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And Ode to the Split Level

 If you have looked at homes in the Philly suburbs at all (honestly, any part of the Philly suburbs) you've seen several split levels. 

A split level home, to be clear, is a home where you enter into the main floor, with living/dining and kitchen, generally, but the next level, generally bedroom level, is only half a level up, not a full story, and below that bedroom level is a lower "den" level. There are variations on this, but I am not talking about a bi-level home (one where there is no main level - the front door leads immediately to stairs where you have to go upstairs or down immediately). Just to be clear since the nomenclature is often confusing! 

But why am I talking about such a confusing floorplan? Because they are all over the greater Philadelphia area and make up a huge amount of inventory. 

The split level design became popular in the 50s during the big housing boom. Here in rocky PA, they made sense to build into the terrain. 

But as time went on, it proved to be a less desirable style. From the 80s on, I would argue, they began to loose their popularity as larger, more classical (Colonial) styles came back into fashion. 

Often, I hear buyers searches have caveats like "No split levels!" 

But with a large inventory of them in the area, should you limit them from your search? 

In my opinion, split levels get the short end of the stick but are making a come back. In full disclosure, I own and live in a split level home. I have clients and friends who live in split level homes (and bi-levels!). We all love them. 

So what makes a split level a great home? And why do I think they will regain popularity? 

A split level is often the perfect combo of closed and open concept living 

The totally open-concept living arrangement took a back seat during the pandemic when everyone was in the same house and living room hours weren't confined to just after dinner TV. Even before 2020, open concept living was getting some push back as people started not wanting to see their kitchen messes from the dining table or wanted some visual separation in decor. 

A split level home was generally constructed during the mid-century era when modern living was coming into vogue and thus the beginning of open concept, less formal spaces. Even if the original kitchens were closed off from the living space, there often was a open flow between rooms. And many split levels are easy to open the kitchens to dining/living or allow for easy family room additions. 

Conversely, splits have a perfect architectural separation of space. Especially early split level builds in the 50s, when colonial revival was still a thing, we see large door openings between dining and living room and so the space feels together, but can still have visual separation 

Via Houzz

Stairs...without all of the stairs 

Many people want a staircase. Regardless of usage, a staircase evokes charm and architectural interest. So while ranches are having a minute too, many people still want the look of a staircase. Plus, it generally removes the bedrooms (and sleeping kids) from earshot of the tv or kitchen blender (midnight margaritas?). But as many people consider aging in place (or having to navigate very young kids and babies), having only 6 stairs instead of a full flight, makes things more manageable. I know many older adults who were able to stay in their split level home longer than those in a colonial home. 

They can go modern or traditional 

As noted in the closed vs open living, split levels can be modified very well. I personally have a 50s build, and thus it has a lot of Colonial revival elements to it that I tap into. If I wanted, I could lean in heavily to the traditional look at it would fit right in. But many younger buyers love the more modern looks, and split levels, being mid-century builds, can be beautifully done in a modern vibe. As such, I have seen more buyers looking for modern capes and splits than before.  

Adding On 

Like I said, many splits make it easy to add on a family room addition. But there are also a lot of split levels with walk-up attics that can be converted to extra living space without having to increase the footprint (and deal with storm water management issues) of the home. This is a great feature for younger families thinking of expanding in the future for extra bedrooms/in-law space. 

Generally Less Basement Issues 

There are plenty of splits that have completely below-grade basements but many have dens that are only partially in the ground and thus many split levels are good options for those who have had their fill of basement water issues. 


In this crazy market, sometimes buyers have to settle a bit. Maybe it wasn't your first choice of style, but they are more plentiful than traditional Colonial homes in some markets and price ranges. So they are worthy of reconsidering for that alone! 


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