Since the end of World War Two, the single family, suburban home has been the centerpiece of the American Dream, but as we all so easily forget, the time since the end of World War Two has been anomalous in more ways than one. The suburbanization of America and the development of the single family home as the de-facto standard for middle class nuclear families, natural as it might appear to us today, overturned centuries of more traditional housing arrangements. Arrangements which may now, in these more difficult economic climates, be re-asserting themselves.
Such, at least, is the thesis of a recent New York Times article, Building for Extended Families, which discusses the recent rise in multigenerational homes being built across the country. The popularity of such homes has skyrocketed in recent years, whether because of children returning to their parents homes after college or graduate school, or increasingly, seniors moving in with their children either to improve the ease of care giving, downsize their costs, or just be closer to their families. Certainly the need is there, more than 40% of Americans age 25-29 either live with their parents or have lived with them recently, and more than 10,000 people are reaching retirement age every year. But is this really a solution?
As any long-time follower of this website already knows, we at NewRetirement have long counseled seniors entering retirement to consider cutting their overhead costs to make their retirement plan more viable, including the option of downsizing to a smaller home. By and large, the premise has been that seniors who downsize will simply be purchasing smaller houses or condominiums of their own, but that need not necessarily be the case. If the option is available, multi-generational living carries even greater potential benefits to one’s retirement plan and peace of mind than downsizing by itself. On average, it reduces costs even further than downsizing by itself, alleviates many of the hassles associated with buying and moving into a new house, and provides some safety nets against seniors losing the ability to care for themselves. If adult children expect to, or are already caring for their elderly parents, this is often the simplest solution, as it obviates the need for children from out of state to travel back and forth repeatedly
But understandably, not everyone is eager to move back in with mom, dad, or their children. Social stigmas against living in a multi-generational home persist, both for young adults and seniors, and the additional strain on a family can be toxic, particularly if the family dynamic isn’t particularly healthy to begin with. Modern houses being built to these specifications include amenities specifically for them, such as basement flats with their own entrances, but many homeowners’ associations and towns still zone against everything except single family homes. As always, change in law takes longer than change in fact.
Multi-generational homes are certainly not for everyone, but for seniors and their families looking to find a way through these troubled economic times, it is one more option that you might want to consider.