Published February 27, 2013
These days, it’s not uncommon for multiple generations to live under one roof. Whether the economic downturn forced extended family members to bunk together or aging baby boomer parents have prompted the living arrangement, one thing is for sure: Multigenerational living is a trend that is expected to continue, changing the way people shop for a new home.
“We’re seeing a lot more cases of both the children moving in with the parents or the parents moving in with their kids,” says Dick Martin, president of ERA Cape Real Estate. He says buyers planning on living with extended family face a more complex house-hunting situation.
There used to be a stigma associated with moving back in with mom and dad and an unwillingness among older generations to live with their adult children and grandkids, but financial constraints have made people rethink their living situations. According to Pew Research Center, the number of Americans living in multi-generational households increased rapidly from 2007 to 2009 during the recession to a record 51.4 million people.
Shopping for a home for multiple family members can be a long process and experts say the first thing buyers need to decide is how to split the space. Martin suggests asking about whether an in-law suite or detached apartment is necessary, does the house have to have multiple bathrooms, a separate entrance, ground floor accommodations for elderly occupants or is a finished basement? Multigenerational buyers will typically want privacy for the two families and will look for homes that have a basement or separate area.
It is also important to know the town’s zoning regulations when looking to accommodate different generations. Real estate professionals warn that it’s not uncommon for towns to prohibit an in-law suite addition. There are also costs associated with adding on to an existing home that need to be taken into account before buying a home.
Homebuilders have been catching on to this trend and building homes to suit family members of all ages. Lennar recently introduced what it calls Next Gen suites, which are basically homes within a home. These suites are typically 300 square feet to 800 square feet and include a bedroom, eat kitchenette and a living room. They are predominately on the first floor and are found in homes ranging from $200,000 to $600,000.
While Lennar President, Jeff Roos says there have been some issues with zoning, most municipalities welcome this type of construction because it addresses an unmet need.
Figuring out the finances before the home is purchased is also important to prevent any arguments once every is moved in. For many people going the multigenerational route, they are able to afford a bigger home because there is more than one income contributing to the house. Typically one family is on the mortgage and the others will share in the monthly payment as well as the household bills. Determining who pays for what and how much is imperative to making a multigenerational household work.
“You should set up ground rules from the beginning about who will live/share what spaces,” says Jessica Bruno, founder of blog fourgenerationsoneroof.com, who lives with her parents and grandparents. “Keep the shared spaces to a minimum. Do your own grocery shopping and have multiple refrigerators.”
Bruno’s extended family does share meals together occasionally, but still go to great lengths to keep things separate. For instance, they all have designated parking spots and segregated areas for each family. “The less co-mingled things the better,” she says.