The Revival of the Multigenerational Home

Remember “The Waltons” - the popular TV show from 25 years ago? Based on the writings of Earl Hamner, it was about a multigenerational family living under one roof during America’s Great Depression. However, it wasn’t economics that brought them together. Prior to the end of WWII, it was far more common for several generations of family to live in one home, and even pass the home and land down to new generations. After the war, the GI Bill made it easier for young families to build a home of their own. These young adults were liberated from their extended families by affordable single-family houses, well-paying jobs, and mass-produced cars. The baby boom began.

Ironically, it’s baby boomers who are reviving the idea of multigenerational family homes. As owner of Coastal Signature Homes of Bluffton, we see that the trend resonates with homeowners on many levels. As Baby Boomers age and move through retirement, this style of home makes sense for both adult children and their parents.

There are many homebuyers’ whose motivations have changed dramatically since the housing meltdown – our own version of the Great Depression. Previously, homebuyers would typically purchase a home knowing they would move on in 5 or 6 years to make a profit. Today, homeowners are thinking ahead, and their investment is for the long term needs of the family.

To better understand the trend we should describe what a multigenerational home looks like. Well, It looks like any other single family dwelling, but we include what we call Flex Space, which can be configured and easily reconfigured to meet the long term needs of a large family with diverse lifestyles. It’s as simple as putting a small kitchenette in the bonus room over the garage, which can function as a home office now, or a living space later when needed. Or it might be as easy as putting an additional master bedroom lock-off suite on the ground floor, providing convenience and safety for an aging parent.

Population figures support the trend. Increasingly, the American family profile has changed from 2 parents and 2.5 kids, to boomer couples with boomerang children and/or aging parents, or boomer singles who may need to double up due to life changing events, like divorce. A recent study reports that 41% of adults between 25 and 29 are now living, or have lived recently, with their parents. Over all, about 54 million Americans are in multigenerational households, a 10 percent increase from 2007.

Multigenerational homes are smart economically. Family members can share the mortgage and other expenses, and live better for less, a concept embraced by Oldfield homeowners Richard and Jeanne Campbell, pictured here. As “snowbirds,” they enjoy their home in Okatie during the winter, but in summer they go to Maine, while their adult children move into Oldfield with the grandkids. The parents own half, and the adult children own half. When the parents retire, they will move to their Oldfield house permanently, but will spend summers and holidays in their northern home until then.  It’s a smart financial solution, but it’s also a lifestyle solution.

Many times you can’t  find anything in the resale home market that met’s everyone in the family’s needs. Each family has different ideas on what features are required. These include elements such as everything on one floor, large living space, lots of porches, and little features like lever door handles, not knobs and yes….even a doggie niche.  Admittedly, there’s extra space when the parents live alone, but it’s planned with efficiency in mind.  The Flex Space is the FROG room over the garage, with ‘FROG’ meaning For Relatives Or Guests.”    This space can later be converted to another use as your lifestyle changes….little things like grandchildren, old friends visiting, or when the adult children have house guests.

Multigenerational living can build stronger families. It negates the need and expense of assisted living, and combats the loneliness that plagues aging adults. In turn, the older generation provides additional supervision, wisdom, and guidance for the children. When asked for advice regarding multi-generational home-building, I say that one must accept that there will be ups and downs, be willing to make compromises, and use Flex Space planning to ensure that everyone has privacy when needed.”

Finally, there’s a rapidly growing number of resources and information available online, providing advice and insight to make the living arrangement work for everyone – something that “The Waltons” never had. For whatever reason, whether it’s the return of traditions past, or related to the economy, multigenerational homebuilding is experiencing a major regeneration. “Goodnight, John Boy.”