The number of Americans living in multigenerational households rose to 56.8 million in 2012, about 18 percent of the total population. The homebuilding industry is responding quickly to this shifting demand by creating homes specifically intended for such families.
Bob and Myrna Conrad, both 65, share a house with their son Wade, 41, his wife, Dana, 42, and their grandson Bryce, 21. Isn’t it crowded? Don’t they cramp one another’s style? Actually, no.
“We just set some ground rules, and it’s been working great,” said Wade Conrad, who has been living with his extended family since late 2013 in a NextGen multigenerational home, built by Lennar in Spanaway.
The Conrads are among a growing number of families seeking specially designed homes that can accommodate aging parents, grown children and even boomerang children under the same roof.
The number of Americans living in multigenerational households — defined, generally, as homes with more than one adult generation — rose to 56.8 million in 2012, about 18 percent of the total population, from 46.6 million, or 15.5 percent of the population, in 2007, according to Pew Research. By comparison, an estimated 28 million, or 12 percent, lived in such households in 1980.
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“People lost jobs, and with tighter household budgets, a lot of homes consolidated,” said Aaron Terrazas, a senior economist at Seattle-based housing website Zillow. “We’re seeing more children living with their parents, and elderly parents moving in with their adult children.”
Most multigenerational families live in ordinary houses, but the homebuilding industry is responding quickly to this shifting demand by creating homes specifically for such families.
The Lennar homes don’t offer just a spare bedroom suite or a “granny hut” that sits separately on the property or a room above a garage. The NextGen designs provide a separate entranceway, bedroom, living space, bathroom, kitchenette, laundry facilities and, in some cases, even separate temperature controls and separate garages with lockable entrances to the main house.
Family members can live under the same roof and not see one another for days if they so choose.
Wade Conrad acknowledged he was initially skeptical when his father suggested they buy a home together. Conrad, along with his wife and two children, had twice moved back home with his parents during job transitions — the most recent lasting a year in 2007 — and it did not go well, he said.
Back then, they butted heads over everything: food, parenting decisions, furniture choices and even TV programs.
All these irritating memories came rushing back as Conrad pondered his father’s suggestion.
But once he saw the NextGen home, he was sold. Conrad moved his family from their crowded 1,000-square-foot town home into the 5,000-square-foot NextGen home.
They set some rules: No TV in the large common area, food is bought separately, all other expenses are split down the middle.
For the grandparents, who had been living in St. Louis, the spacious new home was an ideal way to reconnect with family. “It ended up being the best decision we could ever envision,” the elder Conrad said. “And my son can watch all the ‘Walking Dead’ episodes he wants.”
So what’s driving this trend?
The 2008 recession, high student-loan debt, rising rents and a tough job market for millennials caused many people ages 18 to 34 to delay leaving home, said Alex Barron, founder of the Housing Research Center. And then there are boomerang children, who return to their parents’ home because of a job loss, divorce or other reason.
On the flip side, baby boomers are living longer than previous generations. Many are planning ahead in hopes they can devote more attention to their children and grandchildren — and spend little, if any, time in a nursing home.
Multigenerational living is “growing in popularity,” said Robert Curran, a managing director at Fitch Ratings. With roughly 10,000 baby boomers turning 65 each day for the next 17 years, interest in such arrangements is unlikely to wane anytime soon.
Lennar was one of the first major builders to tap this market when it introduced its NextGen homes in 2012 in Phoenix.
“We were seeing a lot of people doubling up as a result of job losses or foreclosures, so we saw this as a solution to help accommodate that,” said Jeff Roos, a regional president at Lennar.
Lennar has since expanded the model to more than 200 communities in 24 markets. It sold 1,100 NextGen homes in 2015, compared with 280 in 2012.
Roos estimates that NextGen homes now account for about 5 percent of Lennar’s total home sales, compared with 2 percent in 2012.
“I think it will be even more popular five years from now,” he said.
Other builders, including Toll Brothers and the CalAtlantic Group, have jumped into the market.
Jim and Becky Cadd bought a Toll Brothers multigenerational home in the Baltimore area to accommodate Becky Cadd’s aunt and Jim Cadd’s mother.
After the couple married in June 2013, Becky Cadd and her aunt, 72-year-old Barbara Spangler, moved into Jim Cadd’s home, where his mother, Terry Cadd, also lived.
Suddenly having everybody living under the same roof was trying.
“We love them dearly but we needed our own space,” Jim Cadd said.
The Toll Brothers multigenerational home resolved this. Now, Terry Cadd and Spangler each have their own bedroom, kitchenette and living area.
Toll Brothers offers the multigenerational option in all its 50 markets in 19 states. The niche accounted for about 5 percent of Toll’s sales last year, compared with 1 percent in its first year in 2012.
As for the Conrads, they say the arrangement has brought the family closer than ever.
But they acknowledge it’s not for everybody.
“Don’t do it if you don’t have love for each other, a commitment to living life together, and an ability to compromise,” Bob Conrad said. “For us, it was the right thing at the right place at the right time — and it works.”