The Five Most Common Types of Homes You'll See in This Area: Madison, Chatham, Morristown, Summit, New Providence and Beyond
Chances are, you've seen a house and wondered: What in *bleep's name* is that trying to be?! (No? Well, maybe that's just me.) In any case, pretty much any home you see is based on one or two primary styles of architecture. And around here, there are a few types of homes that are that are far more common than others. Let's go over a few.
Colonial: This is far and away the most common - and most popular among buyers - style of home. When you think of the traditional, home-for-the-holidays type of place with a spacious foyer, a center-hall staircase, a fireplace in the front room and a kitchen nestled at back, you're 99 percent likely to be picturing a Colonial. These homes almost always have their primary living space on the first and second floors (bedrooms upstairs, thank you!), and most have basements - however, the functionality of the basement is dependent on what year the home was built (remember, people usually weren't asking for in-home movie theaters or wine cellars in the 1920s and 1930s). There are so many Colonials, in fact, that there are complete subgroups of Colonials, including Georgian Colonials, Federal Colonials, Dutch Colonials, and more... And there are Contemporary homes with Colonial twists. It's enough to make your head spin. Most new-construction homes today are based on Colonial architecture, but offer far more "open concept living" vs. traditional Colonials, which tend to have lots of smaller rooms.
An example of a colonial home currently for sale is 16 Armstrong Road in Morristown, NJ: https://www.zillow.com/homes/16-armstrong-road-morristown-nj_rb/39454633_zpid/
Cape Cod: This is perhaps the coziest and most efficient and functional style of home on God's green earth. Originally built in (you guessed it) Cape Cod way back in pre-colonial times, these homes were constructed with natural materials using very little ornamentation and were designed to keep occupants safe from the elements while helping them stay warm in the winter and cool in the summer. Original Cape Cod homes usually have primary living spaces and one or two bedrooms on the first floor, and a stairway going upstairs to one or two bedrooms upstairs. They enjoyed huge popularity after World War Two, and there are entire neighborhoods in almost every town in Northern New Jersey that consist entirely of a few different floor plans of mid-century Cape Cod-style houses. True Cape Cod homes are becoming a bit rarer now, as owners expand them or raze them completely in favor of a more modern "Colonial."
An example of a Cape Cod-style home currently for sale is 16 Kensington Road in Madison, NJ: https://www.zillow.com/homes/16-Kensington-Road-Madison-NJ_rb/39439671_zpid/
Split Level: Hugely popular in the 50s, 60s and even 70s especially among baby boomers, this style of home - with living and sleeping spaces "split" on three different levels - is incredibly efficient and an early-ish example of "open concept living" (with the exception of a kitchen that opened directly to everything else). Picture the house Mike and Carol Brady owned, and you'll think of the quintessential split. You'll know you're in a split-level home if you enter the front door and see living space in front of you, a few steps up to bedrooms and then a few steps down to a recreation area and/or garage and yard. In my experience as a real-estate agent, I find that these types of homes are polarizing - I can't tell you how many people say they absolutely won't consider purchasing a split-level house, and then end up purchasing one, either because they feel comfortable in it (many of us grew up in these homes!), love the floor plan, or find that it's the only type of home that fits their needs in their budget. It's a fact: splits are here to stay, even though no one really builds them anymore. You'll find that certain towns - especially Madison, Morristown and New Providence - have huge developments that consist entirely of splits, and this is because they were developed in the post-war boom when many families were starting to outgrow their Cape Cod and ranch-style homes.
As an aside, you'll often see homes advertised as a "Split Colonial." Please know that this is an advertising trick to get you into a house that you might not otherwise consider, and that anyone who knows even the slightest teensy bit about architecture will chortle when you say you live in a "Colonial Split" or "Split Colonial" or "Modern Split."
An example of a split-level home currently for sale is 128 Noe Avenue in Chatham, NJ: https://www.zillow.com/homes/128-noe-avenue,-chatham-nj_rb/39403332_zpid/
Ranch: The ranch-style home is the epitome of one-level living. It's one of the only true American styles of architecture, and it features living, recreation and sleeping areas all on a single level. Hugely popular after the Second World War, these are still very desirable for people who like the idea of having everything on one level without the risk of stairs, and for those with mobility challenges. With that said, many of the ranch-style homes in this area have been razed or expanded beyond recognition because they're less efficient from a lot-coverage/square footage standpoint than a typical colonial, and you can get more square footage out of a home that goes up instead of out. Land in this area is expensive, and two-story homes maximize the land-to-building ratio.
An example of a ranch-style home currently for sale is 200 Central Avenue in New Providence: https://www.zillow.com/homedetails/200-Central-Ave-New-Providence-NJ-07974/40026057_zpid/?view=public
Bi-Level: Especially popular in the 70s and 80s, the bi-level home is kind of like a hybrid ranch/split level. The best and most immediate identifier of a bi-level home is a split staircase in the entry way - you can either go up to the main living level with living and sleeping spaces, or down to a level featuring a recreation room, and office/bedroom and a garage (usually). While these homes are like split levels in that many people swear that they don't like them, they offer a lot in terms of efficiency and maximize usable square footage; what's usually the basement of a ranch is above-grade in a bi-level. Modern bi-level owners have made some pretty cool architectural tweaks to make these homes more attractive and better-adapted for today's lifestyle, like through the addition of architectural elements like a portico.
An example of a bi-level home currently for sale is 2 Carteret Court in Madison, NJ: https://www.zillow.com/homes/carteret-court-madison-nj_rb/52402969_zpid/
Meg Mullin is a Madison mom, realtor and writer. Feel free to reach out to her for information about buying or selling – she has tons of experience helping clients with both. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or 973-845-8375.