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Housing Types: When a One-Bedroom is Actually a Studio

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Your agent told you that your new condo was a one-bedroom, but your friends insist that it's just a studio; now you feel silly! Let's take a minute to familiarize ourselves with different types of homes, and avoid that scenario:

Single-Family Home (SFH): The most straightforward of the bunch, a single-family home is, as the name suggests, a freestanding home with only one residential unit. In some cases, homes that were previously single-families are converted to two or more units, at which point they lose their "SFH" distinction. In a SFH, you are on your own, and don't have to deal with homeowners associations.

Townhouse/Townhome/Rowhouse: Want a place of your own, but aren't ready to take the plunge on a single-family? Try a townhouse! By definition, townhouses share at least one attached wall with the next-door neighbors. That means at least one less exposure (and less natural light), and it also means that you're more likely to be able to eavesdrop on the neighbors. Some townhouses are part of larger developments, and thus are included in a homeowner's association.

Duplex: In Chicago, a duplex is a unit with two floors (and a three-story unit is a "triplex"). In some places, the word is used to describe a home that's been divided into two units.

Simplex: A simplex has one floor. It seems unnecessary to specify, but many listings mention that a unit is a simplex, to clarify that it isn't a two- or three-story unit.

Studio: A studio is a single residential unit in which the bedroom, living room and kitchen are all located in the same room.

Junior One-Bedroom/Convertible: A studio with an alcove that can be used as a bedroom. Junior one-bedrooms are generally slightly larger than a standard studio, but not necessarily.

One-Bedroom + Den (1BD + Office): In Chicago, a standard bedroom must meet requirements for natural light and ventilation. However, the light and ventilation ordinance doesn't cover "multi-purpose rooms," which includes "a room within a family dwelling unit which may be used as a study, office, multimedia room, or other function normally associated with family dwelling occupancy, and which room is in excess of the essential family needs for living, dining and sleeping." That is to say, you can have a windowless room, but it can't be an official bedroom (even though many people probably use it as one anyway). (LINK:

Partial-Height Walls: To get around the light and ventilation ordinance requiring a minimum amount of natural light and ventilation in a bedroom, many developers of both lofts and new-construction units have adopted the practice of building windowless bedrooms that are separated from the living room or kitchen with a partial-height wall. This isn't a preferable arrangement for most people, but it's perfectly legal.

Garden Apartment: A fancy term for a basement apartment. Beware of flooding.

Penthouse: The top-floor unit of an apartment or condo building. Marketing folks sometimes designate as many as the top five floors of a high-rise as "penthouse-level," but the penthouse is technically only on the top floor. Although a penthouse is technically the top-floor unit of a building of just about any size, it generally shouldn't apply to smaller neighborhood buildings. For example, the top-floor unit in an Old Irving Park three-flat does not qualify as a "penthouse."

Lofts: In the 1980s and '90s, developers converted a number of industrial buildings and storage facilities into residential buildings, creating condos and apartments out of raw, unfinished spaces. Today, loft conversions represent a healthy portion of the residential developments, and some new loft developments emerged in the recent boom. Typical characteristics of lofts include exposed brick, exposed ducts, large windows, large open space, timber beams, and unfinished concrete.

"Soft Lofts": Because of the popularity of authentic industrial lofts, several Chicago developers have constructed buildings that attempt to replicate the unfinished charm of lofts in new-construction buildings. Soft lofts usually have an atmosphere that is similar to that of lofts, with unfinished concrete and exposed ducts, but they often miss the mark.

Bathroom Decimals: In real estate listings, full bathrooms (bathrooms with a shower or tub) are usually represented as a number, and half baths (guest bathrooms that have no shower or tub) are typically represented as decimals. However, different agents have different ways of denoting this. For example, a one-bedroom apartment with one full bath and one half bath can be written either as "1BD, 1.5BA" (Option A) or "1BD, 1.1BA" (Option B). It gets trickier when there are multiple half bathrooms, because if you add a half bath to the Option A, you get "1BD, 2BA," which could be misinterpreted to mean the home has two full baths. In Option B, it would simply be, "1BD, 1.2BA."

Furnished Apartment: An apartment that comes with furniture and basic household items included. Furnished apartments are typically more expensive than unfurnished, but they can be useful for short-term rentals and buyers who have no furniture of their own.

Walk-up: A building that doesn't have an elevator (i.e., you have to "walk up" with your own tender little legs).

Four-Plus-One (4 plus 1): A charmingly hideous style of apartment building that proliferated in Lincoln Park and Lake View in the early 1960s. By definition, a four-plus-one is a five-story building in which the ground floor is a parking lot. According to Forgotten Chicago, because of a loophole in Chicago building code allowing a parking lot to be classified as a basement, four-plus-ones were able to be built on blocks that were zoned R5. The term "four-plus-one" is unique to Chicago.
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