It’s the quintessential American suburban style. You’d know it instantly if you saw it: a house with staggered levels (more or less obvious from the outside) connected by small stairs.
Aimed at the nascent baby boom generation, the split-level home flourished in newly built neighborhoods across the country in the mid-1900s. These single-family homes may not be as popular today, but there are There are still plenty of them – and they have their benefits, even if you’re not an expert on mid-century modern style.
Let’s take a retro spin.
What characterizes a split-level house?
As the name suggests, split-level homes have more than one story, but not all of them run the full length of the house. Instead, they are characterized by several staggered levels, each connected by a separate staircase. “There are usually two sets of stairs on the main floor of the house, leading upstairs to the bedrooms and downstairs to the basement,” says Marina Vaamonde, owner and founder of HouseCashin, a platform that connects home sellers and real estate investors.
Some split-level styles have a garage on the lower level, with a semi-basement leading to it and bedrooms located above.
This should not be confused with a split-entrance or split-entry home, which requires you to walk up or down the stairs as soon as you enter the front door to access the different rooms. In a split-level home, you typically enter on the ground floor, which contains much of the main living space (kitchen, living room, etc.). To one side there is a half flight of stairs leading to the next level.
Multi-level houses are also often referred to as three-level, with three being the standard number of stories they contained – although some had four or even five.
Although they can be built in different architectural styles, split-level homes generally share certain salient features. On the outside, they usually feature:
- Asymmetrical silhouettes (rectangular main level, more square or protruding section containing the upper level)
- Double hung windows
- Large bay windows on the main level
- Low-pitched roofs
- Mixed facades (particularly brick and wood)
- Two to eight exterior steps leading to the front door
The interior design of multi-level homes can vary greatly. But — in addition to their mini-stairs — they frequently include:
- Cathedral ceilings
- Separate living room, dining room and kitchen on the ground floor; upstairs bedrooms
- Finished basements
- Attached or integrated garages
- Multiple attics and storage spaces
- Minimal ornamental elements (mouldings, cornices, etc.)
- Large patio doors/slides leading to main living area
Split-level house history
Split-levels are essentially a variation of the single-story ranch house that developed in the early 20th century. They “are influenced by mid-century modern architect Frank Lloyd Wright’s open-concept one-story homes, dividing ‘public’ and ‘private’ rooms into split-levels,” says consumer advocate Kerry Sherin at Ownerly, a home appraisal company.
They took off after the Second World War, with the rise of suburban developments responding to the baby boom explosion of young growing families. With its staggered levels, the style was very convenient to pack into limited plots of land, allowing plenty of living space and a back yard.
“Split-level homes, which first appeared in American suburbs in the 1950s and 1960s, gave homebuilders the ability to cram more square footage into a smaller, more affordable lot,” says Dino DiNenna, a real estate broker from Hilton Head Island, South Carolina. . They were especially prevalent in hilly terrain, as they could be built directly into bedrock, rather than having to level the ground or make other adjustments.
With its open landings and floors, the style also felt pleasantly airy, spacious and “modern” to the inhabitants of the house, compared to dark, tiny apartments or cramped townhouses. Although the standard level was technically only two floors, it often seemed more, due to all the different levels.
The design’s popularity peaked in the 1960s and 1970s, coinciding with the television show The Brady Group, which featured the blended family living in a multi-level house. After that, it started to look dated and unimaginative, as architects adopted completely open layouts or revived historic architectural styles.
Although not as popular today, multi-level homes are still being built. They are especially common in states with mountainous or rugged terrain. “Southwestern states like Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico and parts of Southern California have the greatest concentrations of multi-level homes, which continue to be inhabited today,” says Daniela Andreevska, real estate expert at Mashvisor, an analysis of real estate investment data. service.
Different Types of Split-Level Homes
There are several types of split-level homes available. The main difference is often their outward appearance, i.e. how obvious the staggered levels are from a curbside view.
A standard split-level house usually has a main floor entryway leading to the ground floor. A small staircase separates the other levels. The lower level includes a playroom, boudoir, family room or garage, while the upper level includes bedrooms and bathrooms. “This type usually contains open floor plans, covering a fairly small footprint,” says Vaamonde.
Perhaps the most popular variety is the side parting (this is the one featured in The Brady Group). It features the three levels from the front, with the bedrooms stacked above the basement on one side and the ground floor on the other side.
“The layout of a back-split ranch is almost identical to a side-split, with one exception: it’s been rotated 90 degrees,” says Mike Gregor, real estate agent at Cohen Agency SiM at New Hartford, Connecticut. “A back level house will appear to be a single story when viewed from the sidewalk, similar to a ranch-style house.”
The multi-stacked house has at least four floors, with the additional floor above the main living area. There are several flights of stairs connecting each level to the main staircase. The upper floor usually has accessory rooms such as an informal living space, with a garage on the ground floor.
How much do split-level homes cost?
If you’re building, a two-story home is a more economical choice than a traditional two-story home because it uses fewer materials and requires less labor to build, says Jennifer Spinelli, founder and CEO of Watson. Buys in Denver.
According to Joshua Haley, Founder of Moving Astute, “The average cost to build a multi-level home is around $100 per square foot and they typically sell for around 10% more than their construction costs.” That $100 per square foot figure is low for new home construction.
If you’re buying, half-levels are also often a bargain. The supply is plentiful and, frankly, they are rather old-fashioned: the current revival in the style of the 1970s does not extend to these country houses. “In many communities with million-dollar homes, a duplex can be had for $600,000 to $750,000,” even with cosmetic upgrades and the latest infrastructure updates, Sherin says. .
However, keep in mind that many split-level homes may not have aged well: the youngest of them are in their 50s and were often mass-produced properties, intended to be built quickly and economically for the middle market. Also, if you’re looking for financing, Sherin points out that split-level homes may not have as high a value as non-split-level homes of similar size, due to their substantial amount of underground living space (which is less valuable square footage). , if it is valued).
Final Word on Split-Level Homes
Split-level homes have their drawbacks. They have limited natural light, can feel cramped, and look dated, especially to eyes accustomed to the spacious flow of contemporary open floor plans and floor-to-ceiling windows. Their many steps mean they may not be the best for the elderly or those with reduced mobility. Their layouts can also be difficult to convert.
On the plus side, a duplex may appeal to homebuyers who want separate living quarters and bedrooms (as hybrid working arrangements continue, designated rooms are definitely making a comeback). Although rarely high-prestige properties, split-level homes are generally solid constructions, are well located, and offer good value for money at today’s prices. Now as then, they can work for young families looking for the proverbial first home.
In short, a split-level home can provide plenty of living space for the money and the size. And it’s something that never goes out of style.