When the First Family announced that Michelle Obama’s mother was moving to Washington, D.C., to help take care of the children, they became part of a trend in the U.S. According to an AARP survey, the number of multi-generational households has grown from 5 million in 2000 to 6.2 million in 2008. Nearly a quarter of baby boomers expect that their parents or in-laws will move in with them—and half of those who anticipate that living arrangement are excited about it, says Elinor Ginzler, AARP’s senior vice president for livable communities and co-author of the organization’s book Caring for Your Parents.
The AARP survey information is not recent enough to reflect the economic downturn, but Ginzler says she thinks the economy is part of the reason for recent increases in interest.
“Older family members could be providing financial assistance,” she says, “but a lot of times, this is just something people want to do.” For builders, this burgeoning lifestyle trend represents an opportunity to offer a home that will meet these buyers’ unique needs, both in terms of floor plans and amenities.
“There’s certainly a niche for multi-generational neighborhoods and consumers,” says Janis Ehlers, a Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.–based marketing consultant who specializes in active adults. “There are just a tremendous number of people who won’t seek to move to senior communities. While we haven’t been geared to see this [living arrangement] in the media and the movies, this is the way it was years ago. It’s good and it works, and more power to the developers that want to go in that direction.”
Buyers who are shopping for a home that they will share with an older parent will be interested in universal design features that promote safe, comfortable living, Ginzler says. Beyond that, space planning itself is critical. “Do you have living space for two generations, or are you moving Mom into a spare bedroom? It’s not the same thing.”
That’s absolutely true, says Snellville, Ga.–based builder Roy Wendt, president of Wendt Builders, which specializes in active adult homes. He also speaks from experience; his own mother lived with him for several years.
“They have to have their space,” he says. “They don’t want to feel like they’re imposing.”
He’s had success with homes that incorporate two master suites, with the second master tied into a laundry room that can be accessed through a walk-in closet. He also offers a three-car garage “because people have lots of stuff.”
Along with shared space in the house, multi-generational buyers want a shared community, too.
“[These buyers] do value the common spaces with neighbors, where not only their parents can find socializing opportunities, but they can as well,” says Nanette Overly, vice president of sales and marketing for Dublin, Ohio–based Epcon Communities. “Boomers kind of invented group therapy. They’re not shy about sharing their struggles with each other.”
Learn more about markets featured in this article: Washington, DC.