Split-level homes are often associated with baby boomers, suburbia, and sitcoms from the ’80s — which is a nice way of saying that they’re not really “on trend.”
But that might be changing. As a new generation of home buyers confront an expensive market and the demands of raising a family, split-level homes have become more popular.
Split-level homes offer multiple levels of living space that are staggered vertically, connected by half staircases. This type of setup offers obvious advantages when it comes to privacy between levels and efficient use of space.
That makes split levels especially attractive now that home buyers are shelling out more money just to buy starter homes and pay their real estate agent. That said, split-level homes also have their unique drawbacks. Here are the biggest pros and cons of split-level homes.
Split-level homes typically have three separate floors of living space, although some can have up to five levels. The lower level usually incorporates an attached garage and a basement that can be used as a family room. The main level consists of the kitchen, dining room, and family room, and the highest level is usually reserved for the bedrooms.
This separation of space translates into a lot of quiet and privacy. The upper-level bedrooms are insulated from the noise of the main level, and a home office located on the lower level would be a naturally sheltered workspace.
Because split-level homes have multiple floors separated vertically, they come with a lot of stairs. Chores as simple as doing laundry will likely require you to go from your bedroom on the top level down two sets of stairs to the laundry room on the lower level. Do this several times a month and you might start fantasizing about a one-level ranch-style home.
All those stairs could be a minor inconvenience or a major dealbreaker, depending on the buyer's mobility. Even if stairs aren't normally a problem, they can become one overnight if you sprain your ankle or break a leg. If you have young children, you should plan on buying several baby gates.
Additionally, almost all split-level homes have external stairs because the second level of the home is the main level. This can be treacherous if you live in a region that gets a lot of ice and snow in the winter. Split-level homes also often have street-level mailboxes so delivery people don’t have to climb stairs just to make a delivery. This could be a big problem if porch pirates are a problem in the neighborhood.
Because of their unconventional and customizable structure, split levels are often built on hilly or sloping lots that couldn’t accommodate a ranch-style home.
This can have aesthetic benefits. Sloping, hilly lots often look very unique, especially if they are landscaped creatively. They can also be more affordable because sloping lots are valued less, on average, than level lots.
Many split-level homes are built on a slope, so they have less natural light than an open, single-level home. One entire side of the home may have no windows at all, and many rooms may only have a single window.
Some buyers modernize and brighten their split levels by putting in skylights or custom lighting, but this can be expensive upfront and incur higher utility costs.
These short- and long-term costs can be intimidating for buyers who may struggle just to afford a down payment.
Split-level homes are often a lot more affordable than conventional homes with similar square footage and number of bedrooms. This is because there’s less demand for split levels than there is for other types of homes.
Why? Just as destinations like San Diego may be extremely desirable while other cities are considered less cool, architectural styles go in and out of favor. Split-level homes are perceived as relics of the baby boomer era, and that alone is enough for many potential buyers to pass, which drives the price down.
They also often have a lower assessed value than a conventional one-level home of similar size, especially if they’re on a sloping lot. Any lot area that’s “below grade” is valued much lower than the rest of the lot, so many split-level homes are located on a lot that’s simply not worth very much.
An attached, lower-level garage is a standard feature in split-level homes. If you move into a split-level home, you’ll seldom have to worry about circling the block to look for street parking. If you don’t have a car, an attached garage makes an excellent home gym or workshop.
Although you can make surface-level updates to a split-level home, completing gut-level renovations can be extremely challenging because everything’s sorted vertically.
For example, if you get tired of having the kitchen on the same level as the living room and dining room, it’s a huge project to move it upstairs or downstairs. For the most part, the potential uses of each level are locked in place.
Split-level homes are about getting more space out of a home by building up instead of out. That means that a split-level home on a standard lot will likely have more outdoor space than a conventional home of similar square footage on the same lot.
If you’re reluctant to change your address without getting a big yard or spacious deck out of the move, split levels can give you that without breaking the bank.
Split-level homes can often be very affordable because they’re out of style. But on the flip side, reselling your split-level home can be a slow, uncertain experience because of low demand.
Aside from the lack of trendiness, there can be real, objective reasons for low demand. Many split-level homes were built in the ’50s, ’60s, or ’70s, meaning they could be in need of major updates.
Completing renovations could make your sale easier, but they’ll also cost a lot of time and money. Factoring in renovation costs while calculating how much commission to pay your agent can render your profit margins razor-thin.