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A Beginner’s Guide To Split-Level Houses

8-Minute Read
Published on March 8, 2022
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If you’re looking to buy a house, you probably already know that all the different options and things to consider can make the process pretty overwhelming. Finding the right home that works for you and your lifestyle is sometimes harder than it sounds. If you’re on the hunt for a unique and affordable house with plenty of privacy and a decent amount of space, consider a split-level home.

These houses are more than a fad from the ’60s and ’70s – they’re practical, unique and space-efficient houses that make perfect homes for single families, multigenerational families and even just roommates.

Ready to learn more? Read on for our guide to split-level houses and why this home might be the right type for you.

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What Is A Split-Level House? 

When you think of split-level houses, you might imagine the house from “The Brady Bunch” or, more likely, the home of a family member or friend you had growing up. Split-level homes were exceedingly popular from the 1950s to the 1970s. These unique pieces of real estate are characterized by having multiple levels connected by short staircases across the home. There are typically at least three levels to a split-level house, though there can be as many as five or six.

Split-level houses, also sometimes called tri-level homes, initially gained popularity because they fit perfectly on the small, hilly lots of the suburbs and maximized their limited space. Though these homes are technically usually only two stories, they incorporate three to five different levels spaced out by half-flights of stairs to create separation between each area of the house.

One bedroom may be on the half-underground bottom level of the home while another might be technically on the second story, spaced out from the other bedrooms by multiple short inclines. This staggered level design uses elevation to create separated areas that increase privacy and make the house feel larger.

The Features Of Split-Level Homes

Most split-level houses share a few common features, including:

  • Low-pitched roofs
  • Half-staircases separating floors
  • Integrated garages on the first level
  • Double-hung windows
  • Multiple attics

Another common feature across many split-level homes is a small amount of square footage. Since many of these homes have almost half of the house partially underground, much of the space in the home can’t be counted as usable square feet of space since it’s below grade; or in other words, technically a basement.

Most basements, even finished ones, aren’t considered as square footage in a home. So, if you see a split-level home listed with just 600 – 700 square feet of space, know that there could be a lot more space in the home that isn’t being counted because it is below or partially below-ground.

What Are The Different Types Of Split-Level Houses?

Not every split-level house looks the same. Some resemble more traditional homes and have less staggered floor plans while others break up their space over five different levels. Let’s go over a few common types of split-level home to help you decide which one might be a good match for you.

Standard Split 

A standard split is one of the most common forms of a split-level home and is likely a style that you have encountered before. With this layout, you enter the home on the ground level and are typically faced with a short flight of stairs leading to the other levels. The mid-level might contain the kitchen and living space while the upper level is reserved for bedrooms, with the garage and other spaces located on the bottom floor. 

Stacked Split

A stacked split is a good option for multigenerational families living under one roof or any other household that needs a lot of space. This style of house typically has four or five different levels all separated by short staircases.

Like other split-style homes, bedrooms are usually on the uppermost floors, the kitchen and living spaces are in the mid-levels and the garage and basement can be found on the bottom floor.

This design boasts a lot of privacy and separation for each household member, thanks to the many different levels, but keep in mind the many flights of stairs could prove to be a hassle – especially when doing laundry or carrying something between floors.

Split Entry

A split entry style home has three or four floors separated by stairs. The entrance to one of these houses is typically between floors, so you’ll walk in and be faced with a flight of stairs going up to the main level and a flight going down to the sub-level(s).

The entry level is separate from the other floors of the house and might just consist of the entryway alone, though some split entry style houses may also have a mudroom or other small space attached to the entryway. 

Side Split

A side split is a unique style of split-level home that’s actually only split on one side. So, one side of the house is two stories while the other half is just one. In many cases, the one-story side of the house is where you’ll find the living room and kitchen, while the two-story side tends to be a garage or other space with bedrooms on top.

Back Split

A back split is a home that has multiple levels that you may not necessarily be able to see from the road. These houses are often built into hills which hide the bottom level when viewing the house from the front but reveal walls and windows from the back or sides of the building. These homes typically have three to five levels and may have an entrance on the ground floor as well as on the ‘basement’ floor around the back of the house where the split-levels are exposed.

Buying And Selling Split-Level Houses 

Since split-level homes are rather unique in terms of their design, buying and selling them can be a little different than buying or selling a more traditionally structured single-family home. Let’s talk about the cost of these homes and why they can sometimes be more difficult to sell.

How Much Do Split-Level Homes Cost?

As with other homes, the cost of a split-level house may vary drastically depending on the location of the home and state of the local market. In general, however, split-level homes tend to be significantly cheaper to purchase than other single-family homes.

There are plenty of these homes left over from the ’60s and ’70s when they were at their peak of popularity – and the style is considered by some buyers to be out of fashion, which has decreased demand overall.

So, if you’re looking for an affordable home, a split-level may be a great option to help you get more space for your dollar, if you don’t mind the layout.

Why Are Split-Level Houses Harder To Sell Today?

As we mentioned above, split-level homes are not as in-demand as they once were. Many modern buyers see split-levels as being outdated or unattractive homes – and some are simply turned off by the number of staircases that must be traversed to get from point A to point B in the house.

The different levels in the home have the benefit of segmenting space and increasing privacy but can become a burden for older homeowners or those with a disability that may struggle to walk up and down so many stairs.

For these reasons, it can be harder to sell split-level homes. As a buyer, however, if you like the look of split-levels and don’t mind the staircases, this also means you can get a split-level for a very affordable price.

You may be able to get more space with a split level than you could in other single-family homes within your budget, but keep in mind that if you ever sell the house you may have some difficulty finding a buyer.

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The Pros And Cons Of Split-Level Houses 

Split-level homes are a great option for many home buyers, but they’re not for everyone. Let’s break down a few of the pros and cons of this style of home to help you decide if it might be right for you.

Pros

  • Privacy: The different levels in a split-level home help give each part of the space more privacy than a regular home enjoys.
  • Affordability: Since split-level homes are not in high demand, you can get one for a very affordable price, making them very accessible to first-time home buyers.
  • More outdoor space: Many split-level homes were built between the 1950s and 1980s and tend to have larger yards than a lot of newer homes built today. If you want a lot of outdoor space, a decently sized yard is another benefit of this home.
  • Flexibility for different stages of life: The increased privacy and multi-level layout of these homes makes them very adaptable to whatever you need to use the space for. Bedrooms spaced out by different levels might make perfect suites for adult children living with parents, grandparents moving in, etc.

Cons

  • Hard to remodel: Due to the unique layout of these homes and their many levels, if you want to make an addition to the house, it might be difficult or expensive to pull off.
  • Several stairs: There tend to be a lot of stairs to traverse in split-level houses – so if you or a family member struggles with mobility, it could make everyday life difficult.
  • Difficult to sell: Though they are affordable, these homes are also hard to resell because there’s less demand. This might be unappealing to a buyer who doesn’t plan on staying in the house for long.
  • Could be outdated: Since many split-levels were built several decades ago, they may have outdated appliances, flooring or other home features that you may need to replace or update.

Split-Level Vs. Bi-Level Houses

Split-level houses and bi-level homes are often confused – and there is a lot of overlap between the two styles. Both styles have multiple floors separated by short staircases, but the main difference between them is that split-level homes have three or more levels or floors while bi-level homes only have two.

A bi-level home may have an entryway with stairs going up and down to the two main levels, but there is no middle level like you would find in a split-level house.

Is A Split-Level House Right For You?

If you’re trying to decide whether a split-level home is right for you, consider how you’ll be using the house and for how long.

  • How big is your family? If you have a larger family or one with multiple generations under one roof, the staggered floor plan could help give each family member more privacy than a normal single-family home.
  • Do you need yard space? Many split-level houses have ample outdoor space, which can make them great homes for people with children or pets.
  • Do you plan on staying in the house for more than 5 years? Split-level homes can be hard to resell, which you may want to consider if you’re not going to be staying in the house very long.
  • Will the stairs be a problem? There are typically quite a few sets of stairs in a split-level home that you’ll have to ascend and descend every time you want to use a different room, go to the bathroom, do laundry, etc. If you or a family member has chronic pain or mobility problems, this could be a huge issue.
  • Do you want to expand? These homes have very unique floorplans, which can make them a fun change from many modern homes. They can also be very difficult and/or expensive to remodel, however, so if you want to add on to the house, remember it may be more costly than usual renovations.

The Bottom Line

Split-level houses are a great option for many buyers, especially first-time home buyers, thanks to their affordability and availability. These homes are definitely not for everyone, though, so be sure to do your research before buying to determine whether these multi-level houses would be a good fit for you or your family.

Looking into other home styles? Check out our guide to craftsman style homes.

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Sidney Richardson

Sidney Richardson is a professional writer for Rocket Companies in Detroit, Michigan who specializes in real estate, homeownership and personal finance content. She holds a bachelor's degree in journalism with a minor in advertising from Oakland University.