There’s been a lot of buzz lately about the benefits of tiny houses, yet as today’s baby boomers age, they often find themselves looking at larger homes instead.
Why? Because the evolving dynamics of American families and the realities of the modern economy are changing the way folks are looking at – and living in – their homes.
As parents age, grown children are looking for ways to allow them to remain somewhat independent, yet still have access to extra help when they need it. As older children graduate from college to face seemingly uncertain futures, more are moving back in with mom and dad, but the bedroom that sufficed when they were 14 seems cramped, to say the least. Likewise, working single parents with younger kids may find themselves needing the assistance of another family member to provide regular childcare. The solution many families are settling on to meet all these needs and more is multigenerational housing.
Multigenerational housing brings two or more generations of the same family (or an extended family or close friends) together under the same roof. It takes financial pressure off families by combining living expenses and relieves the emotional tension associated with caring for relatives who live far away. Yet how do you successfully combine what are essentially two or more separate and possibly quite disparate family units (retired folks, active families, young singles or any other variation you can imagine) happily under one roof?
We often advise folks to divide to conquer: create open common areas, but separate living spaces that respect folks need for privacy yet are packed with all the essentials. If you’re building a new custom home, it’s often easier to plan for the spaces that you’ll need. Just be aware that these spaces and where they are situated in your home will vary drastically depending on your situation and may change over time. Aging in-laws, for example, may be fine with a second floor master suite for a few years, but eventually may not be able to safely navigate stairs. The reverse may be true if you suddenly find your son or daughter and their own young child back in your home due to a divorce or job change.
Ideally, you’ll want gracious, open common living areas and a main home with all the essentials that you need. Then, create an extra suite for each “family” that you’re bringing into your home that includes a minimum of a bedroom with a seating area and a bathroom. If you have the space, more is definitely better. Consider a separate living space where they can retreat yet still be close. In a perfect world, this suite of rooms would include a meal preparation area with the essentials for them. That could mean anything from a glorified coffee bar with a microwave and mini-fridge for a 20-something young man to a kitchenette for a grandma who enjoys cooking. A small secondary laundry room or laundry closet with a stacked washer/dryer takes the pressure off the main laundry space and helps avoid the hassle of going through other folks’ clothes just to find yours. A separate entrance and space to park extra cars is ideal to avoid having to reposition cars as family members and friends come and go through the day.
Of course, if you are remodeling your existing home, you may not have the luxury of adding all of these options. A qualified, professional remodeler might be able to help you “find” more space in your home than you originally imagined by reconfiguring existing rooms, finishing attic, basement or garage space, reclaiming space above a two-story living room or foyer, or even adding a second story above your existing garage. In these situations, think above the necessities that your family members really need: that might be an accessible bathroom for older folks or a private haven for an adult child. Focus on building those essentials into the space first, then add luxuries as your budget and space allow.
Whether you are building or remodeling, the one constant to keep in mind in multigenerational housing is that things eventually will change. Adult children will move out on their own; your own needs for childcare will diminish as kids grow up; older parents eventually may need more assistance than you are able to provide. The good news is that the situation you are facing is one that more and more families deal with everyday. That means that while making your home multigenerational is a decision you make for your family today, you are actually increasing your home’s desirability and future resale value.