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Multi-generational housing is the hot niche in a cooled market

Growing class of homes

Last February we reported on the Coldwell Banker survey of its agents that revealed 70% expected a rise in 2010 of multiple generations sharing a roof. And they were right.

Aaron Glantz of the writes that “multigenerational housing is specifically aimed at the booming immigrant population in the Bay Area, and is emerging as one of the few growth niches in a moribund housing market.” Silicon Valley is host to diverse cultures, many of which observe the living traditions of their home country which range from standard multigenerational living to parents that visit from abroad for several months at a time. Spatial needs are different for this category of buyers.

Not just immigrants

But it’s not just immigrants that are demanding this new style of living. Sharon Graham Neiderhaus completed her master’s thesis at Stanford on multigenerational living which has since been published in a book on the topic which reveals that the number of Americans that live in multigenerational homes has grown 40% since 1990 but the shift is not exclusively a rising immigrant population.

A 2010 Pew poll states that nearly 50 million Americans currently live in a multigenerational home and the number is expected to rise in coming years, making the multigenerational housing trend less of a trend and more of a market reality.

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Traditions in multigenerational living are changing

Traditions with multigenerational living are changing in America due to immigration, difficult times forcing cohabitation, and a negative cultural stigma dying about sharing a home with family.

Neiderhaus’ research points out that traditionally, a joint household shares a roof but are more like separate families living in close proximity with some families building separate entrances. Builders are accommodating this trend by building multi-level suites with equally sized rooms (some call them multiple master bedrooms) and private bathrooms. Despite shared daily activities like meals and family time, the day ends with separate living and the rules of “calling ahead” as Neiderhaus indicates, still applies in making plans. Culturally speaking, no one simply bursts into a room as separate living quarters are respected.

Reasons for the rise in multigenerational living

“While saving money is certainly an incentive for buying a home that accommodates multiple generations, the benefits go beyond just financial reasons,” said Diann Patton, Coldwell Banker Real Estate Consumer Specialist. “With two or three generations living under one roof, families often experience more flexible schedules, quality time with one another and can better juggle childcare and eldercare.”

Reasons for a rise in multigenerational living are plentiful. More college students are living at home until their career is in full swing, grandparents are moving in to tend to grandchildren to save on childcare costs, adult children that are struggling financially are moving back home with parents, health reasons have families moving in together and so on.

The challenges to Realtors and builders

This presents a special challenge to builders that seek to cater to this lifestyle and an even bigger challenge to agents with clients seeking mulitgenerational resale housing. Considerations to the culture shift have to be understood by the agent. When an older generation is sharing with a younger, there has to be a bedroom and shower downstairs in case stairs become a burden. When a family has an adult child living in the home, an in-law plan with no shared bedroom walls becomes necessary.

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Sometimes multigenerational buyers will request a larger garage that they can convert or a garage apartment for their college student living at home. Then the challenge becomes how to sell these homes when the market or culture shifts and being prepared to overcoming the objections to a garage-less house in a neighborhood full of garages and work benches. The future challenge is in repurposing these spaces and reframing equally sized bedrooms as a perk, a feature that a buyer would want but not necessarily need- a luxury if you will.

Foreclosures will continue as a part of the housing sector, interest rates will fluctuate, resale will continue to compete with foreclosures, and multigenerational housing will continue to be the hot niche in a cooled market for several years to come.

Lani is the COO and News Director at The American Genius, has co-authored a book, co-founded BASHH, Austin Digital Jobs, Remote Digital Jobs, and is a seasoned business writer and editorialist with a penchant for the irreverent.



  1. Mike C

    April 22, 2011 at 1:19 pm

    "Multi-generational housing" is linked more to the unemployment problem than anything else.

    • Lani Rosales

      April 24, 2011 at 12:18 pm

      Mike, that is a huge part of it, but we are shifting toward a more practical economy- not quite the scrap saving economy of WWII but close. Kids aren't moving away for college, grandparents are coming in to hep care for children, etc.

  2. Mark Brian

    April 23, 2011 at 7:41 am

    I have a listing that I market for multi generational family: 2 kitchens, 2 laundry rooms, separate entrances etc etc.

    OTOH, because it is also a lake home, sometimes I market it differently.

    However, I agree the trend in housing changing due to the way our world is changing. Some of the reasons for multi generational housing are economic, but the advantages of having the whole fam damily in one place cannot be denied.

    • Lani Rosales

      April 24, 2011 at 12:20 pm

      Mark, I think some of the stigma is being removed as well- in years past, if your parents lived with you it was because neither of you could afford your own home, now it's becoming more a part of the culture like in many other nations and it's not just financial.

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