It’s always fascinating to me the little things that you pick up while doing your job. For example, as it turns out I am quite adept at working lock boxes and unlocking doors. I suppose that does not seem to be much of a skill but when you’ve got buyers standing behind you anxious to look at a home and you cannot unlock the door in a timely fashion, it may look like you don’t know what you’re doing. Another such item is my knowledge of home styles. Sure I figured knowing the difference between a 1 story and a 2 story was important when I got into real estate but I never imagined that I would know the difference between a bi-level and a raised ranch. Actually as it turns out I’m not 100% positive of the difference between the two but I’m getting ahead of myself.
In my opinion there are four main categories of home styles: 1-story, 1.5-story, 2-story+, and split level.
The 1-story category is pretty straight forward in that all the living space is on the entry-level. Although the term “ranch” has a narrower definition in many contexts, in reference to residential homes it is all but synonymous with 1-story. Now with that said there are different types of ranches like broad or narrow front.
This category includes two main styles: Bungalow and Cape Cod. As I understand it, Bungalow actually has a different meaning in other parts of the country than it does here in Michigan. In Michigan it generally refers to a home that was built with 2 bedrooms on the entry-level and an unfinished attic. The buyer would then have the opportunity to finish the attic at their leisure and how they wanted. Most people did indeed choose to finish the attic and made it into one very large bedroom. It’s interesting to note that if you have the occasion of going through a bungalow you will notice that even though the walls on the entry-level are plaster, the upstairs (attic) very often has paneling. This whole “leaving the upstairs unfinished” business was done so that the home was more affordable for the original buyer. Therefore when that same cost sensitive buyer went to finish the attic they also chose the less expensive option of paneling. Paneling is also easier for a lay-person to install than plaster or even today’s drywall.
The second style in the 1.5-story category is a Cape Cod. In some ways the Cape Cod is similar to the Bungalow in that the 2nd story is not a full one, but in most other ways is quite different. Usually the style includes a front façade where the roof is easily visible and at least one dormer is protruding from it. The inside can vary greatly but the most standard design is where there are 2 bedrooms and a full bathroom on the upper 1/2 story.
As the name suggests this category includes homes with 2 full stories. Within this category there are many different styles including Colonial, Tudor, and Contemporary.
The traditional colonial home is just a basic 2-story home. Very often the exterior siding or brick is the same for both the upper and lower levels. Usually all the bedrooms (2-5) are upstairs along with at least one full bathroom. Over the years the term colonial has come to have a broader definition. Very often the exterior of the lower level is one material, say brick, while the upper level is another, say vinyl siding. Another change is that the master suite may be on the entry-level.
Another type of 2-story home is the Tudor. It is basically the same as a colonial but has a stucco framed by wood exterior. This stucco and wood exterior does not usually cover the entire exterior. Very often some of the exterior is also brick.
The last style in the 2-story category is contemporary. This is kind of catch-all category is for any property that defies categorization.
A split level home is a home where there is living space on 2 or 3 or even 4 different levels. Usually one level is only a couple of feet above or below the previous level. The different types of split-levels include: Bi-level, Raised Ranch, Tri-Level, and Quad-level.
The easiest way to describe all the different types of split levels is to start with the most prevalent, the Tri-Level. A Tri-level home has 3 different levels as the name suggests. The entrance and some of the square footage is at ground level. Very often that entry-level includes the living room and the kitchen although I have seen some Tri-levels where the Kitchen was in the lower level. From the entry-level there are usually stairs going to the lower and upper levels. Very often the upper level is directly above the lower level. Each of the three levels are all considered “living space” and can have a bedroom. Tri-level homes do not have a basement.
A majority of Quad-levels are simply Tri-levels with a basement. That basement is not a full one and is usually directly below the entry-level. In some unique instances a Quad-level may instead have its 4th level above the entry-level instead of a basement below it. I suppose a “Quint-Level” (I think I made this term up…) could be possible if there was both a basement and a 2nd level directly above the entry-level but I have never seen one.
A Bi-level is quite similar to a tri-level except there is no entry-level. Instead when you walk into the home you have the option to go up stairs to where the living room and bedrooms may be or down to where the kitchen and family room might be. A Raised Ranch is quite similar to a bi-level except the lower level is not below the ground at all and the upper level is truly 1 story above the ground. Much like the bi-level, when you enter the home you will have the option to either go upstairs or downstairs but because the home is not below ground at all there will be a number of stairs outside leading to the front porch. Most Raised Ranches also have an attached garage that is next to the lower level living space and underneath the upper level living space.
There are other types of homes out there and an infinite amount of variations of these basic styles. Furthermore builders are continually inventing new styles everyday just to keep us guessing. But don’t fret, there won’t be a test. Instead just call an experienced and knowledgeable real estate agent to help you through the entire home buying process.