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Patio Homes: A Definitive Buying Guide

Patio Homes: A Definitive Buying Guide

The term patio home might sound like it refers to any house with a patio, but that’s not the case. Patio homes are typically single-story homes either attached or built very close to each other in clustered developments.

Picture the stereotypical suburban community where the houses are close to each other and look similar. Keep reading to learn what makes patio homes different from other types of houses and what advantages they offer homeowners. 

What Is a Patio Home?

You’ll hear patio homes referred to as garden homes, cluster homes, courtyard homes, and carriage homes. They’re considered zero-lot-line homes, built so the structure’s edge touches or gets very close to the property line.

What Is a Patio Home graphic with a definition and a photo of one displayed on a laptop

There is close to “zero lot” left once the house is built. Patio homes are growing more and more popular, especially among working professionals, seniors, travelers, and buyers looking for affordable, good-sized housing.

There are several reasons someone might want to live in a patio home, but they’re not appropriate for everyone. They’re also confused with townhouses and condos often. We’ll talk about:

  • Characteristics of patio homes
  • Vs single-family homes
  • Vs townhouses and condos
  • Patio home pros and cons
  • Who patio homes are best for

Characteristics of Patio Homes

Patio homes are somewhat hard to define because there’s no legal definition for them. However, most patio homes have the following things in common. 

Built-In Clusters

A bunch of patio homes in various colors with fences in the front line a suburban neighborhood

Romakoma/Shutterstock

The main defining feature of patio homes is the proximity to other, very similar homes. Patio homes are sometimes called cluster homes because of how closely they are built together.

This clustering allows each patio home to be of maximum size for the small lots they sit on. There’s no such thing as a lone patio home; that would just be considered a traditional single-family home.

When you see a group of homes built very closely together with limited yards in the front, back, or side, those are patio homes. 

Single or Multi-Story Homes

Most patio homes are single-story, but it’s not uncommon to see patio homes in one and a half or two stories in newer developments.

Seeing homes with limited lots sitting very close to similar houses, whether they’re all one or two stories, indicates they are patio homes. 

In a cluster of patio homes, all the houses share the same or have a very similar layout. You’ll either see all one story, one and a half story, or two-story houses in a patio home development.

There won’t be a mix. After all, there are significant benefits to building in bulk, like hiring a single architect, getting volume discounts from contractors, etc.

Zero-Lot-Line Homes

Row of detached patio homes for a zero-lot line neighborhood

Ewelina Wachala/Shutterstock

Patio homes will always be zero-lot-line homes, where at least one edge of the structure touches the property line. Very little, if any, of the lot is used for a yard.

The houses take up most of the space. This is the reason patio homes are built so close together. Where one owner’s lot ends, there may be just a few feet of space or less before the next home.

Most patio homes don’t have any windows on the side of the house closest to the next-door neighbor for added privacy.

Small Lots

Patio homes aren’t tiny houses, but the lots they’re built on are very small. They are built to save money and maximize the house’s square footage by taking up most of the space on a very limited lot. 

Instead of building the house smaller to allow more room for a yard, the houses are built larger at the yard size expense. There may be no yard whatsoever or a small strip of land in the front, side, or back of the house. 

The smaller lot sizes make patio homes more affordable than similarly sized homes on acreage. Small lots also make patio homes more attractive to anyone who doesn’t want to deal with lawn maintenance or isn’t able to manage it. 

Part of a Homeowners Association

Alabama HOA Neighborhood during sunset

M.S. Maklidrone/Shutterstock

Often, but not always, patio homes will be part of a Homeowners Association. Exterior maintenance, trash services, landscaping, commons areas (pools, clubhouses, golf courses, etc.), and exterior insurance may be provided through the HOA.

Dues must be paid to receive these services. This is appealing for anyone who doesn’t want to deal with these things. But it’s a downside if you want to have more freedom with your lot or don’t want to pay the HOA fees. 

Standalone or Attached Structures

Patio homes are sometimes mistakenly compared to townhouses, condos, or duplexes, but they are different. Patio homes can be standalone or attached structures.

In some cases, patio homes may share a wall with another home. But they won’t share a wall on both sides, just one. In this way, they’re more similar to duplexes than townhouses or condos.

While this may be the case, it’s not an apples-to-apples comparison. There are still important differences, which we’ll cover in the next section. 

Single-Family vs Patio Homes

Yellow single family home with red door and floral wreath as an image for a piece on patio homes

Brett Taylor Photography/Shutterstock

Patio homes can be single-family homes, but not all single-family homes are patio homes. A patio home can be a single-family home only if it is a standalone structure.

Patio homes can be very close together, even just inches apart, and still be single-family homes as long as they don’t share a wall with another house. 

Single-family homes are houses built to accommodate one family instead of two or more (like a duplex or multiplex). They are always standalone structures on their own property.

If a patio home is built attached to another house, it’s not a single-family home. In this case, it’s considered a townhouse.

Townhouses vs Patio Homes

Nice development of new townhouses

Darryl Brooks/Shutterstock

Patio homes and townhouses are similar when patio homes are attached to other homes. The main characteristics of a townhouse are:

  • At least two stories
  • Full ownership (includes the land underneath, the roof, and exterior)
  • Shared walls with other units on at least one side
  • All units have individual outdoor entrances

Attached patio homes may share all of these characteristics, except they can be single-story homes. Detached patio homes are not like townhouses because they don’t share a wall with another house. 

Condos vs Patio Homes

Newly built condos with nicely trimmed and designed front yard in a residential neighborhood in Canada as an image for a piece on condo vs patio homes

Rawmn/Shutterstock

Condominiums, or condos, are the most different from patio homes. Unlike patio homes, condos are part of a larger complex that might be low-rise, mid-rise, or high-rise.

They may be surrounded by other units side-by-side or above and below, sharing multiple walls with them (apartment-style condos).

They may be two stories and attached to units only on the sides (townhouse-style condos). Regardless of the condo type, condo owners only own their unit’s interior, whereas patio homeowners own their entire home and the land underneath.

Condo owners don’t actually own any of the “common elements”: The exterior, the land underneath, or the roof. These are owned by the HOA, with the condo owner having a small percentage of that ownership along with all other HOA members. 

All condos are part of their own Homeowners Association and must follow the association’s rules and regulations. These can include rules for hosting others, pets, neighbor disputes, and parking. 

Patio Home Pros and Cons

Patio homes are unique and come with their own pros and cons. Here are the biggest benefits and drawbacks of patio homes. 

Pros (What We Like)

Patio homes provide benefits that townhouses, condos, and duplexes don’t. 

  • Allows for true homeownership
  • Good retirement housing option
  • Limited or no lot maintenance
  • Community living close to neighbors

Cons (What We Dislike)

Patio homes aren’t for everyone. There are some drawbacks to buying and living in one, depending on your wants and needs. 

  • May be noisy and less private
  • Very close to neighbors
  • Located on small lots with no acreage
  • Tend to be part of an HOA with required fees

Is a Patio Home Right for You?

San Francisco, California, United States - city skyline with famous Painted Ladies, Victorian homes at Alamo Square (Western Addition neighborhood) and a row of patio homes

Tupangato/Shutterstock

Do you think a patio home might be the right type of house for you? They’re unique and have a lot of advantages. Patio homes appeal to a wide variety of people, but they are most popular with: 

  • Working professionals who don’t have time or desire to maintain a yard
  • Seniors who want independence without the upkeep and care of a larger home and lot
  • Empty nesters who don’t need as much space after the kids move out
  • Singles or couples who want to live in a community setting with close-by neighbors
  • Travelers who may not be in the home for parts of the year
  • Buyers looking for affordable homes with more square footage and a smaller yard

These scenarios and more make patio homes a great choice. They’re secure, social settings that don’t ask as much of a homeowner as a traditional single-family home does (maintenance, landscaping, etc.).

Who Would Want One?

They are especially popular for retirees and seniors ready to downsize but don’t want to move into a small “granny pod” or accessory dwelling unit on a loved one’s property.

With a patio home, they don’t have to worry about maintenance or climbing stairs to reach multiple levels. They also get to keep their independence and privacy.

However, a patio home isn’t the right choice for everyone. Some of the things that make patio homes appealing to some could make them a nightmare for others.

Who Wouldn’t Want One?

You may not enjoy a patio home if any of these describe your situation:

  • Families with children who like to play outside or want to live near other kids
  • Avid gardeners or anyone who enjoys ample outdoor living space
  • Buyers who don’t want to pay HOA fees or follow their regulations
  • Buyers who want a custom-built or unique home 
  • Singles or families seeking privacy or seclusion

Patio homes are an interesting cross between townhouses and single-family homes that can create an ideal living situation for some.

The proximity to other houses and small lots might be a turnoff for others. Consider your wants and needs to determine if a patio home could be the right choice for you. 

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