What is a Flat? Complete Guide to this Home Type | Apartment ABC (2023)

What is a Flat? Complete Guide to this Home Type | Apartment ABC (1)

In your search for a rental unit to call home, you’ll come across all sorts of terms. You may find some property listings advertising flats for rent or sale, and others seemingly listing the same type of properties but under the term “apartment.” You may be aware of what an apartment is, but what is a flat?

A flat is a single-story self-contained housing unit that is part of a building complex. The terms “apartment” and “flat” are interchangeable. The “flat” is most commonly used in the U.K. and the “apartment” in the United States.

A flat is basically an apartment, although there may be some slight differences in how the terms are used in different locations. Read on to learn more about what distinguishes a flat from an apartment, the different types of flats/apartments, and the pros and cons of buying and renting a flat.

Table of Contents

Is there a difference between a flat and an apartment?

What is a Flat? Complete Guide to this Home Type | Apartment ABC (2)

The terms “flat” and “apartment” could be distinguished in the following ways:

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Differences by locale

These terms are used so interchangeably that it can be difficult to pinpoint the difference. To make matters even worse, they are used differently depending on the location.

You’re more likely to hear the term “flat” being used in the U.K., so it can sound foreign when it’s used in North America. In British English, a flat is what an American would refer to as an “apartment.”

Any single residence in a building with other such residences will be called a flat in the U.K.

But when the term flat is used in the U.S, it can carry a different meaning. Though uncommon, in the U.S., an apartment that features several suites sharing communal spaces is sometimes referred to as a flat.

Apartment vs. flat — differences in luxury

While considerably a nuance, there is some variation in meaning when defining an apartment and a flat based on the level of luxury of each.

In the U.K., the term “apartment” can describe an upscale, posh flat. Similarly, a resident in the U.S might have a different understanding of a unit referred to as a “flat.” In most cases, if a unit is referred to as a flat in the U.S., it can be understood to mean that the apartment is upscale or more luxurious.

Types of flats

Finding the right type of flat or apartment for you is not always straightforward as there are so many types of units to consider. Factors such as layout, price range, location, noise, and storage space should be considered when looking for an apartment. Here are the different types of flats:

  • Studio
What is a Flat? Complete Guide to this Home Type | Apartment ABC (3)

This is a small unit that features an open floor plan. It comprises a single room that serves as the living room, kitchen, and bedroom, with a separate room containing a complete bathroom. Common variations of studio flats include an alcove studio or a convertible studio.

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  • Alcove studio

This is similar to a traditional studio except for an L partition in the living room, known as a nook or alcove. Most people use the alcove as a sleeping area, and you’ll often find a curtain or wall-off being used to allow for more privacy.

  • Convertible studio or flat

This type of unit has a similar design to a traditional studio flat type, but in this case, the flat is spacious enough to allow the occupant to build a wall and create a separate bedroom.

A convertible flat is large enough to convert an area of the living space into an additional bedroom or secondary space. Alternative names for this type of unit include a convertible two-bedroom or two-bedroom flex.

Keep in mind that some apartments may not allow new walls to be put up or charge a fee for modifications made to the unit.

  • Micro flat

Micro flats are tiny one-room apartments that are approximately less than 350 square feet. They typically feature an area for sleeping and sitting, a kitchenette, and a bathroom. You’ll often find this type of unit in highly populated areas where the rent prices are high for a limited amount of space.

  • Loft

Most lofts have one large, open room with high ceilings. Other characteristics of this flat include expansive, high windows, exposed support beams, and brick – you will often find them in commercial buildings that have been renovated.

  • Duplex

This is a multi-family flat that is made up of two units in one building. Flats in a duplex typically have their own main entrances and often have living spaces on two levels. The two flats will be similar in layout and size.

  • Triplex

This is a single building that contains three flats. These units will feature private entrances as a duplex, contain multiple living spaces, and have an identical layout and size.

  • Co-op

Also known as cooperative housing, a co-op is a flat option that involves a corporation whereby you don’t own your unit outright. Instead, each resident is a part-owner in the corporation based on the relative size of the unit they live in. Typically, you’ll have to undergo an approval process through the building’s board, and there are also rules in place that you must follow to qualify.


  • Garden flat

This is usually a ground floor or basement unit that provides direct access to a private outdoor space. If you want to go for this type of unit, make sure you check your preferred choice in person, as they can often have pest and security problems.

  • High-rise flat
What is a Flat? Complete Guide to this Home Type | Apartment ABC (4)

You’ll typically find a high-rise flat or apartment in a building with 12 or more stories. Residents in this type of building and flat will likely have access to multiple elevators.

  • Mid-rise flat

A mid-rise flat is found in a 5 to 11 story apartment building. Residents in this unit type have access to one elevator. Mid-rise flats are common in an urban setting.

  • Low-rise flat
What is a Flat? Complete Guide to this Home Type | Apartment ABC (5)

You will find this flat type in a building with 1 to 4 floors which may or may not have access to an elevator.

  • Railroad flat

A railroad flat or apartment has a distinct design – it typically features three to four rooms connected without a hallway to form a long, thin rectangle. This type of unit is common in smaller and older buildings.

  • Walk-up flat

A walk-up unit is found in a building that stairs can only access. Buildings with this apartment type are usually smaller and have fewer tenants. Walk-up units can be more affordable, but they are considered less desirable because there is no elevator.

Should you rent or buy a flat?

Depending on the flat, you may have the option to buy in addition to renting. So which one is the best option for you?

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Buying vs renting

When you buy a flat, it means that you can make any improvements you like ( as long as they’re within reason.) When renting, you often need to get the go-ahead from your landlord for most things – even for simple things like hanging pictures and painting walls. Furthermore, some landlords may put restrictions such as a strict no-pets policy, which can be a dealbreaker for some people. That said, renting offers you the flexibility to move once your minimum tenancy period expires, which you won’t have if you opt to purchase a flat.

Rent vs mortgage

If you opt to buy a flat, you’ll likely take a mortgage to allow you to purchase the property. This is a hefty expense, and you’ll often find that a big chunk of your monthly mortgage payments is to cover the interest on the loan itself. This is why it takes a long time to pay off.

Renting, on the other hand, gives you a bit more flexibility in case your circumstances change. If you find that you can’t afford to live in your current flat, you can move to a place that offers lower rent. You also have a wider range of choices when choosing a place to live.

Buying a flat in an upscale area might break the bank, but renting in the same area might be within your price range. On the flip side, paying rent every month doesn’t give you any returns, which is why renting is sometimes referred to as “dead money.” That said, you shouldn’t shun renting especially if it suits you better.

In some cases, monthly mortgage payments could actually be cheaper in the long term than rent costs in the same location. Even though house prices have seen an astronomical increase in recent years, average rents have also seen an upward trajectory while the cost of mortgages has fallen. So it may be worth comparing the average costs for both options to help you determine which is best for you.

Extra cash vs investment

If you are looking for affordable mortgage rates, you may find that you need to put down a deposit. In most cases, you’ll need to put down at least five percent of the value of the flat. Saving money to make a larger deposit could mean that you don’t pay as much monthly, but this is easier said than done. That initial deposit serves as an investment in the flat, which could rise in value as time goes on.

Consider renting a flat that doesn’t have any massive up-front costs. This way, it will be easier to deposit without having to save beforehand. Although it’s standard to pay the equivalent of a month’s rent upfront as a bond, doing this could potentially give you more cash to use or save in the short term. But that initial deposit is typically considered to be an investment in the flat, which could increase in value as time goes on.

Freedom vs responsibility

When you buy a flat, you take on a lot of responsibility. This means that if anything goes wrong in your unit – whether it’s a faulty central heating system or a leaking roof – it’s up to you to fix it. This can sometimes cost you dearly.

As a renter, it’s your landlord’s legal responsibility to handle these kinds of issues if they arise.

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If DIY is not your thing, or you can’t afford to cover the costs for these kinds of repairs, then being a tenant might be a better fit for you.

Final thoughts

If you’re looking to rent (or buy) a flat, it may be useful to do your research to be fully aware of the type of housing unit that the term is referring to. This article provides you with handy information on what you need to know about flats.


What is a flat style apartment? ›

The flat is a British English term, whereas Apartment is an American English term. A Flat has one storey most times, and an Apartment can be multi-storeyed. A flat sometimes refers to low/middle-class accommodation, while an apartment refers to luxurious and refined living.

Why is an apartment called a flat? ›

The etymology of flat originates from the Old English word “flett,” dating back to the 1300s. The term means level and in one plane, which nowadays relates to many different things, such as a deflated tire, lying prone, and a dwelling on one story. Hence, the term flat is used to describe a one-level apartment.

What is the difference between a house and a flat? ›

A house may be better for end-users but will involve higher capital expenditure and will also offer greater returns. A flat offers limited customisation options but has a lower cost of acquisition and maintenance also and is easier to liquidate.

What is the difference between a flat and a condo? ›

In a physical state, apartments, flats and condominiums are more of the same. The term 'apartment' is mostly used in American English, 'flat' in British English, and 'condominium' in Canadian English.

Is a flat better than an apartment? ›

As you could read above, there is almost no difference between the two types of properties. They have a different name depending on where you are: in the US is called “apartment” and in the UK it's called “flat”. If you do a search on google like “flats for sale” or “apartments for sale” you will see the same results.

Is flat a good option? ›

With a flat, you can only enjoy limited modification or expansion as the structure is already built. Since there is a limited supply of land or plots, they have a better value than flats and have a greater appreciation rate. As a flat or apartment is prone to deteriorate over time, its value decreases.

What makes a property a flat? ›

A flat is defined by section 101 of the 1993 Act as a separate set of premises (whether or not on the same floor) (a) which forms part of a building, and (b) which is constructed or adapted for use for the purposes of a dwelling, and (c) either the whole or a material part of which lies above or below some other part ...

What do Americans call a flat? ›

In American English, a set of rooms like this is usually called an apartment. This word is also used instead of flat in British English to give an impression of luxury. It is a six-story building with 20 luxury two- and three-bedroom apartments.

Where do people call apartments flats? ›

Those in the U.S. call their place an apartment and those in the United Kingdom call their place a flat.

What does flat mean in housing? ›

A flat is the British English equivalent of the word apartment. A flat is a single-family suite of rooms including a kitchen and at least one bathroom situated in a building with multiple such suites, a flat is generally a rental property.

Why living in a flat is better? ›

Living in an apartment can bring benefits such as better affordability, less maintenance, plenty of amenities, extra security, savings on insurance and greater flexibility to afford to live in a location you prefer.

Is a flat an apartment or condo? ›

In American English, apartments are located in apartment buildings. In British English, flats are found within a block of flats. The American condo or condominium is akin to the British owner-occupied flat. A studio apartment is closest in comparison to a bedsit, whereas a duplex is most like a semi-detached house.

What's the difference between a townhouse and a flat? ›

The main difference between a townhouse and an apartment is its structural management and organization. Townhouses are free-standing and give the impression of being a traditional house. An apartment is a unit in a larger building that encompasses a community all inside the same walls.

Which is better apartment or condo? ›

Condo owners can do almost anything they want with their unit, within the bounds of the association rules. In the same vein, they are also responsible for any repairs that need to be done in their unit. Apartment tenants have little say in what they can and cannot do with the unit simply because they don't own it.

Is it cheaper to live in a flat or a house? ›

Generally speaking houses are more expensive. They have more space, less noise etc. Flats are also usually leasehold so have the burden of ground rent and service charges. If you can find a freehold house for the same price as a leasehold flat I'd choose the former everyday of the week.

Is renting a flat expensive? ›

In the central borough of Westminster, the average flat rental has leapt to £3,971 per month, an increase of nearly a third since 2021, according to research by Hamptons.
Cost of renting in every London borough.
BoroughAverage monthly rentAnnual change %
32 more rows
Sep 7, 2022

Is it worth buying apartment flat? ›

Earning a passive income: Everyone loves an income-generating investment over and above an asset that appreciates over time. Honestly, any investor enjoying a steady rental yield from a residential property will never ask himself/herself, 'Is buying an apartment a good investment'; they will already know that it is!

What questions to ask when buying a flat? ›

Top 10 most important questions you must ask when buying a flat
  • Find Out How Long The Lease Is. ...
  • How Much Is The Ground Rent? ...
  • Will The Maintenance Be Costly? ...
  • Does The Flat Have A Lift? ...
  • Does The Building Have A Flat Roof? ...
  • What Managing Agent Owns The Flat Block? ...
  • Who Is The Freeholder? ...
  • Buying A Flat With Pets.
Dec 4, 2015

What is a good deposit for a flat? ›

There are no little steps – you open up better deals every time you hit these milestones, 10%, 15%, 20% and so on. When you get a mortgage deposit of 20%, you really start to get attractive mortgages. This means that the recommended minimum deposit size is 20% of the price of your new home.

Are flats hard to sell? ›

Even though it's not harder to sell a flat than a house, as we've depicted above, here are some of the key points that go in favor of houses and explain why they tend to sometimes go up in value faster than flats.

What are the five parts of a flat? ›

Components of a Flat

The rail is the full width of the flat. Stile – side or vertical piece within a flat, which sits between the rails of the flat. Sill – the bottom rail of a flat. Toggle – a support at the middle of a flat, which sits between the stiles.

How many years does a flat last? ›

Most flats have a lifespan of 75-100 years and with proper maintenance, they can last longer. So, you don't really need to worry about a building older than 50 years.

What are the 3 types of property? ›

In economics and political economy, there are three broad forms of property: private property, public property, and collective property (also called cooperative property).

What does it mean when a girl is called flat? ›

(slang) Having small or invisible breasts and/or buttocks. That girl is completely flat on both sides.

What do British people call bedrooms? ›

The master bedroom is the biggest / main bedroom. A tiny bedroom may be called a boxroom or nursery. An additional bedroom intended for guests is called a guest room.

Does USA have flats? ›

Flat is used in British English, and apartment is used in North American English. The exact meaning of the word apartment depends on where you live.

What does a flat look like? ›

A flat symbol looks like this:♭(similar to a lowercase b). Occasionally, notes can also be double-sharp or double-flat.

Do Americans call apartments flats? ›

The only difference is the word flat is commonly used in British English and the word apartment is more popular in American English.

What to call someone who lives in an apartment? ›

A tenant is someone who lives in a house or room and pays rent to the person who owns it.

Do Burglars break into flats? ›

Burglars are often opportunistic thieves who prey on houses and flats. They seek out any opening that they can take advantage of, specifically doors and windows that are left open or unlocked or are easy to force.

Is a flat or house safer? ›

First And Second Floor Flats Are More Secure

With no ground floor windows and the main door protected by a secure communal entrance and often entry phone/video systems, flats are often looked at as being more secure than properties on the ground floor. This is particularly comforting if you are living on your own.

What ways a flat is better than living a house? ›

Is apartment better than house? Due to the smaller size of an apartment compared to a house, less gas and electricity will be used to heat it. Also, apartment building tends to be compact, which means you can spend less on heating during the winter, and newer buildings are more energy efficient.

What are the 4 types of housing? ›

You can also send a property request.
  • Mansion. A mansion is a very big luxury home, often upwards of 5,000 square feet in size. ...
  • Bungalow. A bungalow is typically a one-storey home, cottage or cabin. ...
  • Apartments or flats. ...
  • Penthouse. ...
  • Terraced house. ...
  • Semi-detached house. ...
  • Detached house. ...
  • Duplex.
Nov 23, 2019

How does living in a flat work? ›

Leasehold ownership of a flat is simply a long tenancy, the right to occupation and use of the flat for a long period – the 'term' of the lease. This will usually be for 99 or 125 years and the flat can be bought and sold during that term. The term is fixed at the beginning and so decreases in length year by year.

How does a lease on a flat work? ›

Under a lease, the tenant is granted exclusive possession of a property for a time period specified in the contract. A lease is defined under Section 105 of the Transfer of Property Act 1882. Whereas under a license, an owner permits another party to use their immovable property for certain purposes.

What things to check before buying a flat? ›

9 Important Things to Remember Before Buying Flats
  • Property Price: The first step in selecting a house or a flat is to fix a budget. ...
  • Flat's Carpet Area: ...
  • Land Record: ...
  • Legal Check of Property: ...
  • Apartment Possession: ...
  • Financing Banks: ...
  • Builder-Buyer Agreement: ...
  • Location of the Flat:

Do flats go up in value as much as houses? ›

Houses usually grow in capital value more than flats. This is because flats are more likely to be leasehold, and in time, the lease term diminishes, which makes a flat harder to sell. The capital gain will depend on what type of house you buy.

What is the purpose of a flat? ›

Purpose built flats are flats which have been constructed from the beginning as flats rather than flats which have been converted from what was originally, for example, a Victorian house or other building.

Is flat a residential property? ›

A flat is a single residential unit on a single floor, while an apartment is one where you have several residential units on a single floor. This means, flats have only one residence owned or rented out on a single floor, while an apartment may have a mixed bag of 1BHK, 2BHK, 3BHK etc. residential units.

Is a flat a property? ›

Their name, rather unsurprisingly, comes from the fact that flats are mostly single-level residential properties comprising of a set or rooms all located on one floor.

Is flat a residential or commercial? ›

Apartments, flats, duplexes all come under residential properties. Hotels, godowns, startups make up for commercial real estate.

Why living in a townhouse is better? ›

While you'll get the maintenance benefits of high-rise condos, townhouses also offer the benefit of much more space and flexibility than a condo suite. Indoors, you'll get a multi-level home with multiple, reasonably-sized bedrooms, full bathrooms, a living room, kitchen, and, potentially, a basement.

Is it better to buy a house or rent a house? ›

Renting provides much more flexibility. However, if you have returned to the office, either full-time or partially, and assume you'll remain in your current job for a few years, then buying might be wiser. A common rule of thumb is if you plan to stay in the home for five to seven years, then buying is a good option.

What is a townhouse called? ›

A townhouse, also called a townhome, is a type of house that has multiple floors and shares at least two of its walls with other residences. These buildings are often tall yet thin and attached to other townhomes in a long row. They're most popular in urban and suburban areas.

Does condo mean flat? ›

Generally, a condominium is a private residence that is rented out to tenants, it can be a flat/apartment or an independent house. But in modern use 'condo' is referred to apartments and flats only. Plus, condominiums are owned and rented by individuals so renting a condo is more of a personal, one-on-one process.

Do you pay monthly for a condo? ›

Condo fees can range anywhere from $50 to $1,000 per month. The amount of the fee depends on a number of factors including: the size of the property. whether the building is a high-rise.

What is the difference between rent and lease? ›

Through a lease, the landlord and tenant sign a mutual agreement to fixed terms and conditions, such as the rent, rules, duration of the agreement, and so on. A rental agreement, by contrast, is a month-to-month agreement, in some countries, a yearly agreement.

What does flat mean in Chicago? ›

Yes, this is a two-flat...even though it's three apartments. The reason is in the definition: a two-flat simply means that a single apartment occupies each floor of a building.

Is it safer to live in a house or flat? ›

It's thought that you're less likely to be burgled in a flat or apartment when you compare to the risk a detached house, but it's still imperative that you stay on top of your home security.

What does 2 flat mean housing? ›

The term "two-flat" describes a Chicago building type with two separate apartments on separate floors. Many Chicagoans associate the term with a particular style of flat-roofed brick building with a front porch and prominent bay window. Classic brick flat-roofed 2-flat built in 1908 (demolished 2021)

How do I choose a flat for my apartment? ›

So, if you are planning on buying an apartment in a high-rise building, here are 10 important factors you must consider.
  1. Security and privacy concerns. ...
  2. Fire safety. ...
  3. Number of lifts and staircases. ...
  4. Floor deviations. ...
  5. Vantage point. ...
  6. Mobile network. ...
  7. Power consumption. ...
  8. Light and ventilation.
Jan 9, 2020


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