Split Level House?

organic_rosefaerieApril 11, 2011


We are looking to buy in an area where there are LOTS of split-level houses in our price range. I can still hear my mother's words ringing in my ears about NEVER buying a split.

What is your perception of a split-level?

Is it a total non-starter, or should we reconsider?


Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

What's wrong with a split-level? There are lots of stairs, so if you have trouble with your legs, I suppose it could be trouble, but that would apply to any house with stairs.

    Bookmark   April 11, 2011 at 8:36PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

We had a split level (not split entry) home once, and I loved the layout. The entry level had the entry, living room, dining room, and laundry (also the garage). A half flight to the lower level was the family room - the kitchen overlooked it, the three kids' bedrooms and bath. A half flight up from the main level was our master suite. Since it was all alone up there it made if feel like a retreat. The only things I would have changed about that house, other than making it a bit larger would have been to add a powder room to the main level, and put the laundry down by the bedrooms.

On the other hand, I have never liked split entry homes - where you enter the house and are immediately faced with stairs going up or down. It just doesn't feel very welcoming to me.

    Bookmark   April 11, 2011 at 9:25PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

LOL.....my very first new home was a split entry, and I agree terriks. It was one of those ultra modern ones (for the time) and the stairs were open so it didn't shoot you immediately into claustrophobia, but it did give an immediate view into the lower family room where we would normally relax and be less formal (and neat) and to me I'd have rather someone at the door be confronted with the more formal sitting room, located just above their eyes.

My step daughter bought a new split level and I will say this much for it. It had a much smaller amount of interior space, but having them on separate levels really made her house look larger than it was.

I'll also say that split foyer, or split levels are not very age-friendly if anyone in your family is in either extreme of the spectrum. Stairs and elderly....ach....stairs and toddlers.......ach again.

    Bookmark   April 11, 2011 at 10:25PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

I'm interested in the topic too. We're selling our house and competing mostly against split-levels in our neighborhood. I've always been led to believe split-levels are less desirable but I personally kinda like them. (I have a colonial.)

The negatives I can see with split-levels are: if you enter through the garage, you have to carry your groceries up half a flight of stairs to the kitchen. All the stairs, can be hard for some people and hard to block off for babies and toddlers. The space is kind of compartmentalized - possibly restricting how you can use it (as far as major remodeling). I find the family rooms are often dark because they are partially below ground. Oh, and I some of the ones I've been in have not had a "powder room" on the main level with the kitchen/dining and formal living room - so guests use the full bath up with the bedrooms or go down to the half bath off the family room.

Mostly, they are probably disliked because they are so 70s. The split-levels in our neighborhood are bigger than the colonials. To me, space and rooms are their advantage.

    Bookmark   April 12, 2011 at 9:14AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

If you really love the house, buy it. But, remember that when you try to resell it, you are probably going to have problems because it is a split level. They make my stomach turn - of course, I wouldn't buy a house built after 1950, so I'm probably not your target market anyway. ;)

I do think that the open floor plan will probably remain popular for the near future, and I doubt the general buying public is about to become more active and fit. People see stairs and think, "OMG exercise?!?!" Or "Precious Sadie/Sophie/Ayden/Dylan might fall down those stairs!" (Although, that's legitimate - babies and tons of stairs are bad news. So, if it's starter home size, you are basically eliminating a large portion of the market.)

How long are you planning on staying in it? If you are hoping to stay for many years, you may accrue enough equity so that any price correction you may have due to the split level can be absorbed. Similarly, you may also be able to get the house for less up front.....

You say there are many other split levels currently for sale, have they been on the market for a long time compared to other homes in that price range? Ask your agent to find this information for you - they have access to historical and recently sold comps.

    Bookmark   April 12, 2011 at 10:41AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

OK, now I'm not sure I know what a split level is. From what you're saying, it sounds like what I'd call a high-ranch.

The Ontario Real Estate Board provides these definitions:

Bungalow = A single family dwelling with 1 level above grade.
Hi Ranch = Single family dwelling with 1 level above grade and the basement level elevated partially above grade, entry is located halfway between basement level and main level.
Split Level = Single Family dwelling with multiple levels above grade, separated by small flights of stairs.

    Bookmark   April 12, 2011 at 11:26AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

There are tons of split level homes in New England. The reasons we ruled them out:

1) They're ugly. They don't build them now for a reason
2) Below grade living space - water and humidity issues
3) Heating and cooling problems with large opening between floors
4) No basement for storage
5) No attic for storage
6) Did I say that they're ugly?

    Bookmark   April 12, 2011 at 12:01PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

The split level home that I had worked because it was built on a slope. The slope went from left to right, so that the garage was on the left at the main level, then the lower level on the right was all above grade because of the slope of the lot.

    Bookmark   April 12, 2011 at 12:10PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Completely personal choice.

I dislike them, my wife does not care so we do not look at them.

    Bookmark   April 12, 2011 at 12:46PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

ottawa - I think a "Hi Ranch" is a split foyer. The split-levels around me have 2 levels fully above grade. You walk in (at grade) and there is your kitchen, living room, and dining room on one side of the house. Half a flight up on the other side of the hosue are your bedrooms. Half a flight down (from the kitchen, often) and below the bedrooms is the family room (partially below grade). Below the kitchen/living/dining room is a basement - or sometimes another finished living area (completely below grade).

    Bookmark   April 12, 2011 at 1:17PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

We had a split level with one bedroom and bath on lower level with washer dryer in attached garage and short stairs to 3 bedrooms and bath upstairs. Combo kitchen and eating area, living room and fireplace downstairs. It was really nice lay out No problem as kids were older but this was in the 80's and very well built and good heating and a/c. We built a split level with one bedroom upstair/bath/office with 2 bedrooms/kitchen, living room,bathroom, dining room downstairs. Sold in 2002 and person who bought it loved it.

    Bookmark   April 12, 2011 at 1:24PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

From a resale persepective, it really depends on what is normal in your market. in my area, in my town specfically, tehy seemed popular, with a few sections that have a whole bunch of them clumped together. Split Levels and high ranches.

my wife really really doesn't like them, we figured that out through our search. I'm not a fan most of the time. We've looked at many and really only came away with 1 i thought was nice.

There are a few different styles by me, front to back splits, side to side ones, ones with basements, and ones without. Most of them were in the midrange size of 1500-1800 sqft and split on different levels made some rooms just too small. Probably the biggest issue we had with them were they didn't seem worth the money, they were pricey and didn't feel large.

    Bookmark   April 12, 2011 at 2:20PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Someone else posted that they don't like split levels because "No basement for storage" ... around here, split levels have basements, high-ranches don't. There are quite a few 60s split levels in my neighbourhood, and they have that distinctive angled roofline. I like these, but hate the look of high-ranches, which are more of a 70s house, and often have that hideous overhanging 2nd floor.

    Bookmark   April 12, 2011 at 4:44PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

My split foyer (hi ranch) had a good deal of unfinished basement area, separated from the finished off section. The garage, laundry room, unfinished section (with things like furnace and water heater could be used for storage) and a full bath with shower. The foyer of course was at the mid-level and the upper level had a full bath, two spare bedrooms and a master with full bath, kitchen, living room and dining ell. It was very open, with rails around the living room and upper hallway over-looking the basement level and also had cathedral ceilings. I suppose it was the precursor to the open floor plans so popular today. It did have excellent traffic flow. That being said, it had a redwood exterior and aside from the landscaping I did (was a hort major) it always did look like a large, red barn to me. LOL.

It was a nice house for busy yuppie parents with school-age kids....but I certainly wouldn't trade my federal home for it now. It did look VERY seventies.

    Bookmark   April 12, 2011 at 6:34PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

We bought a raised ranch, described above as a "high ranch" (split entry, one main level and one semi-below grade level) as our first home. They are cheap and easy to build, which makes them popular in starter neighborhoods. I swore I would never buy a raised ranch but we planned to stay only 5 years and move on. As things worked out we ended up stuck there for 16 years!

Cons to a raised/high ranch:

1. if I entered through the garage, I had to go through a door, meander into the lower level family room, through another door, up a flight of stairs and into the kitchen with all the groceries. Or I could park out front and go up the walk and front steps, in the door and up 1/2 flight of stairs.

2. Upon entering through the front door, the kitchen floor was at eyeball height. Also visible was the underside of any living room furniture near the stairs.

3. As with any small ranch style home, bedrooms were on the main level. I hated that.

4. Because the entry was smallish, it was always cramped and those stairs took a beating.


1. Affordable
2. Works well for couples or small families.

    Bookmark   April 12, 2011 at 10:54PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

No offense to anyone who has one, but I hate them. It would have to be some phenomenal deal for me to buy one.

    Bookmark   April 14, 2011 at 12:04AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Split levels are not the most popular for the reason given above, plus from an entertaining standpoint, large numbers of guests can't be all on one level.

Also, with most, the kitchen does not have direct yard access, which can be a PITA for outdoor activities.

The stairs can also be an issue for many with various health issues, even temporary ones such as a broken leg or sprained ankle; and realistically, the stairs take up space that would be otherwise usable in a ranch or two story home.

Last but not least, for those that have the F/R visible to the eye from the entryway, lounging in PJ's is not as private as it is otherwise.

IMO, all of these reasons are why they waned in popularity. At first they were quite novel and cool, and often a way in which to put more rooms into a smaller footprint, but the inherent inconveniences made the novelty fade fast.

That said, of course such a house will sell. It will just not sell as quickly or as profitability as a two story more often than not, especially if there are many other choices of two story or ranch homes in the same area.

    Bookmark   April 16, 2011 at 11:30AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

We have a Split Foyer that I loved when we first bought it, but not now. I do like that that basement is not completely buried and has full windows.

But I hate the foyer.

The only way I can think to "fix it" would be to build an addition on the front of the house to extend the living room and the foyer. I will have to wait until we hit the lottery :)

    Bookmark   April 16, 2011 at 10:18PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

"1) They're ugly. They don't build them now for a reason
2) Below grade living space - water and humidity issues
3) Heating and cooling problems with large opening between floors
4) No basement for storage
5) No attic for storage
6) Did I say that they're ugly?"

We've lived in a 2200 sf split-level home (split entry) since 1999. I've always liked the house, and I didn't think of the split as being a negative when we bought it (didn't really pay attention). I just thought the house was big and had lots of space and rooms (9 total, 5 bedroom, 2.5 bath).

I have to address to some common misconceptions as indicated by previous comments.

1. Looks- a personal thing. Ours is all brick and looks like a less imposing (read less tall) version of a two story brick home on our 1/4 acre lot.

2. Below grade living space- lovely and cool/dry during the summer heat and humidity season. Safe place to be during tornado warnings. Full sized windows give lots of light. Sump pump and french drain system takes care of any water issues (proper construction).

3. Very energy efficient- our total electric bill (includes heating and cooling) average $120/mo in southern IN. We keep it at 78 day/76 night in summer (with ceiling fans running upstairs) and 70 day/68 night in winter. Downstairs in the summer it average 72 due to the A/C and fan cycling on and off. In winter it's only 1-2 degree cooler downstairs due to the always-on low speed fan with the heat pump. Our highest to-date total monthly electric bill was $190 for January ($.12/kWh).

4. We have lots of storage space in our basement in our big L shaped laundry room. We also have a very large family room downstairs that ends up with kids toys temporarily stored everywhere.

5. In this area, very few homes have storage in the attic above the living space. It in only the very old homes (1880-1920) that have regular stairs that enter the attic. Most area homes, including our, do have attic storage above the garage.

6. Negatives- small entry area for guests saying hello/goodbye. Our garage does not have indoor access to our home, but we do have a covered front porch. Then again, this lack of garage entry means that our downstairs or upstairs is larger because it doesn't have a stairs cutting into it.

Real Estate- accentuate the positive.

    Bookmark   April 18, 2011 at 2:01PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

I forgot to mention one of the best aspects of split-level homes (at least in our area). The price per sf is 20%-25% less than comparably sized 2 story homes.

Value never goes out of style!

    Bookmark   April 19, 2011 at 2:47PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

This is just a warning for resale purposes -

My next door neighbors (in Illinois) recently listed their split and got a contract on it almost immediately. So, no problem, there. However, they are having a lot of trouble with the appraisal from the bank; it came in VERY LOW. The bank insists that only the "above the soil" square footage counts for appraisal pricing purposes. That puts their 1,800 square foot house in the same category as the - very few - 1,000 square foot houses around here. This house has a subbasement in addition to the lower level, which makes it seem even more crazy that the laundry room, bathroom and family room "don't count".

    Bookmark   July 21, 2012 at 10:35AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

When we were house hunting, I had totally ruled out splits, for all of the reasons mentioned here. I told our agent not to even bother showing them to us.

But after over a year of looking with her, our agent called us one day and told us that she'd found our house. She said it was a 1959 split, but to come anyway. As soon as we walked in we knew we'd found it. Even though it was a split, it is large (3600 sq ft), with huge rooms that flow well together. It has an attic, a basement, and no living space below grade. The kitchen and DR open to the yard. It has 3-zone heating/cooling, so it's pretty decent energy-wise. The flights of stairs between levels are small, so that there are fewer stairs than in most 2-level homes. And the LR/DR/Kitchen level can accommodate a slew of guests. Most people who come to our house tell us how cool (and surprising) the layout is.

If I had stuck to my guns on the "no splits" thing, I would not have found our home. For every type of house, there are the nice and the not-so-nice.

    Bookmark   July 22, 2012 at 9:36AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

This topic can be both a regional and personal thing.

Regionally? I'm on the road a lot and can tell you I haven't seen ANY new splits being built around here in many years. They are definitely considered 'dated', because they're almost always 50's tract homes in this area of the country. They're also considered pretty cheap, since when they were built, they were cheap tract homes, made with the cheapest materials available--and unless they've had major and expensive rehabbing are worse now. You're general perception of splits will probably definitely be influenced by the area of the country where you live, and the common opinion of them there.

Personally? (and I'll tell you this is definitely influenced by my age--60's--and our health--me, arthritis; him gout) I would live in a tent or a camper before I'd spend money for a split. Having to go up and down stairs no matter where I wanted to go? No thank you. We bought a rancher a few years back, for just that reason. And as some have said, it's inconvenient to be raising a toddler in one as well. And also sad to have older pets who have stair trouble.

My sis has a split--which, granted, she loves. It is one of the nicer ones I've seen, in one of the more expensive areas of the country--but it's from the 50's. She has no bathroom on the main floor (and no place to put one), so it was hard for her to entertain our elderly mother and aunt when they were alive, because getting them up to the bathroom was a major chore that took several of us. To do her laundry, she had to go up to her bedroom, down the stais to the mail flor, then down another flight of stairs to the basement, across the family room and UP and another flight of stairs to the garage level of the house. Who wants to do that? I have my laundry on the first (only) floor, it's only about 10 paces from my bedroom, and about 1 yard from the back door and deck where I hang clothes to dry.

The thing is, any house is going to have it's fans and also those who don't care for it. With a split, you do have to consider that opnions are going to be 'split' and there is going to be a segment of the population who will never even look at your house when you're ready to sell it--but as you can see, there are plenty of people who love them. For yourself--ask yourself how your health is--is this arrangement going to be a problem in the future? might all those stairs cause you to sell before you really want to? what if you're young and get hurt? break an ankle? or have minor surgery? is not being able to get up and down the stairs going to be a problem? A split level is really not accessible for anyone who might be permanently or temporarily wheel chair bound. Seniors won't buy a split.

For myself? You couldn't give me a split--and no, even looking at a fantatic one wouldn't get ME to change my mind--I've done enough stairs over time, and am ready to use my energies in other areas.

    Bookmark   July 22, 2012 at 3:03PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Those newer splits don't seem to have the disadvantages of the older ones. As someone previously mentioned, I think the biggest negative to the classic split level is the lack of a bathroom on the main level. You have to go up or down to use the bathroom which is inconvenient. If you put a bathroom on the main level, it's no different than a two story with a basement family room, really - in fact, there are fewer stairs up to the bedrooms in a split arrangement than a classic two story.

    Bookmark   July 23, 2012 at 10:17AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

I lived in one for 40 years and raised my family there. it didnt even have a garage. Recently put it on the market and it sold within two weeks. I think other factors such as neighborhoods, locations and lot size are huge factors.

    Bookmark   August 18, 2012 at 8:39AM
Sign Up to comment
More Discussions
what do you do with mail that comes for previous occupants?
I always get mail that is meant for previous occupants...
After months of preparation, house is now listed
This is such a big deal for us, we have been planning...
Exclusive listing?
We are moving out of state in July, therefore need...
Questions for buying a home with a septic system
I just came across an interesting article about issues...
Pond Dye Dumped Into My Pond and Stream... Water Rights Question
I never posted once in seven years, and now I post...
© 2015 Houzz Inc. Houzz® The new way to design your home™