The Difference Between a Family Room and a Living Room

Though their uses are similar, there are distinct differences between a family room and a living room—especially when it comes to buying or selling your home.

Do you know the difference between a living room and a family room? Maybe it’s just semantics, but the meaning behind these terms and the functions we assign to them matter a lot when you’re listing your home or looking to buy.

We’ll go over the differences between a living room and a family room and explore how you can leverage each in your listing for a better sale price. 

farmhouse style room modern furniture
Nathan Schroder Photography

What’s the Difference Between a Family Room and a Living Room?

Fun fact: Better Homes & Gardens was the first to write about family rooms all the way back in 1944. American homes have certainly changed since then.

“These days, there is a singular major difference between a family room and a living room and that is … you. It’s more about your decision about how you want to live in your own home than ever before,” says Andrew Pasquella, a Realtor with Sotheby’s International Realty.

Of course, just because we’re using our homes differently doesn’t mean the definition has changed. Living rooms and family rooms still have different purposes.

“Historically, the family room is the place to let your hair down and get comfortable,” Pasquella says.

This is the room where you let guests rest their feet on the ottoman and cozy up with a blanket on the couch.

“It’s commonly where you have the TV or other media devices, and where you vacuum the most popcorn spills,” Pasquella says.

white living room with natural and blue coastal accents
Joyelle West

The living room, on the other hand, is a bit more formal. Think of it as a type of reception area where you might have cocktail parties or visit with neighbors.

“The decor is usually less lived-in than the family room, with clean lines and everything in its place. These are the rooms you were conditioned to stay out of when you were little,” Pasquella says.

Maybe your home has both a living room and a family room, but chances are you’ve tweaked the use of these rooms over time. Maybe you’re working from home now and the living room now has a computer setup and a desk treadmill. Or perhaps you’ve added a TV to both rooms. Maybe one area is dedicated to your toddler’s toys, while the other has a TV for the family movie night: It’s normal for your use of these spaces to change, and because (layout-wise) they’re pretty much identical, the same room might function as each of these spaces over time.

As lifestyles and aesthetics age, though, so do our homes. Jessica Reinhardt, Realtor and Denver Metro Association of Realtors chair, says many older homes have both rooms, but newer homes might not.

“As construction changes, some newer homes only have one ‘great room,’” she says.

Matt Metcalf, CEO of Mile High Home Pro, says having both rooms may have been a status symbol, but as lifestyles have changed, many homeowners have defaulted to primarily using the family room. Now, with some shifting back to more defined spaces in their home, we may see a resurgence of the separate family room and living room.

Whatever the case, it’s good to know what each term refers to in a listing, whether you’re looking to sell or buy.

Living Rooms and Family Rooms in Home Layouts

Living and family rooms are often separated in the home by another room, either a kitchen or a dining room.

“Typically, you would find traditional living closer to the front of the house, often next to a formal dining space, as those spaces complement each other when hosting parties, while a traditional family room will be further into the house and closer to a kitchen for easier popcorn transportation,” Pasquella says.

Having the living room up front is strategic, too.

“Living rooms are designed towards the front of the house. The purpose of this room is to showcase the best of the house in a more formal way,” says Alex Capozzolo, co-founder of Brotherly Love Real Estate. These rooms are usually a bit bigger, too, because they contain more furniture: think sitting areas, pianos, buffets, and armchairs.

Family rooms might be tucked away at the back of the house for the same reasons.

“Family room is a personal space that family members generally use for their day-to-day activities. These are usually located in the back of the house and serve as comfort spaces,” Capozzolo says.

You’ll notice a few architectural differences between the two, though this has changed over the years.

“Many homes will have spaces for both a family/hang-out space and a more formal living room, but the rules have changed,” Pasquella says. “With modern architecture and open space living came the blurring of the lines of clearly delineated rooms. In higher-density areas where space is at a premium, the living and family room may be one and the same. For homes that have the space, it’s still a common room to have, but many have turned the volume down on the formalness and use it as an alternative space to hang out for a change of scenery.”

Mancini home tour living room
Melanie Acevedo

Living Rooms, Family Rooms, and Real Estate

If your home has one of each, be sure to play that up in the listing! More space is always a bonus, and it’s helpful to buyers if you describe a potential use for each room that helps them to envision their life in the space.

“Homes with a living room and family room will generally be larger, and that extra square footage could add up to extra value. Square footage can be one of the most valuable elements of a home,” Pasquella says. “Buyers view more square footage as a larger blank canvas to put their own fingerprint. More square footage also can mean a simpler remodel opportunity that avoids costly and time-sucking permitting and construction.”

Capozzolo says homes with both rooms are typically bigger overall and get a better price.

“Both spaces could add a 15% increment to the overall value,” he said.

You might also consider getting staging advice from your real estate agent to differentiate uses for each room. They might suggest leaning into the formal aspect of a living room by removing your TV and adding armchairs, for example. You might also play up the informal and inviting aspect of your family room with bean bags or a display of board games.

Reinhardt says you don’t need to stick with those uses when marketing your home to buyers, though: You can think creatively, too.

“Previous generations used to entertain in the living room in a more formal setting,” she says. “I think younger generations tend to use the extra room more for whatever fits their needs, i.e., an office, a playroom for kids, or an additional space for people to gather in.”

Think of how a new buyer might want to use the spaces in a more flexible way.

“A buyer may see both a living room and family room listed in the MLS, and to them, that could mean ‘two rooms for whatever use we want’ vs. the traditional meaning behind both rooms,” she says.

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