Colonial Homes Vs Split Level Homes: What is the Difference?

In certain parts of the US, you will find that there are a few different home types that dominate the landscape of the neighborhoods.

Over years and decades, home styles come in and out of fashion. Some are more timeless, and continue to be built throughout the years. Others come and go, as tastes change they are no longer popular.

The colonial home is one that, in many real estate markets, is still very popular today. And it has been for hundreds of years. It has proven to be among the most timeless residential American architecture so far.

Split levels, on the other hand, were very popular for a relatively short period of time. There popularity faded fairly quickly, however they have made a large stamp on the market of resale homes.

So which is “better”? It will depend on your needs, your area and your long term goals for the home. However, colonial style homes are, on average, larger, easier to sell and more expensive.

Colonials are also considered more attractive, with better curb appeal.

However, this not always the case. There are a some split level homes with great curb appeal because of a different exterior look. And a split level home may offer just as much square footage and functionality.

There are also areas where certain styles of split level homes are just as sought after as a colonial. Real estate trends and markets change with each area. This article only accounts for the “average” neighborhood. A split level home is often a great investment, and there are lots of pros to buying one.

Here is more info about both split levels and colonial homes, and the pros and cons of each.

Colonial Homes

Colonial home with white siding and two chimneys. Well manicured yard.
A typical colonial style home. Notice the symmetry and 2 level design.

The colonial architecture movement started in America in the 1600s, when the colonists began to build homes similar to those found in their European countries.

The most common colonial home is the British Colonial. This style is often referred to as just a “colonial” because it is the dominant style in the US, particularly on the east coast.

You can also find Dutch, Spanish & French Colonials dispersed throughout the country. This reflects the styles brought from the colonists from their origin countries. Each style is similar, but varies both in exterior and interior layout.

The most common floor plan is the center hall colonial. These homes are focused on symmetry, both inside and out. You walk into a home with a central hall, and rooms on either side of the hall and a staircase going upstairs.

The exterior has a central door, ample windows and usually grand curb appeal that is considered attractive by many home buyers.

In a colonial home, all of the bedrooms are on the upper level (unless there is a finished basement with an extra guest room) and most have traditional layouts with a defined kitchen, family room, dining room, etc.

Pros of a Colonial Style Home

  • Great curb appeal. Colonial homes are considered very appealing to the eye as you approach.
  • Generally larger homes. You get the benefit of extra space.
  • Consistent buyer demand. These homes have been popular for hundreds of years. So you know demand will be high for resale.
  • Bedrooms and other rooms on different levels. This separation is, for most, a pro.

Cons of a Colonial Style Home

  • Higher price point in many markets. Colonials may not be a starter home as they are usually the higher end of many markets.
  • Rarely main level bedrooms. Unless the home has been modified, the bedrooms are all upstairs. This can be a challenge for older homeowners.

Split Level Homes

A split level home with vinyl and brick siding and a 1 car garage.
A split level home, you can see to the right of the front door where the level splits to an upstairs and downstairs..

The split level home was born out of the ranch/rambler style home, which are 1 story homes. Split levels were first constructed in the 1950s, and were built in suburban areas through the 1970s.

Builders began to build split level homes to get more square footage into the suburbs while still keeping prices relatively low.

The homes generally feature a main level and then an upstairs and downstairs area separated by half levels. This meant more square footage than a typical 1 level home.

The floor plans are usually more open, and have a partially below grade den area in the basement.

The styles and location of the half levels vary, some have the bedrooms upstairs and others on the main level. A split foyer walks into a landing, and then you immediately either walk up or down steps.

The exteriors are not as grand as colonials. However some split foyer homes mimic the 2 level look.

Pros of a Split Level Home

  • Affordability. In most (maybe all) areas split level homes have a lower price point than a colonial home.
  • Separation. Many of these homes have multiple areas to hang out, entertain, etc. The half levels give you some buffer.
  • More open floor plan. Split level homes were inspired by architects that design more open concepts, so you will see that here.

Cons of a Split Level Home

  • Less demand. There are many buyers who do not want split levels, so resale of these homes can take longer. I discussed tactics for selling a split level recently in an article for the Redfin blog.
  • Feel a bit broken up. Some buyers find their are too many stairs to move freely around the home.
  • Weaker curb appeal. These homes are not considered as attractive on the exterior as other home types.

What About New Construction Homes?

Or, in other words, how common are these styles today?

You will be hard pressed to find a new construction split level home. Starting in the 1980s, the style faded.

However, because of how popular that they were for a couple of decades, there are lots of split level homes still being sold as resale and lots of happy homeowners who live in them. This is especially true in the suburbs.

Colonial style homes are still constructed to this day, and have been a timeless piece of residential architecture in the US.

Although the colonial style may see some changes, especially to interiors, the classic look is likely here to stay.


Colonial homes have been popular for a very long time, and although the number of new construction colonial style homes goes up and down, the style is still popular.

Split level homes were wildly popular between in the 1950s-1970s, however are no longer built outside of possibly some very unique custom homes.

Split level homes and colonial homes still represent a large portion of the resale home market, and there are benefits and drawbacks to each.

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Will Rodgers

Will Rodgers is a real estate expert, creator of this site and partner at the Alper Real Estate Group. Will has been sought after by many major publications for his expertise and creates sought after content for buyers, sellers and investors.