Types of houses: what’s the differences between a house, townhouse, terrace, semi duplex and villa?

“Your home is your castle” may be a common saying, but when it comes to residential living in Australia, there are various types of homes available to suit diverse lifestyles and needs. While the traditional free-standing house remains a popular choice, factors such as urban density and rising prices have resulted in an array of alternative housing options, including townhouses, terraces, semis, duplexes, and villas. With such a variety of options to choose from, homeowners and renters alike can find their perfect abode.

Different Types of Houses

When entering the property market, it is crucial to have an understanding of the diverse housing options that are available, along with their respective advantages and disadvantages.


When we think of the ‘great Australian dream,’ the image of a freestanding house on a quarter-acre block often comes to mind. This type of housing has long been highly desired for good reason.

Homeownership puts you in control of your domain, with no other owners to consult when planning renovations or rebuilding. Freestanding houses have historically been the most common form of housing, and during the COVID pandemic and lockdowns, their popularity has increased even further.

Compared to attached homes or apartments, freestanding houses are often larger and offer more private outdoor space. This can provide a sense of personal oasis, making them a desirable option for those who value privacy and independence in their living spaces.

As a result, the value of freestanding houses has increased even further. According to recent figures from CoreLogic, the gap between house and unit prices at the end of June 2020 reached 30.5%, the highest on record.


If high house prices are making it difficult for you to enter the property market, or you prefer a living option with less maintenance, a townhouse may be worth considering.

A townhouse is a multi-story building, typically with two levels, that offers a home-like feeling but with shared walls between neighboring units. The outdoor space is usually smaller than that of a freestanding house, with a courtyard-style terrace.

One of the significant differences between a freestanding house and a townhouse is ownership conditions. With a townhouse, you’re buying into strata ownership, which means you own common areas in partnership with your neighbors. This also means you’ll be paying strata fees for the upkeep and maintenance of these areas, which can be more cost-effective than maintaining a large freestanding house and garden.

For this reason, townhouses can be an ideal option for those looking to downsize, reduce maintenance costs, or enter the property market.


Terraces are a classic form of attached housing that have been a popular option for city living for centuries. Typically found in the inner-city areas of Sydney and Melbourne, rows of terraces are a testament to the rich architectural heritage of these cities.

Once considered less desirable, these individually owned homes have been highly prized in recent years, with terrace-dominated suburbs such as Sydney’s Paddington and Balmain now among the city’s most expensive.

As the first examples of developer-built homes, terraces were often built by one owner and rented out to tenants. Today, they are a stylish and convenient city living option, with many suburbs housing terraces situated close to CBDs.

Unlike townhouses and apartments, terraces are individually owned rather than strata-owned. This means that renovations and external changes do not need to be approved by a strata board, providing more flexibility for homeowners.

However, being a highly valued architectural housing style, heritage controls, particularly over the street faade of the home, can come into play. Despite this, terraces remain a highly sought-after form of inner-city living and are a testament to the rich history of our cities.


Semi-detached homes offer a unique blend of privacy and community. As the name suggests, these homes are attached to one other house, with a shared roof and one common wall. While they are similar to terraces in their design, semis have a side passage that is not attached to the neighboring property, which allows for more natural light and airflow.

In Australia, semi-detached homes were a popular choice for spec builders and working-class families in the early 20th century. Today, they have become more desirable and have risen in price and prestige in many older suburbs. It’s not uncommon to see renovated semis with added second storeys and floor-to-ceiling windows that open up to the backyard.

While semis do come with their own private gardens, they are typically smaller than those of freestanding homes. Nonetheless, they offer a great option for those who want the benefits of homeownership and the convenience of city living without the cost and maintenance of a larger property.


Duplexes are style of housing has become increasingly popular in recent years and shares many similarities with semi-detached homes.

Like semi-detached homes, duplexes have one common wall and are freestanding on one side. However, they are typically two stories high and come with many modern inclusions, such as garages, that may not be found in older semi-detached homes.

Duplexes are self-contained dwellings that can be built on a single title or over two titles, offering flexibility to both buyers and investors. In fact, many new duplexes are being built on blocks that previously housed a single freestanding dwelling, making them an excellent option for maximizing land use.

One potential drawback of duplex living is the typically smaller outdoor area. However, the small courtyard-sized yard that is common with duplexes can be a great low-maintenance option for those who prefer to spend less time on yard work and more time enjoying their new home.


A villa is a type of residential development that consists of a series of homes constructed on a single block. While terraces are all front-facing, villa developments often include one home that faces the street, with additional homes situated further back on the block.

In Victoria and New South Wales, a villa is typically a single-level home with an attached garage and a small yard. However, in Queensland, the term “villa” can also refer to a townhouse.

Like townhouses, villas are strata titled, meaning that owners are responsible for paying strata fees and adhering to strata rules. While this may be seen as a downside by some, it also means that the cost of maintenance and upkeep for common areas is shared among all owners, making it a more affordable option than a standalone house.

Things to consider before choosing a dwelling

There are a number of things to take into account in deciding what is the right type of dwelling for you. Naturally, price is a significant consideration, and a freestanding home is likely to be the most expensive option.

Other important factors to consider are your lifestyle and your stage in life. For instance, a family with children may prefer a freestanding home, while retirees or empty nesters may prefer a property that requires less maintenance and management. In such cases, strata-titled properties like townhouses and villas may be more suitable.


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