What Makes a Home a House ... or a Unit ... or a Villa ...

Explore the nuances of Melbourne's housing terminology: House, Townhouse, Unit, Terrace, and Villa, and find the right dwelling for you when relocating.

3 min. read

Recently I stayed in the Northern Territory outback town of Mataranka where I visited a replica of the homestead Jeannie Gunn wrote about in her autobiographical book, “We of the Never Never” published in 1908 and since become an Australian Classic.  Originally called a ‘novel,’ the book was actually an account of Jeannie’s short 13-month stint at the Elsey Homestead where she relocated with her husband Aeneas Gunn when he became Station Manager at the Elsey Station in 1902.

In the early 1980s, a film was made of the book and this replica homestead was built especially for the film, and still stands as a tribute to the life and spirit of Jeannie Gunn.

It was courageous for a Melbourne girl, living in the gentile suburb of Hawthorn to drop everything to move to the harsh and unknown outback for her husband’s career.  Less courageous now I suppose for my relocation clients who are moving to Melbourne, often a place they are not at all familiar with but which is not altogether too different from their current place of residence!  

And seeing this homestead reminded me of the confusion surrounding the different names homes are given in rental listings in Melbourne!  House, Townhouse, Villa, Unit, Terrace …. what on earth is the difference between them?!

Glad you asked.


This is a freestanding home with no other residents involved and with a larger amount of private outdoor space.  

Some houses are semi-detached which means they share one wall and a common roof with a neighbouring house.  Usually these would have a smaller garden and a passage down one side of the house.

A Terrace is similar to a semi-detached house, except there is no passage between it and the neighbouring houses on either side.  Terraces are rows of similar-looking homes attached to each other by a common wall on either side, something more frequently found in inner city suburbs.


This is usually a multi-level - most commonly two floors - dwelling which shares at least one wall with their neighbour.  It’s usually built as one of a series of homes, all owned on a Strata Title.

“Strata Title” means the common property - usually driveways, gardens and/or visitor parking area - is shared among all residents.  This common property is usually managed by a legal entity known as an Owners Corporation made up of all the owners of the homes on the Strata Title, and any maintenance/renovations work needs to be consulted with other owners prior to being completed.


This can be confusing!  “Unit” can mean flat or apartment, and found in a multi-storey building containing similar apartments/flats/units, all usually under ‘Strata Title’ as mentioned above.

“Unit” can also be an independent self-contained house inclusive of small garden/courtyard – in fact something similar to a villa (see below).


This can be just a marketing ploy to make the home sound more special than a unit 😊.  Villas are always a single-storey residence and tend to be larger than ground floor apartments.  They normally share a common wall, and are usually also under Strata Title.

Right, now you just have to choose which dwelling is the right one for you!