Home Space: Multigenerational Housing on the Rise


By Dawn Izon


A wise man once said, “There is nothing new under the Sun” and in this case those words are very apt. For thousands of years cultures have been built around extended family living arrangements, so why does this concept appear to be “new”? First, let’s define a “multigenerational” living environment. As defined by American Community Survey (ACS); this means a single household with three or more generations residing under one roof. No folks; do not be confused with the stereotypical idea of slum housing where 8 people are living in one room. This is not a move toward poverty level living, but actually the reverse. Let me give you a few examples:


Raleigh, N.C. “Our decision to plunge into multi-generational living is a recent one- it wasn’t until August 2010 that Mother and I pooled our resources to purchase a 1928 house with guest cottage.” Diane is a single Mom of a teenage boy. They lived together in their own home, but shared a small town with her widowed Mom. When offered a career move that required relocating, it didn’t seem right for her to leave Grandma behind. Putting their heads and joint resources together, they found a small house with a separate guest cottage in their new town. Every night at 7:00 Grandma walks across the yard and joins her daughter and son for dinner. As a family they share the day’s events and make plans for the following day.


Diane loves being able to just walk a short distance to talk with her Mom, ask a simple question, know she is there and well. They are in good company.


Sutton, Ma. – Meet the Bruno Family. Being roommates with your parents after age 21 sounds like a nightmare for most, but Jessica Bruno wouldn’t have it any other way. Bruno, a 40-year-old mom, wife and DIY blogger, lives with her 62-year-old parents. Along with that, there’s Bruno’s husband Tony … and his six-year-old son, Tony Jr … Think that’s a lot of people under one roof? There’s more. Bruno’s grandparents live in the house too. Four generations under one roof. How do they manage without tripping over one another? The Bruno family has gone to great lengths to accommodate all the residents of their home. They added 2,000 square feet to the original design over the years expanding it to 5,000 square feet with three spacious and separate wings—one for each family. Why did they do it? Was it just economical? The answer is no. Do you remember the old saying, “It takes a village to raise a child?” Well, why not? A greater division of shared responsibilities and everyday tasks (cooking, cleaning, shopping, and errands) in a multigenerational household gives everyone a greater feeling of fulfillment, less stress and strengthened family cohesion, experts say. One survey found that 82 percent of the adults living in multigenerational households found that the arrangement “enhanced family bonds.” “Living together, for all of us, is a positive experience for everyone involved,” Bruno added. “But I think we are really instilling positive family values for my son. He’s six years old, and he has the opportunity to live with his grandparents and great grandparents. I cannot think of a better gift to give him.” (1)


The Future of Housing?


According to homebuilder Tusino, who owns New England’s largest housing developer, the rise in multigenerational households over the past few years has changed the landscape of modern home construction. The GBI-Avis CEO said that many families are now looking to either build a multigenerational friendly home from scratch—more informally known as the “in-law” setup, with separate entrances, custom floors and sections that feature senior-friendly kitchenettes, bathrooms and amenities—or retrofit their existing structure with a modular room to accommodate extended family. Paul Esajian, Co-founder of Fortune Builders Inc., states “Are you ready to cash in on the next big real estate investing trend? What is the biggest new trend in real estate and one of the most popular housing types, which also offers real estate investors a way to side step the competition and find bigger profit margins? According to Fox News the “next big thing in real estate” is multigenerational housing and while this is a trend which has been emerging over the last couple of years it still has major potential.


What does this mean for the construction industry? It appears to be influencing both the new and existing home market, as well as remodeling. The National Home Building Association includes multigenerational home designs among top trends of 2012. New home plans may include a separate living unit accessed from the inside or a cottage-style exterior add-on. An additional master suite on the first floor for elderly occupants is another common option. Those with bigger budgets might add a “casita,” or little guesthouse, often connected to the main house via patio or loggia. These independent structures may also be used as home offices or studios. Companies are beginning to specialize in multigenerational home design. For example, Miami-based Lennar, which operates in 18 states, is including privacy suites with living room, bedroom, kitchenette and bath in its “Next Gen” designs. Each suite has its own exterior entrance but can be accessed from the main home. A major upside of families buying homes together is greater purchasing power through combined incomes. In most cases, the larger and specially configured homes will still be less expensive than two dwelling units.


While Mc Mansions littered the landscape of the 70’s, 80’s & 90’s, more efficient use of square foot is being met to service this ever growing industry demand.


According to an article in the New York Times, “Lennar started marketing its new designs last fall with particular gusto: “Next Gen — The Home Within a Home” is a title and tag line intended to wrap the notion of multigenerational living in a futuristic gloss. But it is more than just marketing; the blueprints themselves are changing.


In fact, architectural historians, statisticians and builders themselves are pointing out that the new household — and the house that can hold it — is much like the old household, the one that was cast aside after World War II by the building boom that focused on small, tidy dwellings for mom, dad and their two children. (2)


Population statistics help tell the tale. A Pew study reports that 41 percent of adults between 25 and 29 are now living, or have lived recently, with their parents. Over all, more than 50 million Americans are in multigenerational households, a 10 percent increase from 2007. It is a back-to-the-future moment.


“You have to go back to the 1940s to see those kinds of numbers,” said Stephen Melman, director of economic services at the National Association of Home Builders. “What the recession has done has really hit household formation hard, so instead of forming households we are having some contractions: the college student moving back in or someone’s brother-in-law loses a job. It’s an opportunity for the builders.”


Scott Thomas, national director of product development for PulteGroup, the largest homebuilder in the United States, said his company now offers layouts with larger “flex rooms” and an over-the-garage apartment it calls the Grand Retreat. Ryland and KB Homes have been offering similar alternatives, and have seen their popularity increase as multigenerational households become more common.


“For whatever reason,” Mr. Thomas said, “whether it’s the return of something that was part of our lifestyle in the past, or simply related to the economy, multigenerational living is definitely taking place.” Thirty percent of Pulte customers are asking for such features, the company said. Indeed, a recent Caldwell Banker survey showed that more than one third of its sales associates have fielded client requests for so-called “multi-gen” homes. And multigenerational housing offers one of the few bright spots on the residential construction landscape.


Preparing this article for WNC Magazine was very personal for me and I would like to contribute to this article with my own personal experience. The year 2007 found my family in an extreme state of change. I had been recently divorced and had possession of an estate home in Florida that I resided in alone. My daughter was separated from her husband of 10 years and surprise of surprises, discovers she is pregnant!! My son had recently entered a recovery program and his marriage was collapsing. Three separate people with three houses to support and no happiness or future attached to them. The real estate market was bottoming out and everyone was upside down on their homes. The one thing that remained constant and strong, were the bonds of our family and so as a family we put our heads together and formed a plan for the future. Those plans brought us to the real estate market of Asheville, North Carolina. What we were looking for was a home large enough and practical enough to be able to convert to a mother/daughter/son arrangement. Now, having done some house renovation projects in the past, this was not an overwhelming concept to me. We eventually found a split-level house in the Beaver Lake area that had three levels. With some imagination and the assistance of both my son and a general contractor, we converted this 2900 square foot single family home in to a 4400 square foot multigenerational house with three separate living apartments. Each unit has their own private entrance, kitchen and bath as well as multiple bedrooms. The house renovation was completed in time for the birth of my first (and only) grandchild June of 2008. We now had three generations living under one roof. Many times people have expressed surprise and even skepticism about this arrangement and I believe that both my son and daughter have taken some serious criticism from their peers about this arrangement. Comments like “Oh, you still live with your Mommy” were not uncommon. What did not appear to be obvious to others seemed to be perfectly natural to us. My daughter never had to worry about meeting the needs of her baby as a single parent, my son found fulfillment in being a vital part of the baby’s life and as it turned out, in September of 2008 he became seriously ill, was hospitalized for a long length of time and came home as a very ill young man. It would have been impossible for him to have lived outside of the hospital had it not been for our housing arrangement and the care he was able to receive here. So as a family we forged together facing the future.


Quite unexpectedly my daughter died in May 2010, leaving an empty apartment. It was very difficult for meto face that emptiness and her loss each and every day, so I attempted to list the house with a local “dream team” of realtors. Ironically enough, instead of seeing the home for the special place it holds in our current housing demand, they viewed the multi-units as a drawback in the market and assured me of the huge obstacle it would present. Several other realty groups expressed the same point of view. I withdrew the house from the market and continue to reside here today. In case you’re wondering: from the exterior, you would never know this to be anything other than just one more single family residence in a very nice neighborhood.


Doing the research for this article has allowed me/us to see that we are part of a much larger group of like minded people than what we had been led to believe. Along with that, it is clear from the information that is easily accessible on the Internet that Multi-generational houses are in more demand today than conventional housing and perhaps it is time for our local Real Estate representatives to expand their horizons if they intend to meet the current demands. As for us, our convictions of family unity remain strong and always have, but it is always nice to have some external validation. Although I am not a licensed Real Estate agent in North Carolina (former New York license), clearly I would be the best spoke person for this living arrangement, so if there is anyone out there reading this article and is looking for a three-generation home, I would welcome your inquiries. Please call 828-350- 7510.


1. realestate.aol.com/
2. www.nytimes.com/2012/11/30/
3. www.housingzone.com/design/
4. www.referredrealestate.com/

Sandi Tomlin-Sutker
Written by Sandi Tomlin-Sutker