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Whether you’re buying or selling a home, knowing the different house types is essential. As a first-time homebuyer, it can help you narrow down your options and understand the potential issues and benefits of different kinds of homes. If you’re a seller, you may want to understand what type of house you own and how it fits into your local market. (If you're unsure about what type of home you're looking at, ask your real estate agent.)

One thing to note: There are actually two ways to classify a house. You can do so by its structure or by its style. Structure refers to the type of building it is. Common structures are apartments, condos, co-ops, and single-family homes. Style, which we’ll focus on in this article, refers more to the architectural features of the home.

Home-types based on building

Houses can be classified based on the type of building they are in. Commonly for zoning or legal purposes, homes may be categorized as:

  • Single-family or multi-family home
  • Detached, semi-detached, or attached home (where the walls are shared with another property)
  • Apartment building or condo
  • Modular or manufactured homes, which include mobile homes

1. Cape Cod

This style of house gets its name from where it originated: Cape Cod, Massachusetts. It’s one of the oldest architectural styles in the U.S., and is designed to withstand rough winter weather while still looking charming. Over the course of the 20th century, larger iterations of Cape Cod homes became popular in suburban developments. 

Features of a Cape Cod home

Cape Cod houses are typically one or one-and-a-half-story squares or rectangle, with a steep gabled roof, which allows for snow and rain to slide down instead of piling up. The front door is centered, and the siding is usually made of clapboard or brick. Many Cape Cods have shutters on their windows.

2. Colonial

Like Cape Cods, the Colonial house is a very old architectural style in America - it dates back to the colonial era. Though other architectural styles existed at that time (including the Cape Cod) that could technically be described as “colonial,” when people refer to a Colonial house, they have a specific style in mind.

Features of a colonial home

Colonial homes are typically rectangular with a central front door, similar to Cape Cods. However, Colonials tend to be larger - usually two stories tall. They are symmetrical and have a grander entryway than Cape Cods, with a central staircase. A Colonial home’s windows are usually divided into several small, equally sized panes.

Between the 19th and 20th centuries, builders adapted elements of Colonial homes to build houses with grand, central entryways, cornices, white clapboard, and shutters on the windows. This style is called Colonial Revival.

There are also some different flavors of Colonial homes, each taking influence from the country that controlled the region that the homes originated in: French Colonial, Spanish Colonial, Dutch Colonial, etc.

Related: 19 questions to ask when buying a house

3. Contemporary

The Contemporary home style was created in the 1950s as part of the broader family of modern homes. 

Features of a contemporary home

There are two types of Contemporary homes: flat-roofed and gabled. Gable-roof Contemporary homes will often also have exposed beams. Whatever their roof style, Contemporary homes are usually built to integrate the surrounding landscape into their look, and usually have less architectural ornamentation than other home styles. They also frequently have odd-sized and tall windows and are likely to use a mix of building materials — brick, stone, and wood — all in one building. 

4. Craftsman

Craftsman homes became popular at the turn of the 20th century during the Arts and Crafts movement after the furniture designer Gustav Strickley advocated for them in his magazine, The Craftsman. His vision was of an unassuming and unornamented house that blended perfectly with its environment. Craftsmen homes emphasize hand-made elements as opposed to mass-produced ones.

Though they originated in California, you can find Craftsman homes across the Midwest, and they are very popular in Washington and Idaho.

Features of a Craftsman home

Craftsman homes usually have an overhanging eave, a low-slung gabled roof, and a wide front porch with tapered columns. Their materials can include wood, stone, and stucco. They also often have custom interior details, like built-in shelves and hand-laid fireplaces.

5. Greek Revival

In the 1800s, when archeological discoveries indicated that Roman culture had come from the Greeks, American architects began channeling Grecian style in the homes they were building. Greek Revival homes are most popular in the Midwest, the South, the Mid-Atlantic, and New England.

Features of a Greek Revival home

Greek Revival homes are easy to identify: the columns that they typically have on their front porches recall the Parthenon and other famous Greek architecture. These columns accent a full-height porch that leads to a front door flanked by narrow rectangular windows — the overall effect is of a grand entrance. Greek Revival homes also typically have gabled or hipped roofs with a wide trim on their cornices.

6. Mediterranean

Mediterranean-style homes take inspiration from Spanish and Italian villas, including in their embrace of indoor-outdoor living. Because of this, you’re more likely to find Mediterranean homes in warm-weather regions, especially Florida and California.

Features of a Mediterranean home

Mediterranean homes usually have tiled roofs, white or light-colored stucco walls, and metalwork on balconies, gates, and windows. Many Mediterranean homes also include colorful tile work, and usually don't have basements given their location states that may be prone to hurricanes.

7. Mid-Century Modern

As the name of this style indicates, Mid-Century Modern came about in the mid-1900s, specifically after World War II, when European designers arrived in the U.S. after fleeing Nazi Germany. It grew out of the Bauhaus movement, a German design school that emphasized the combination of aesthetics and function. 

At the time, Americans were interested in spending time in nature and with their families, and Mid-Century Modern homes fit that lifestyle. You can find Mid-Century Modern homes across the U.S., but Palm Springs, California, is famous for having many examples of this home style.

Features of a Mid-Century Modern home

You can see the influence of Bauhaus on Mid-Century Modern homes in the way that form follows function — the design of these homes is usually uncluttered, with clean lines and geometric shapes. The homes are made of a mix of manmade and natural materials. Mid-Century Modern homes also typically include plays of elevation; they are often split-level, or they might have cabinetry or a fireplace in the middle of the room to add unexpected depth.

These houses usually have large windows to let nature in, and open floor plans to allow for more living space for families to be physically together as well as for entertaining.

8. Ranch

Ranch homes are a 20th-century invention, with their popularity reaching a peak in the 1950s and ‘60s when cars became more widespread and Americans could therefore move out into the suburbs for bigger lots and bigger houses. They remain the most popular house style in the U.S. today.

Features of a ranch house

Ranch-style homes take some features from Craftsman and Colonial homes. They typically have one story, a pitched roof, a built-in garage, picture windows, sliding doors to patios, and wood or brick exterior walls. Inside, their floor plans tend to be more open. 

There are several variations of the ranch style, including the California ranch, which can be L or U-shaped to allow space for a large patio.

9. Split level

Technically another iteration of the ranch-style home, a split-level is designed to allow different spaces for the different kinds of things that might take place in a suburban home, like sleeping and socializing. Split levels were especially popular in the 1950s and ‘60s, and now can mostly be found in the Midwest and on the East Coast.

Features of a split-level home

Because of the “splitting” of areas essential to a split level home, they are characterized by having multiple short flights of stairs inside. Typically their bottom floor is for the garage and a TV room; the middle floor, which might stick out a bit from the otherwise-two-story construction, is the living and dining rooms and the kitchen; and the top floor is usually bedrooms.

10. Victorian

Victorian homes get their name from Queen Victoria. This home style was popular throughout the 19th century, and originals of this type were opportunities for builders to showcase advances in technology that allowed for mass-produced ornamentation.

Features of a Victorian home

Victorian homes are usually two or three stories tall with brightly colored facades and other ornate elements, like bay windows, small towers, porches, and steep gable roofs. 

11. Other types of houses

Here are a few more types of home-styles that are gaining popularity. Tiny homes are those that are under 600 square feet. You may also find barndominiums, another type of DIY home that is utilizes a barn (it's a combination of barn and condiminium).

What is the most popular type of home?

Now that you have an idea of some common home styles, you might be wondering how they compare to each other.  The most popular home style in the United States is the ranch house. Historians have estimated that, by 1950, nine out of 10 of the homes built were ranches. Part of the reason their sheer number is their affordability.

But some regions have different tastes. Though the ranch is super popular in the Midwest, colonial-style homes outnumber them in New England, and Contemporary homes do the same in California.

What is the cheapest home style to build?

Perhaps one of the reasons that ranch homes remain so popular is that they are also fairly inexpensive to build. Besides especially small or unusual homes, like tiny homes or shipping-container homes, Ranches are likely the cheapest homes to build, thanks to their relatively simple construction. 

→ Learn about whether it's cheaper to build or buy a house

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