Types of Residential Buildings – Homes to Build, Rent or Lease

There are many advantages to building and having your own house or residential property. In this regard, there are two types of property owners – the homeowner who wants to have their own custom designed home and the property developer who builds residential buildings for selling or renting. If you intend to build a house for your family or residential building for leasing, one thing you need to decide on is the type of building you are going to build.

There are different types of residential buildings with different configurations for living. As a prospective owner or tenant, you have to think about the setup, for example, you have to consider the following:

Privacy – What degree of privacy will the residence offer to the occupants? Are you going to share the main entrance, patio, plot, building, parking with other households?

Space – Will it be a compact self contained unit or dwelling which offers a lot of space and rooms?

Attachment – Will the household be attached to another household or will it be a free-standing residence with its own plot that is demarcated by a fence?

Number of storeys – Will it be a single storey or multi storey residence?

Ownership – Will it be a condo or apartment? A condo is living space or unit within a building complex that can be bought by a client, so it is owned by the buyer. Unlike condos, apartments can only be rented or leased, and the tenant will be required to renew the contract or vacate the premises upon the expiry date. Some apartments are owned by cooperatives whereby maintaining ownership is a collective responsibility rather than individual responsibility.

Two Bedroom Cluster Home with Driveway, Garage and Patio in Douglasdale Fourways Gardens, Johannesburg - South Africa

Two Bedroom Cluster Home with Driveway, Garage, Backyard Patio and Garden in Douglasdale,Fourways Gardens, Johannesburg – South Africa

Classification of Residential Homes

Residential buildings can be classified based on how the household units are attached or arranged in relation to another /or the environment. In this regard, you can have five general categories:

  1. Free-standing single family units
  2. Free-standing multi family units
  3. Attached single family units
  4. Attached multi family units
  5. Duplex units

Residential buildings can also be classified according to the type of envelope (walls and cladding) used in construction. In this regard, you can have the following categories:

  • Brick house
  • Stone house
  • Mud house
  • Timber house
  • Prefabricated/Modular homes:

                    Prefabricated concrete blocks

                    Prefabricated timber homes

                    Prefabricated Hydraform blocks

                    Prefabricated steel homes (steel structure) with:

                                             Aluminium panels

                                            Polycore panels

                                            Fibre glass panels

                                            Corrugated steel/iron sheets

                                            Timber boards

                                            Fibre cement board

                                            Vinyl boards

                                           Gypsum Rhino boards


Most Popular Types of Residential Buildings

In case you are looking for examples (pictures) or wanting to know what a specific house type looks like, the section below is going to describe the most popular types of dwellings found in cities and coastal areas. We are going to show as much as possible, some examples from South Africa – These are bungalows, chalet, villa, patio house, duplex house, apartment, condominium, flat, studio apartment (studio flat, bachelor apartment, bachelorette), townhouse and tower block (high rise apartment).


A typical bungalow is a single-storey house with a rectangular plan, wide eaves and long wide veranda on the front face. Normally, the roof for this type of building is either pitched, hipped or side gabled with a dormer window on the sloping side, especially the front end. The bungalow design is derived from a traditional house built in the Asia Pacific region of Bengal. Bungalows are common in many quiet suburbs of the USA.They are found in the UK and Ireland. Variations of the building exist in Australia and New Zealand. However the term bungalow might mean a totally different thing in places such as South Africa and Canada.

The South African bungalow is a small timber house with a veranda, often thatched and usually built as holiday resort accommodation by the beach, lakeside, river or dam.

A Bungalow in Houston, USA - Source

A Bungalow in Houston, USA – By Euthman Wikipedia


Thatched Bungalow - Hakusembe River Lodge Namibia - Rundu

Thatched Timber Bungalow – Hakusembe River Lodge – Rundu, Namibia, Africa – Source


Timber House Bungalow_design-net-biz

Timber Bungalow – Namibia, Africa – Source


Originally from Switzerland, the modern chalet is a small cabin-like holiday home with alpine roof style. This vacation home is common at beach resorts, mountain resorts, ski resorts and holiday camps. Although small in size, a chalet can be a self-contained unit with a mini kitchen, bedroom and bathing room. The building materials are either wood or bricks.

Chalets at Swakopmund Municipal Rest Camp _ Photo by Janine C

Chalets at Swakopmund Municipal Rest Camp – Namibia, Africa – Photo by Janine C


A villa is a large luxurious house or mansion located on a large private estate or plot in the countryside, by the beach or vacation resort. Villas are usually owned by affluent members of society, hospitality companies and property moguls. A villa is characterized by a free standing residence surrounded by extensive landscaping and gardens. In ancient Rome, villas were grand residences for the high class, featuring courtyards and surrounded by servant quarters and fields.

Villas can be found all over the world, from coastal areas to the countryside. They offer exclusivity and complete privacy because you have the entire plot to yourself.

Opulent Colonial Villa in Clifton, Western Cape - South Africa - On Sale: Price 85 Million Rands

Opulent Colonial Villa in Clifton, Western Cape – South Africa – On Sale: Price 85 Million Rands


Tuscan Style Villa in Price Drive - Constantia Cape Town, Western Cape - South Africa - On Sale: 80 Million Rands

Tuscan Style Villa in Price Drive – Constantia Cape Town, Western Cape – South Africa – On Sale: 80 Million Rands


Patio Home

A single storey residential unit that forms part of a cluster of similar closely spaced homes divided by walls. Each unit has space for parking as well as a backyard patio that may be roofless, shaded or roofed. This clustered community is characterized by common areas which may be extensively landscaped depending on the specification. Patio homes are sometimes known as clustered or cluster homes. They are popular with the middle class in the suburban areas of US towns and cities. In South Africa, this type of dwelling can be found in most low and medium-density suburbs. These are the high income and middle income groups respectively.

Patio House - 3 Bedroom Cluster Home in Lonehill, Fourways, Johannesburg - South Africa - On Sale: R 2 799 000

Patio House – 3 Bedroom Cluster Home in Lonehill, Fourways, Johannesburg – South Africa – On Sale: R 2 799 000 Located in Lanzerac in Secure Complex of 130 units

Patio House - 2 Bedroom Cluster Home in Douglasdale Fourways Gardens in Johannesburg, South Africa - For Rent: R R12,500 per month

Patio House – 2 Bedroom Cluster Home in Douglasdale Fourways Gardens in Johannesburg, South Africa – For Rent: R12,500 per month

Duplex House

A duplex house has two identical household units attached to each other, and separated by a wall, floor, double garage, staircase, lobby, hall or corridor. When the households units are separated by a floor, it becomes a double storey duplex house. Household units which are arranged side by side may be separated by a wall, double garage, hall or common entrance. Instead of a common entrance, the units may have their own entrances. It all depends on the architectural specification.

Note that the household units forming a duplex house can be double-storey units. So you will have two double-storey units in a duplex house.

New Upmarket Duplex Townhouse in Buhrein Estate_Durbanville_Western Cape

New Upmarket Duplex Townhouse in Buhrein Estate, Durbanville, Cape Town North – Western Cape, South Africa – On Sale: R1,549,900



A townhouse is a low-rise terraced house up to 3 floors high, whose side walls are shared with other similar units, arranged in a row along a street terrace. A typical townhouse has its facade closer to the street, with narrow space in between which is often bridged by entrance steps, pavement, gravel, lawn, hedge or flower bed. Unlike apartments, where you can only own your living space within a building block, the occupant of a townhouse owns all the floors in the house. Access is from the front entrance, and this cannot be shared with neighbouring units. Car parking space can be provided in the back space or basement.

In the United States and Canada, long lines of multiple townhouses in a suburban location are usually known as row houses. Townhouses are found in most urban areas of the world, and in most cases, the design features are similar to terraced houses. In order for a residential building to be identified as a townhouse, it must have at least three household units. Otherwise, a set of two townhouses attached together would rather be called a duplex house.

Townhouse in Western Cape, South Africa - Boschenmeer Golf and Country Estate - Backyard

Townhouse in Western Cape, South Africa – Boschenmeer Golf and Country Estate – Backyard


Townhouse in Western Cape South Africa - Boschenmeer Golf and Country Estate - Front End from Street

Townhouse in Western Cape, South Africa – Boschenmeer Golf and Country Estate – Front End from Street


A residential building or housing block with several self-contained household units on each floor is called an apartment block/complex in the USA. The equivalent building is called a block of flats in the United Kingdom. The self contained unit which is only a part of the building is called an apartment or flat respectively.

An apartment is defined by the number of rooms it contains, especially the number of bedrooms. Therefore, whether it’s a 1, 2 or 3 bedroom apartment, it is assumed to have a kitchen, living area and bathroom.

What is the difference between an apartment and condo? A condo or condominium is simply an apartment which is owned by the occupant. Although the term apartment refers to a type of residential building, in real estate terms, it refers to units available for rent or leasing.

A low-rise apartment block has a maximum of 4 storeys

A mid-rise apartment block has 4 to 7 storeys

A high-rise apartment has more than 7 storeys.

Apartment Block, Bantry Place Flat in Cape Town South Africa

Apartment Block, Bantry Place Flat in Cape Town South Africa

Studio Apartment/Bachelor Flat

A studio apartment is a small self-contained unit where the only rooms are the main room and the bathroom. The main room functions as the bedroom, kitchen, dining and living room. The kitchen area will have built-in kitchen cupboards and sink. Built-in wardrobes are found in the bedroom area. This type of dwelling is also known as a bachelor flat or studio flat. It is known by different names around the world. Lower-priced flats are smaller and occupants may share a bathroom with one or more neighbours in the apartment complex.

Inside of a bachelor flat

Inside of a bachelor flat

Tower Block

A tower block is a high-rise apartment with more than 7 storeys. Lift installations will be necessary in extremely tall buildings. Tower blocks are features of most modern cities around the world. It’s almost impossible not to find a tower block in a major city, which is either a hotel or residential building. At 425.5 metres high, the 432 Park Avenue skyscraper in New York is the tallest apartment in the world. It has 84 storeys and 104 condos. Finished in December 2015, it took three years to complete the building project.

High Rise Apartment - Hallmark House Tower Block High in South Africa by David Adjaye Architect

High Rise Apartment – Hallmark House Tower Block (Condo) in Maboneng, Johannesburg,South Africa – Designed by David Adjaye Architect – Apartments from R495,000

Hallmark House is a new high rise apartment in Maboneng, Johannesburg, South Africa with approximately 17 storeys including basement car parking. The residential building functions as a condominium as well as a hotel.

Three lower-level storeys are reserved for car parking, on top of these are four storeys which serve as 4-star hotel units, six storeys in the middle section are apartments (condo units for sale) starting at R445,000. The 15th and 16th floors are penthouses. On the rooftop, there is a restaurant, bar, spa and gym. Home buyers and investors have four types of self-contained residential units to choose from – a penthouse, one bedroom apartment, two bedroom apartments and a studio apartment, perfectly suited for bachelors and single persons. There are 109 apartments inside the complex, hotel rooms range from 24 to 45 square metres in size. Apartments are spacious, starting from 35m2, up to 300m2.

The residence offers high speed internet and free Wi-Fi. The tower block is protected 24/7 days a week by security guards and CCTV. Biometric fingerprint verification is required for gaining access. Apartment buyers have an option to let lease their apartments to other parties or offer them for hotel accommodation.