Back in the good-old days it wasn’t uncommon to have what was called “doubled-up households,” that is, homes that had at least one extra adult who was not enrolled in school and wasn’t a spouse or partner living in the home. Often it was a relative from the “old country” renting out a room, or providing house cleaning or baby sitting in lieu of rent. Many times it was an aged parent who shared in raising the kids and cooking meals.
It made a lot of sense then and according to the latest Census results, it’s making a lot of sense now.
According to the Census, in the years from 2000 to 2009, multi-generational households have increased by about a third. A couple of current scenarios are that adult children move home in a tough job market and elderly parents living long enough to be unable to care for themselves and having to move in with their children.
So how does that relate to real estate? It’s my opinion that this is a real force in the curent and near future housing markets, and that homes that can be adapted for multi-generational living will appeal to a growing market and be particularly desirable properties.
If you’re renovating or building new you might want to include these three things:
Privacy but proximity – In design terms, this is called diversity with unity. You might want to include a separate entrance, a first-floor bedroom with wet bar/kitchenette, and a combination sitting room/dinng area. In the rest of the house a large, open kitchen/breakfast room/family room is the ideal layout for shared family times.
Flex spaces – If you’ve ever had an old-fashioned Swiss Army knife, you’ll know that well-designed tools/spaces can serve multiple purposes with a minimal effort to change them. Flex spaces are just that, they are spaces that can be easily transformed to function for different purposes and ages over time. If you’re renovating your living room/sunroom, while you’re at it you might want to consider how to transition them over time into a home office, then a space for an adult child who moves home for a while, then an in-law suite, then back to an entertainment area.
Design for the physically-challenged – When I was in design school many moons ago, the hot idea was to create environments that are usable by all people. It was called “Universal Design”. A few easy things to include when renovating/building that will make it much easier for anyone to get around are: Hallways that are wide enough to accommodate a wheel chair (usually 4′ will do it) with 36″ wide doors; thresholds that are level with the surrounding base plane surfaces (called “zero-entry”); a full bath on the first floor that has a stand-up shower (no tub to climb over to get in), a 5′ square open space in the middle (the turning radius of a wheel chair), and no base cabinet under the sink; and light switches mounted a little lower on the wall (people tend to get shorter as they get older).
Multi-generational living usually requires more space, which is very good news for homeowners with bigger houses to sell. It also requires people to move out of their smaller houses into bigger ones, which is good news for first time buyers looking to get their hands on a starter home. So all in all, I think it’s a really great thing for real estate.