What Is a Home?

A home is a physical domicile or structure in which a person or household resides. In a legal sense, a home is the place of permanent residency where one lives, or intends to return to live.

key takeaways

  • Legally, a home is a person's permanent primary residence—even if they aren't currently living there.
  • A physical location is still legally considered a home if there is an intention to return and the resident has not claimed someplace else as their legal place of permanent or principal residence.
  • A home can determine everything from the taxes one pays to one's citizenship status to the laws one follows.

3 Most Important Factors In Buying A Home

Understanding a Home

While it is full of emotional connotations, a home has specific legal connotations, as it is used to determine many things, from tax liability to a person’s status in the country they reside in. It can also be used to determine which state's probate laws are followed, a state’s rights when it comes to collecting taxes, and citizenship when a person resides in a different country than where they were born.

If a person owns more than one dwelling, like a vacation home or an investment property, for example, their primary residence is the location that will be considered their legal home. This legal status will impact how their taxes are paid on that property, as opposed to their responsibility for taxes on their other properties. There are certain write-offs and deductions that can only be used on a person’s primary residence.

The type of homeowner’s insurance or hazard insurance that a person carries on their home will also vary based on the type of occupancy. Since a home is an owner-occupied property, certain additional coverages apply—as opposed to a non-owner-occupied property, which may only carry a policy that covers the building and not the contents. The latter would be the case with a property that is occupied by someone other than the owner, like a rental property. A renter may choose to carry their own renter's insurance to protect their belongings within the rented unit, but it is the building's landlord who can carry homeowners insurance (or a commercial version thereof)—which would generally cover only the building and its infrastructure.

Although a home may be vacant if a person is traveling for an extended period, or has been hospitalized, the location is still legally considered their home if there is an intention to return and they have not claimed someplace else as their legal place of permanent or principal residence.

An Example of a Home

For example, imagine Mary Smith owns three properties. The first is a beach house in New Jersey. She uses this property during the summer months with her children; in the wintertime, the property remains empty. This is her vacation home.

Her second property is a condominium in New York City. She rents the condominium out to Kate Jones, who lives there full-time, and pays her $1,500 a month in rent. This is her investment property.

Her third and final property is a two-story house in a suburb just outside of Philadelphia. It is where she lives with her spouse and three children. Her kids go to school within the local district, and she pays her state and local income taxes based on Pennsylvania’s rates. This is her home, or primary residence.

Now consider that Mary’s oldest child is ready to graduate from high school and is applying to colleges. New York state offers free college tuition to residents—that is, people who live in the state of New York. Although Mary owns a condominium in New York, neither she nor her kids call the state home. They will be unable to take advantage of New York’s free college tuition program.

However, Kate Jones, her New York condo tenant, is eligible to take advantage of the state’s free tuition. Even though she doesn’t own the property she resides in, it is her legal residence, and she calls New York City, within the state of New York, home.