The Shift to Multigenerational Living

As Americans discover the benefits of multigenerational living, builders must rise to the challenge of building for more than one demographic per home

By JULIA REINERT

Different generations living in the same household is by no means a new concept. In fact, there is evidence of this tradition throughout history, and in some cultures it is the complete norm. Defined as a home that includes two or more adult generations, multi-generational living allows for grandparents, parents, and children to experience life together. Americans, however, moved away from this lifestyle for several decades before the economic downturn in the mid-2000s. The change resulted in a return to the housing trend the country had not seen since the 1940s.

When the loss of jobs, high unemployment rates, and the housing crisis began in 2007, younger generations were all but forced to move back home with their parents, often bringing spouses and their own children with them. While these arrangements may have originated from a financial need, it was not long before people realized the additional benefits.

We have all heard the saying “it takes a village.” How convenient it is when that village is centrally located in your home! The need for two incomes, the rising cost of childcare, the desire for a better work/life balance – all of these things further supported and encouraged the continuation of multi-generational households. It may have been years since the downturn ended but this trend does not seem to be changing. Recent surveys show that almost a quarter of the American population is living in a multigenerational home and that number is only going to continue to climb.

Two years ago, I became part of that statistic when we built our current home and included a suite for my father-in-law. Circumstances dictated that he would live with us a portion of the year, allowing him to spend time with his grandchildren, save money on living expenses, and expand his social activity opportunities. When we made this decision, a variety of questions popped into our minds including privacy, convenience, and logistics. It was important that my father-in-law have his own entry to come and go as his schedule dictated, and that he have the living spaces needed to best suit his lifestyle.

As a custom builder, we cater to the needs and wants of our clients. In fact, that is our passion and our priority: to find our buyers the home of their life. If that life involves multiple generations, then we look for options and features to enhance the comfort and convenience for each family member.

In years past, the largest concern when building a multi-generational home was the issue of stairs. While stairs are still discussed, families have become more and more aware of lifestyle changes when merging different generations under the same roof. These conversations have prompted our design team to begin a dynamic list of ideas to consider when we build a multi-generational home, including:

  • Evaluating the home site with consideration to the number of steps and possible ramp locations l Determining whether an elevator, if needed, can work within the plan
  • The location of bedrooms and bathrooms – for example, a first-floor guest suite and/or one master upstairs and downstairs if possible l Installing blocking in shower walls to add grab bars later
  • Keeping hallways wide and installing at least 2’6” doors to bedrooms and baths wherever possible for wheelchair consideration
  • Allowing for additional space in bathrooms when possible to accommodate walkers
  • Adding medicine cabinets instead of regular mirrors for ease of toiletry access l Installing large cabinet pantries and drawers in the kitchen for convenient access to bulkier items
  • Utilizing pulls on cabinet doors rather than knobs, and lever door handles on all interior doors
  • Researching technology considerations such as Alexa, which allows the more mature generations to set medication reminders, listen to audiobooks, and control lights and thermostats. This resource also functions as a communication tool as parents and children can check in via camera throughout the day
  • Educating on smart appliances such as Samsung’s Smart Hub refrigerator to allow people to keep up with busy schedules by posting information, notes, reminders, and grocery lists on the refrigerator door screen
  • Considering sound dampening options when determining a floor plan
  • Adding kitchenette or wet bar features (keep in mind that zoning laws must be researched for this option as some municipalities only allow one kitchen in a home)

Whether you are considering a multigenerational living situation for financial, practical, or even cultural reasons, know that there are plenty of options available to make for a smooth transition and to help ensure comfort and convenience for each generation.

Julia Reinert is the Marketing Manager for Homes By Dickerson. She currently serves as the 2018 Triangle Sales and Marketing Council Chair and on the editorial board of NAHB’s Sales and Marketing Ideas publication. She may be reached at jreinert@homesbydickerson.com