"In Northern Virginia most of the duplexes or town homes are considered as 'attached homes,' meaning you can only buy one half," said Casey Margenau, associate broker with Re/Max in McLean. "Most people don't buy both sides."
That doesn't mean it's impossible to find a full duplex for sale, although you could have to purchase from two owners.
"The advantage of buying a duplex is the added income generated by the other unit," said Brandon Green, president of Brandon Green Cos. in the District. "Essentially, a duplex is an investment property and over time adds to a portfolio of real estate which can build wealth."
To make sure buying a complete duplex is a good decision, Margenau said to run the numbers. "Look at the return you would get if you paid cash," he said.
Aim for an 8 percent to 10 percent return on investment. For example, a buyer who purchased a duplex for $200,000 to live on one side and rent out the other would want to generate just over $1,300 a month in income, after taxes and insurance, to make a profit. That would mean renting one side for $1,600 to $1,800 a month.
"That's reasonable in today's marketplace," Margenau said, "and it allows you to let your tenant pay off the mortgage."
Getting that mortgage, however, can be a challenge.
"Some lenders view duplexes as investment properties," Green said, "and therefore, will require at least 20 percent down and a higher interest rate." Margenau said some banks break the purchase of an entire duplex into two loans.
There is a bright side, however, some lenders may be more likely to qualify borrowers for a loan if they will be living in the duplex they buy.
"You're less likely to default from the bank's standpoint if you're living in the home," Margenau added.
Buying a duplex with tenants already in place is not necessarily problematic as long as they pay their rent on time and maintain the property. Margenau said it is a good idea to make sure would-be tenants have a good rental history before deciding on a deal.
Having a duplex already rented could make it easier to determine a return on investment and make the bank happy, too. But there is one downside.
"If you happen to get a tenant you don't really like, living on the other side of the duplex can be problematic," Green said.