Types of houses: what’s the difference?

November 5, 2021 BY

Salt Townhomes on Grossmans Road Torquay

The saying may go that your home is your castle – but there is more than one type of home with residences in Australia coming in a variety of forms.

There is of course, the free-standing house which has long been the home of choice for Australians.

However, urban density, rising prices and lifestyle choices have opened up many more types of home from a townhouse, terrace, semi, duplex and villa all on offer.


Different Types of Houses

It is important to be aware of the variety of housing options available – along with their advantages and disadvantages – when entering the property market.



Think of the “great Australian dream” and a freestanding house of a quarter acre block may come to mind. It’s long been a desired form of housing with good reason.

Owning a house puts you in control of your domain, there are no other owners involved, and so no others to consult if renovations or rebuilding are part of your plans.

The freestanding house has historically been our most common form of housing, and with the advent of COVID and lockdowns, they have gained even greater favour.

Typically larger than adjoined homes or apartments, and with a larger amount of private outdoor space they are an oasis when stay-at-home orders come in.

Not surprisingly this has increased their value even more with recent figures from CoreLogic showing a 30.5 per cent gap between house and unit prices at the end of June 2020, the highest on record.



If high prices put you out of the house market, or you prefer something with a little less maintenance a townhouse may be an option for you.

A townhouse is a multi-storey building, usually two-storeys, and inside has the feeling of a house.

However, it is attached to other townhouses and is built as one of a series of homes.

Outside space is typically smaller than a freestanding home, and similar in style to a terrace courtyard.

The big difference between a freestanding house and a townhouse is around ownership conditions.

You are buying into strata ownership, which means you own common areas in common with your neighbours.



Before townhouses, there were terraces, a terrace is an individually owned home that is attached to a number of other homes by common walls.

Rows of terraces are most commonly found in the inner-city, particularly in Sydney and Melbourne.

However they can also be found in more historical regional cities, highly prized today, terraces were the first examples of developer-built homes.

Many rows of terraces were built by one owner then rented out and at the beginning of last century were some of the less desirable housing.

That is not the case today, with terrace dominated suburbs such as Sydney’s Paddington and Balmain, some of the city’s most expensive.

They are a stylish and convenient city living option – with suburbs where they are housed typically close to CBDs



Often referred to simply as a semi, semi-detached homes are a halfway mark between a terrace and a freestanding home.

Like a terrace, they are attached to another home, however a true semi consists of just two homes that are attached and share a common roof and one wall.

Unlike a terrace, they have a side passage down the side of the home that is not attached and windows along here can let in more light than terraces.

In Australia, they were a popular style of building for ‘spec builders’ – the earliest form of developer to construct in the years before and after Federation.



The duplex is a popular style today and has much in common with a semi – think of it as a modern day semi.

Duplexes have one common wall and are freestanding on one side – just like a semi, however they are typically two nstoreys and as modern buildings come with many inclusions that semis do not such as garages.

Duplexes are self-contained dwellings and can be on a single title or over two titles.



A villa is one of a series of homes that are built on one block, while terraces all face the street, a villa development often features one street-facing home and further homes on the block.

In Victoria and NSW a villa is a single-level home with attached garage, and small yard.


Things to consider before picking one

There are a number of things to take into account in deciding what is the right type of dwelling for you.

Of course, price is a big factor and a freestanding home is one that will be the toughest on your wallet.

Lifestyle factors, and where you are on your life journey, are also important areas to consider.



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