% more. 

Meanwhile, in West Auckland, Barfoot & Thompson agent Anna Lechtchinski is marketing two duplexes, one with generous land which would suit a family in Green Bay and another which would suit downsizers in Lynfield. 

The Green Bay duplex offers great value for money, and is house-sized, with its 200 sq m of space and land. Instead of the $800,000 to $900,000 price range the home is likely to achieve, it would be at least $1.1 million if it were a stand alone home, says Anna.

2/127 Godley Road, Green Bay

A gorgeous duplex in Lynfield, says Anna, close to the shops, is a different animal but ideal for downsizers and with a wonderful garden. Again at a similar price to the Green Bay duplex, it provides great value for money to buyers who want privacy and a semi-detached home, she says.