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Retirement: Multi-Generational Housing Trends

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November 6, 2015
One roof, many generations

Editor’s note: In this two-part senior housing series, we look at homes targeted to solve retirement and multi-generational living challenges. These include tiny homes, planned communities, and sprawling multi-generational homes built to house both boomerang kids and elderly parents. Read part one.

Independence is an enduring American value. For decades, many families accepted (and often welcomed) children leaving home at age 18 to make their own way at college or to join the workforce immediately after high school. Likewise, few elderly parents moved in with their grown children; instead, most moved to assisted living environments or nursing homes. Until recently, it was rare to find a home with young adults, parents, and grandparents all under the same roof. However, economic circumstances are changing social norms and housing trends in interesting and creative ways.

All in the Family

In the U.S., multi-generational family households—two or more adult generations living under the same roof—are on the rise. According to the Pew Research Center, in 2012, about 18% of the U.S. population lived in a multi-generational family home, up from 12% in 1980.

“Historically, it was more common for seniors to live with their children for financial reasons and a lack of nursing homes,” said Stephen Melman, director of economic services for the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB). “Today, when our elders have health problems, family members are increasingly stepping in because we still haven’t solved the problem of quality, affordable senior housing.”

There’s a large and growing group of Americans in the 40-to-60 age demographic caring for aging parents nearby or supporting their parents from a distance. Sometimes dubbed the “sandwich generation,” this group is confronted with the triple challenges of paying for college, contributing to their own retirement, and funding elder care costs. The current multi-generational housing trend can also be partially attributed to adult children returning home—so-called boomerang kids. Millennials may live with parents thanks to delayed employment, hefty student loans payments, fewer affordable living choices, or a combination of factors.

The More, the Merrier?

The National Association of Realtors (NAR) notes that 13% of recent homebuyers purchased a multi-generational home. Even more interesting, 21% of those in the 50-to-59 age group purchased a home to accommodate adult children (37%) and aging parents (28%).

Overall, between the NAR’s 2007 and 2013 Survey of Buyers' Home Features Preferences survey, buyers placed a much higher value on homes with separate living suites and floor plans.“ The demographics are fascinating,” said Jessica Lautz, director of survey research and communications for NAR. “Our home feature survey in 2013 found that 20% of buyers were willing to pay more than $2,900—our highest dollar amount in the survey—for a dual master bedroom or dual master suite.” 

Home builders are keyed into this trend. National builders have introduced floor plans that put the traditional mother-in-law apartment to shame. They feature main homes with additional suites containing amenities like kitchenettes, private entrances, laundry facilities, or porches. Beyond retrofitting an existing home, families needing flexibility and privacy can choose from many options on the market.

“Lennar and PulteGroup are just two builders that offer larger home models built to provide separate living areas for boomerang kids and seniors,” added Melman. “But as the millennial share of home purchases hopefully increases during the economic recovery, we may see an increase in homes built to fit the needs of first-time buyers, as opposed to larger homes with separate spaces for aging parents or adult children."

Privacy with Proximity

Not everyone is interested in a sprawling, multi-generational home. As covered in part one of the senior housing series, niche builders are helping families solve senior living challenges with specialized, tiny, temporary homes. Some, like Elder Cottages in Pennsylvania, are designed to be stand-alone dwellings. “I built our first prototype for an elder cottage in the 1980s to help give seniors an affordable way to live independently, but near caregivers,” said Ed Guion, retired founder of Elder Cottages. “With small homes like these, we can start to solve senior housing problems as long as we can overcome hurdles from planning and zoning commissions.”

Other homes are small units built on RV platforms that can be placed temporarily to allow aging seniors to live on a relative’s property. Nancy Vavrina just purchased a temporary Drop HomeTM from NextDoor Housing to help care for her mother, Jeanne. Recently diagnosed with early stages of Alzheimer’s, at age 76, Jeanne needs assistance, but wasn’t excited about losing her independence or taking on the expense of a memory care facility. Nancy and her husband had already welcomed their daughter and two grandchildren back home, leaving no extra room for Jeanne.

“A Drop Home just makes sense for us, because we live in the country and can easily park the home on our property. Plus, at around $55,000, the home is far less expensive than a nursing home,” said Vavrina. “I just love that we can all live close to each other. I can keep an eye on her, and we hope seeing her great-grandchildren will help keep her young.”

What’s Next for Flexible Housing?

As more American families look for ways to help young adults start their lives and care for senior parents, it will be interesting to watch the housing industry evolve. No matter what, there is a demand for homes built to accommodate multi-generational families or seniors with a variety of lifestyles and tastes.

Hands-On Retirement Planning

Retirement planning isn’t a set it-and-forget it proposition. Your plans take thoughtful care, and the help of professionals.

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