What Is a Cape Cod Home?

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By Clever Real Estate Updated April 11, 2024


Cape Cod homes are among the most recognized and loved homes in America. This historic residential architectural style features compact homes of one to one-and-a-half stories with gables and a central chimney.


Puritan settlers built the first Cape Cod-style homes in New England hundreds of years ago.

But in the 20th century, the revival of Cape Cod-style homes, also known as Cape Cod cottages, became extremely popular among middle-class families. Today, these sturdy homes can be found all over the United States.

Cape Cod-style homes are often compared to colonial homes — but have one big difference. Colonial homes feature bell-shaped roofs, while Cape Cod homes’ roofs are triangular in nature.


Traditional Cape Cod homes vs. Revival Cape Cod homes

Similarities between traditional Cape Cod homes and revival Cape Cod homes:

  • Rectangular shape
  • Steep roof pitch with side gables
  • One to one-and-a-half stories of living area
  • Large chimney

Differences between traditional Cape Cod homes and revival Cape Cod homes:

  • Revival Cape Cod homes are much larger than traditional, featuring multiple bedrooms and living areas
  • The second story of a revival Cape Cod home normally has extra bedrooms, while traditional Cape Cod homes use the area for storage
  • Wooden shutters on revival Cape Cod homes are used purely for decoration, while traditional Cape Cod homes used them for weather purposes

British colonists who settled in America built the first Cape Cod-style homes during the 17th century. They were modeled after England’s half-timbered houses and adapted to survive the New England climate.

Settlers built traditional Cape Cod homes from wood and placed a door at the house’s center with double windows on both sides. Traditional homes are identifiable by their:

  • Rectangular shape
  • Steep roof pitch with side gables
  • One-and-a-half stories of living

>>READ: 7 Things to Know About Buying a 100 Year Old House

Revival Cape Cod-style homes made a resurgence from the late 1930s through the 1950s thanks to Boston architect Royal Barry Willis.

Why the sudden boom? Cape Cods were inexpensive to mass-produce as thousands of soldiers returned home from war, searching for homes to settle down with their growing families.

Revival Cape Cod homes share many features with their centuries-old counterparts. A revival Cape Cod home has finished rooms in the second story and large dormers to expand the living space. Unlike traditional Cape Cod homes, chimneys are not placed in the center of the house but are instead placed on one of the sides of the home.

Defining elements of Cape Cod homes

Defining elements:

  • Large chimneys
  • Steep roofs
  • Windows and dormers
  • Shingle siding
  • Simple exterior ornamentation
  • One to one-and-a-half stories

Whether you are looking to buy a traditional or revival Cape Cod-style home, there are certain defining elements these much-loved homes are known for.

Large chimneys

When you think of Cape Cod homes, chimneys are among the first things that come to mind. Chimneys have helped New England families survive unpredictable winter weather for hundreds of years by keeping the house insulated and warm.

Traditional Cape Cod-style homes saw chimneys placed in the center of the home. They are now placed off to one side of the house, typically where the living room is.

It’s important to note that chimneys do not necessarily mean fireplaces in revival Cape Cod homes. These chimneys are used to expel fumes and gases given off from furnaces or other sources of heat coming from within the house.

Steep roofs

Steep roofs are another staple of Cape Cod-style homes. They were designed to shed both rain and snow quickly.

Traditional and revival Cape Cod homes both feature this type of roof.

Windows and dormers

Traditional and revival Cape Cod-style homes both feature uniformly placed windows and dormers.

Each home typically has two windows on each side of the central front door. Dormers are generally placed on each side of the chimney on the second story to open up the attic, bedrooms, or loft upstairs.

A dormer is a roof structure that often contains a window. They are commonly used to increase the usable space in a loft or second story and create window openings in a roof plane.

Shingle siding

Shingles are tapered pieces of wood used to cover roofs and walls to protect them from the weather.

Gray shingles were used to build traditional Cape Cod homes. In the 20th and 21st centuries, stucco, brick, and stone replaced shingles for a more modern look.

Simple exterior ornamentation

Cape Cod-style homes have always been known to have little ornamentation.

Traditional homes had no detailing on the front of the house to keep the look "pure." It’s a feature that transitioned over to revival Cape Cod homes when they made a comeback during the Great Depression.

One to one-and-a-half stories

Cape Cod-style homes are compact and not very big compared to colonial houses, which can feature multiple floors.

Traditional and revival Cape Cod homes are one to one-and-a-half stories tall. The second floor can either be used as space for extra bedrooms or storage, depending on your need.

>>MORE: Find Top Real Estate Agents

Types of Cape Cod homes

Different types of Cape Cod homes
Half cape Features a front door on one side of the home with two multi-paned glass windows on the other
Three-quarter cape Features the front door to one side of the home with two multi-paned windows on one side and one multi-paned window on the other
Full cape Home with a central front door and two multi-paned windows placed symmetrically on either side
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Cape Cod-style homes have changed over the past few centuries, with three distinct home styles now in place.

Half cape

A half cape is a type of Cape Cod-style home featuring a front door on one side of the house with two multi-paned glass windows on the other side. They are also referred to as a single cape.

Half cape homes were considered starter homes for American settlers. They would keep adding additions and rooms as their families grew over time.

Three-quarter cape

A three-quarter cape is known for having the front door to one side of the home with two multi-paned windows on one side and one multi-paned window on the other.

This home-style was the most popular cape in the 18th and early 19th centuries.

Full cape

A full cape has a central front door with two multi-paned windows placed symmetrically on both sides. They are also known as double capes.

Full capes are the most common Cape Cod-style home today.

>>READ: Buy a Home And Save Thousands at Close

Who should buy a Cape Cod-style home?

Pros of buying a Cape Cod-style home Cons of buying a Cape Cod-style home
Save on roofing costs Home can be challenging to cool during the summer months
Compact spaces Adding on to the home can be costly
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Cape Cod-style homes have historically been good starter homes for first-time buyers or young families. Cape Cod homes may also be good alternatives for empty nesters who want to downsize and look for something cozier and more compact.

Here are some things to keep in mind when buying a Cape Cod-style home.

Pros of buying a Cape Cod-style home

1. Save on roofing costs

Cape Cod-style roofs are triangularly shaped and are easy and cheap to replace — thus saving you money in the long run.

The steep roofs are designed with winter in mind so snow and ice fall right off. This means there’s no need to worry about the roof collapsing or leaking because of heavy snow.

>>MORE: How Much Does a Roof Inspection Cost?

2. Compact space

Compact space is what Cape Cod-style homes are best known for. While many would think otherwise, the second floor of a revival Cape Cod home tends to boast a lot of living.

Some Cape Cod-style homes have up to four bedrooms and two bathrooms located within 1,000-2,000 square feet of living space — making it excellent and affordable for starter families.

3. Perfect layout

Cape Cod-style homes feature a rectangular floor plan known for providing a warm, intimate setting with large chimneys, gabled windows, and perfect symmetry.

Cons of buying a Cape Cod-style home

1. Difficult to cool

If you live in a warm climate, Cape Cod homes can be challenging to cool, especially during summer. This is because heat passes through the attic space and into the upper story of the house.

One air conditioning unit cannot keep the entire house cool — you would need units for both upstairs and downstairs, which can be costly.

2. Adding more space can be costly

Cape Cod-style homes are built with a specific layout and design — meaning adding an addition may not be as easy as with, say, a rancher.

If you have the budget to raise the roof height, it is possible to convert the attic into a living space. Converting your attic into a living area costs $8,000-80,000 or $50-200 per square foot. The total depends on how you plan to use the room.

>>READ: How to Add a Room to a House on the Cheap (6 Must-See Tips)

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Ways to finance a Cape Cod-style home

Type of Loan Pros of Loan Cons of loan
Conventional mortgages Good for borrowers who cannot make a down payment larger than 3% Borrowers are required to pay private mortgage insurance
Jumbo mortgages Non-conforming loan limits Require more documentation than other types of loans
Government-insured mortgages Great for first-time homebuyers with little to no down payment There are specific requirements for each type of government-insured mortgage
Fixed-rate mortgages Gives homebuyers stability with the same monthly payments Interest rates may be higher due to fixed monthly payments
Adjustable-rate mortgages Offers a cheaper way for borrowers who don’t plan on being in their home long term Interest rates fluctuate based on market conditions
Show more

There are several ways to finance your purchase of a Cape Cod-style home. You just have to find the mortgage that's perfect for you and fits all your needs as a home buyer.

Conventional mortgages

Conventional mortgages are loans not secured by the government. There are two types of conventional mortgages — conforming and non-conforming loans.

A conforming loan means the loan falls within maximum limits set by the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA). Mortgages that don’t meet FHFA requirements are considered non-conforming loans.

Mortgage lenders require borrowers to pay private mortgage insurance when they put less than a 20% down payment.

Conventional mortgages are ideal for borrowers with:

  • Strong credit
  • Stable income
  • Employment history
  • Down payment of at least 3% interest

Jumbo mortgages

Jumbo mortgages have non-conforming loan limits. This means that the home price exceeds federal loan limits. The maximum conforming loan limit for single-family homes is $548,250 in 2021.

These mortgages are more common in higher-cost areas and require more in-depth documentation to qualify. Lenders will ask for credit scores, debt to income ratios, cash reserve statements, employment history, and an appraisal to confirm the value of the property you wish to purchase.

Jumbo mortgages are best for buyers purchasing high-end homes, have excellent credit, high income, and a substantial down payment.

Government-insured mortgages

Government-insured mortgages are backed by the Federal Housing Administration (FHA), the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), and the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).

These loans are ideal for homebuyers with low cash savings and minimal credit.

FHA loans

Federal Housing Administration (FHA) loans make it possible for borrowers who don’t have a large down payment or pristine credit to buy a home.

Borrowers of FHA-backed loans need a minimum credit score of 580 to get the FHA maximum of 96.5% financing with a 3.5% down payment.

USDA loans

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) backs loans to help moderate- to low-income borrowers looking for homes in rural areas.

The home must be located in a USDA-eligible area and meet specific income requirements.

VA loans

Mortgage loans backed by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) are flexible and feature low interest rates. They are available for current military service members, veterans, and their families.

VA loans do not require down payments or private mortgage insurance. Closing costs are typically capped.

Fixed-rate mortgages

Fixed-rate mortgages keep the same interest rate over the life of the loan — meaning the monthly mortgage payment always stays the same.

Fixed-rate mortgages come in 15-year, 20-year, or 30-year terms. They are best for borrowers who plan on staying in their homes long-term and are looking for stability with monthly payments.

Adjustable-rate mortgages (ARMs)

Adjustable-rate mortgages (ARMs) have fluctuating interest rates based on market conditions. Some ARM loans have a fixed interest rate for a few years before the loan changes to a variable interest rate for the remainder of the term.

ARMs are best for homebuyers who don’t plan on staying in their home long-term and are comfortable with some degree of risk.

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Ready to get started? Give us a call at 1-833-2-CLEVER! Remember, this service is 100% free, and there’s never any obligation.

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