Since America was first colonized in the 1600's and 1700's, the style of homes, especially in the Northeast have changed for several reasons, the economy, new immigration from other countries (i.e. new styles came, but also bigger people), and based on changing laws in local towns a cities (i.e. local zoning laws). Today, depending on where you go in the United States, you will find that real estate professionals label a home on the market differently based on your location. So in the Midwest, a cape might not even exist, and they might have something called Southern Style (who knows what that means?).
When I work with buyers, sometimes they already know the type of home they want, or more realistically, what they don't want. As you start your home search, this guide should help clear up the differences, intended for Fairfield County buyers. I might note, that some alterations or enhancements to the styles won't be covered, for example, 'European' or 'Modern', because you can have a Modern Colonial AND a Modern Ranch. We will stick to the main styles as you see them, and discuss only some variations.
One of the most common layouts in Lower Fairfield County is the ranch. This style of home is simple, one-level living. Typically there is a full basement, identical footprint to the main home. This floor plan was most utilized between the 1950's and 1980's in this area.
28 Arnold Lane, 2 Eclipse Ave, and 48 William Street, all ranches, sold in past few years. These homes are all one level living, the center one being a cottage, i.e. a smaller home all on one level.
Colonial, also one of the most common layouts is defined as having all bedrooms upstairs (on the second level). Most cases there is a basement. Colonials have been built since we colonized America, so they have the most variety in style, for example a Victorian (see below). Most colonials that get sold around here are built in the 1920's/1930's, and then after 1990. Those built in the early part of the century tend to have many of the same upgrades, and the same layout, with plenty of space for a family, though maybe smaller bathrooms and kitchen. Likely, the vast majority of all single family new construction today are 'center-hall' colonials, where you enter the front door, and the staircase up is in front of you. You can go straight through to the kitchen, with living room, dining room, family room, and half bath all on this level.
3 Scofield Place, 89 Spring Hill, and 143 Wolfpit Avenue, built in the 1920's, the 1990's, and the 2000's respectively. You can see these tend to be a bit bigger, but grow as the age progresses.
I use Victorian as the example of a colonial, because they are common around here. A Victorian is a colonial built with certain upgrades and built in a certain time period, typically the late 1800's into the very early 1900's. Their multiple roof lines, third level attic-walk up, and exceptional wood work all define this era of colonials.
Capes, built between the 1930's and 1960's in this area were utilized at the point in time where sub divisions became typical (or splitting of lots of land for more homes to be built), and smaller land accommodated smaller homes. The best differentiator between this and a colonial is that the main level has one of the 2-4 bedrooms, and the upstairs, unless dormer-ed, had the ceiling sloping to the wall.
2 Fillow St, 65 Broad Street, and 7 Tower Drive, all sold between 2011 and 2014. You can see each home is a bit smaller (than a colonial), and all have a similar look with roof lines that meet the first level.
Split-level is a layout less common in the Lower Fairfield County area. When you do find these types of homes, they tend to be isolated to specific neighborhoods, and were likely built because of the lay of the land (as is the determining factor for any type of home). These were most commonly built in the 1950's-1960's. The defining characteristic of a split, is that you enter the front door into the living room (typically), and have the main living space on one level, but in the kitchen and living room, there are two staircases, one up to bedrooms, one down to the lower level and garage, both with about 5-7 steps, so a half-staircase. There might be more upper or lower levels, but this is the typical layout.
Raised Ranch/Hi Ranch
The Raised Ranch is the 'decision home', because you enter the front door and can choose to go up from the landing, or down. Up is usually the living room, dining room, and kitchen, with the bedrooms and bathrooms, down is usually a family room/basement space, and the garage.
Hi-Ranch gets an honorable mention here, similar to a raised ranch, but the staircase comes from the bottom level and goes all the way up to the top level. This is the least desirable (from my experience), of all the layouts.
2 Silwen Lane, sold in 2016 was a raised ranch, with the decision foyer shown on the right picture.
Contemporary style can be considered the most unique of styles, as it also dictates the upgrades to the home, and cannot be categorized in any way. I call this the catch all, but these were most popular in the 1980's, and generally had a lot of nifty upgrades, such as radiant heat in the ceilings, lot of interesting lighting, and big open spaces that weren't typical of any other layout. Sometimes they felt more like a raised ranch, other times more like a colonial. In every case, they were unique, and suited to a specific type of buyer.
This home, 7 Nursery Court, a contemporary, looks unique at first glance. The exceptional roof lines, and interesting interior features, make it something perfect for an artsy buyer.
Though I have seen townhouses name after single family homes, it is rare. Usually townhouse-condominium go together; a condo can be a townhouse, but a townhouse must be a condo. In any case, these are defined by more than one level of living, and seem to be the most common condominium design today, straying away from apartment buildings. Buyers tend to prefer having their own entrance to their space, as well as a connected garage, all afforded by this layout.
35 East Hills, and 7 Seir Hill, are two styles of townhouse condominiums. On the left is a duplex, or two units side by side. On the right, more of an apartment building, but still with separate entrances.
The styles of homes are objective, in many cases. Many homes have been altered from one style to another, or have been added on to, in the case of many capes and ranches. If the city and building department of your local deem it necessary, they will change this classifying feature in public records. Otherwise, typically they maintain their original style.
If you would like any clarification on styles, or want to know more about how to differentiate, feel free to reach out. As you begin your search, know what type of home you are looking for, and that will make it easier on your Realtor. Good luck in the home search!
We (Joe and Chris Balestriere) are Realtors in Fairfield County, Connecticut. Our blog is meant to educate buyers and sellers and equip them with tools to get the most out of their Realtor, whether it is us or someone else. We focus on technology and how it enhances the work we do for our clients--we are not top CT Realtors by accident.