Multi-family house design ideas, inspiration & pictures

Characteristics of multi-family houses

The purpose of a multi-family house is to provide residential space for more than one family at a time, with the most common multi-family households consisting of grandparents, adult children and, in some cases, grandchildren under one roof. However, a multi-family residential structure can also signify a housing unit occupied by numerous inhabitants that are not related at all, like an apartment building or flat. Condominiums and duplexes are also prime examples of multi-family houses.

This is in contrast with single-family homes, which are intended to be occupied by single families or persons.

It is important to note that multi-family houses are not always because of tradition or tight-knit family values. Increasingly, this has become a way of living due to economic reasons, with care-giving and care-sharing also playing big roles.

In South Africa, multi-generational living is a lofty 32.2% for three or more generations living together. When you factor in the fact that about 37.2% of these groups are unemployed and only 19.2% employed, there is no disputing the fact that economic pressure is the main drive behind a lot of multi-family homes.

The pros and cons of multi-family houses

With benefits like pooled resources and cost-efficiencies, multi-family homes are making a lot of sense in today’s world. But when it comes to purchasing property and you’re looking at multi-family structures, what factors need to be taken into consideration?


· One multi-family house/property equals one loan and one bill to pay versus, for example, 20 separate loan processes and bills to pay when it comes to multiple single-family houses.

· One insurance policy is much easier to manage than multiple policies.

· It’s less emotional involvement for you, as the owner, as it’s more about the numbers and less about the family involved in a single-family house.

· There’s less competition in purchasing than those searching for single-family homes.


· It costs more.

· More management is required. Tenants in multi-family units are often more transitional than single-family homes and can result in shorter stay periods. They can also be harder on the units as it often does not feel like home to them, which can add to your maintenance and upkeep workload.

· You might be up against smarter competition and competing with investors who have more experience than the average homeowner/buyer.

· It’s more complicated – dealing with multiple apartment units, people, families and issues versus one single home with one family.

· There can be fewer properties to pick from, or there may be a lack of multi-family structures in your area.

Multi-family houses as an investment

Today’s tricky financial climate has a lot of people backing away from property investments. However, there is more than one source citing the importance of investing in multi-family residences as opposed to single-family dwellings, with the following reasons enjoying the most attention:

1. Although it costs a lot more to acquire an apartment building than a single-family home, it can be easier to finance the former than the latter. The reason for this is because a multi-family property is more likely to generate income due to the number of available units and spaces – and banks are aware of this. This is true even when the property has a handful of vacancies or a few tenants are late with their rent payments. Compare this with a single-family house where, should the resident(s) move out, the house would become 100% vacant and generate zero income.

2. Multi-family real estate is suitable for property investors who wish to build a large portfolio of rental units. Buying a 20-unit apartment building is a lot easier and quicker than purchasing 20 stand-alone houses. And with the latter option, one would need to work with 20 different addresses, sellers, conduct inspections, etc. This is easily avoided with one single structure offering numerous residential space or units for multiple residents.

3. A lot of real estate investors do not particularly enjoy the actual management of their properties, instead choosing to hire a property manager company to handle the daily operations regarding the rentals. A property manager is usually paid a percentage of the monthly income generated from a property. Many investors who own a handful of single-family houses don’t make use of an external manager, as it doesn’t make financial sense due to their small portfolio. The amount of money that multi-family properties produce each month presents the owner with room to take advantage of property management services without the need to cut into their margins.

Costs of multi-family houses

What may surprise a lot of people is to learn that it’s generally more cost-effective to buy an existing home than build one from scratch, as the pricing between the two can differ by about 20% - 30%. Of course it all depends on the building and location, but when it comes to duplexes, apartments and similar multi-family structures, the costs can work out to roughly R5,000 – R6,000/m²

Let homify help

Whether you’re on the hunt for a spacious apartment, roomy duplex or your dream, single-family home, homify is here to offer up tonnes of inspiration with our ever-increasing range of housing examples, both locally and abroad. In addition, we also offer a widespread collection of professionals, from architects and interior designers to kitchen planners and landscape designers, to help you conjure up the house (or garden or any other space) of your needs.