A little over a year ago, The New York Times published an interesting article about a trend in home design that we found encouraging when we encountered it: new homes specifically designed for multi-generational living. While this kind of lifestyle isn’t for everyone, the appeal definitely appears to be on the rise. We thought we would take another look and see what else is new with this housing trend. (Click here to read the Times article from 2016. It just might give you and your family some ideas.)
Interestingly, the New York Times article featured a family right here in the Pacific Northwest, who purchased a new multi-generational home in Spanaway, near Tacoma. This family includes a couple in their mid-60’s and a son and daughter in law in their 40’s. There’s also a grandson, age 21. Sounds like a crowded home and a recipe for tension doesn’t it? But because this home was specifically designed for more than one generation to live happily and privately under one roof, everyone lives in harmony.
According to the Times, nearly 57 million Americans lived in multi-generational homes in 2012, or about 18 percent of the total population. That’s a jump of about 10 million from 2007. (Back in 1980, says Pew Research, the number of people living in multi-generational homes represented only about 12 percent of the population.) Part of the reason for this big jump in shared living space is economic, in the aftermath of the recent recession. The Times article quoted a senior economist from Zillow who explains, “People lost jobs, and with tighter household budgets, a lot of homes consolidated. We’re seeing more children living with their parents and elderly parents moving in with their adult children.”
But saving money is only part of the story: many multi-generational homes include a tantalizing array of amenities. The new style of next generation homes offer much more than a “granny hut” or mother-in-law apartment. The home designs spotlighted in the Times piece “provide a separate entrance way, bedroom, living space, bathroom, kitchenette, laundry facilities and, in some cases, even separate temperature controls and separate garages with a lockable entrance to the main house.” The Times added with a note of irony, “Family members can live under the same roof and not see one another for days if they so choose.”
We wanted to see if there’s anything new in this multi-generational housing trend so we checked out this more recent article from a building trades website called Builder Online. It pegged the total number of people living with multiple generations under one roof at closer to 20 percent today, and said that the trend continues to expand even as memories of the recession of the last decade start to fade. “There are many reasons why Americans choose multi-generational housing,” this article states, “ranging from personal lifestyle choice to economic necessity.” There’s also another big reason for choosing multi-generational housing that caught our attention: “people are living longer and choose to age in place, avoiding the nursing home.” In other words, moving in with kids and parents sharing space is a way of planning together for the future of in-home care.
That’s one reason builders are designing new multi-generational homes with aging seniors in mind. “Good multi-generational design takes into consideration the key elements of universal design,” says the Builder Online article, “making it easier for someone to age in place.” Universal design reflects a wide range of design choices. For example, floor coverings need to be chosen in order to help avoid trips and falls. Furniture needs to be comfortable for people of all ages. Designers of multi-generational homes need to pay special attention to lighting, both inside and out. Hallways, entryways and bathrooms are wider, with fewer obstructions. Careful planning can make a multi-generational home a showplace of functional design and comfortable beauty.
As millennials encounter a difficult economy in many markets, and as their baby boomer parents start living longer and with greater vitality, the new style of multi-generational homes seems like a trend with a solid future. Builders are taking notice. The company featured in the Times article, Lennar Homes, sold just 280 of what they call “NextGen” homes in 2012 – however, by contrast, in 2015 Lennar sold 1,100 such homes. According to the company, their five-year projections for NextGen demand look promising.
Is this kind of living for everyone? No. The Spanaway man featured in the Times put it this way: “Don’t do it if you don’t have love for each other, a commitment to living life together, and an ability to compromise. For us, it was the right thing at the right place at the right time — and it works.”
Involving your family in your retirement planning may not entail living together, but it does mean being honest, proactive and intentional about your wishes, dreams and fears. Here at Aging Options we have arranged and conducted multi-generational family meetings with hundreds of clients through the years and we welcome the opportunity to do the same for you. Communicating openly about future plans helps you avoid becoming a burden to your loved ones; instead, a solid retirement plan allows you to chart your own course and maintain your independence as long as possible. You can start now to put the kind of plan together that really does address the totality, and not just one aspect such as housing or finances, of your retirement future.
We call that type of plan a LifePlan. You can begin putting your own LifePlan in place by attending one of our free LifePlanning Seminars, where we’ll help you see how all the elements of your plan fit together: your housing choices, your legal affairs, your financial preparation, your family relationships and your health coverage. To register for one of these free, information-packed seminars, click here, or call us during the week.
We’ll look forward to seeing you at a seminar soon. Meanwhile, as we say at AgingOptions, “Age on!”
(originally reported at www.nytimes.com)