Farrah Cervantes had planned for her mother, Christina Lim, to move in with her, her husband Vincent and their two kids, ages 10 and 8.
But, would that mean too much togetherness?
What about privacy in their single family home? The Cervantes never had a chance to find out. When they saw a newly built house in Lake Elsinore, California, specifically designed for multigenerational—or multigen—living, they were sold. The model, built by Pardee Homes, is called GenSmart.
Last April, the Cervantes moved into their new place. Today, everyone is still under one roof. Farrah’s family and her mother have separate living spaces and outside entrances, with an adjoining inside door that can be locked (Privacy, please!) from either side.
In her 800-square-foot suite, Christina has her own laundry area, living room, bedroom, bathroom, kitchenette and attached garage. The main house sports five upstairs bedrooms, four bathrooms and a spacious kitchen so the three generations can cook and eat together when they want.
The arrangement has been “flawless,” says Vincent. Christina has her grandkids right there, and they love to visit “Grandma’s house.” Farrah and Vincent work long hours so Christina takes the kids to school, picks them up and pitches in with cleaning. “She’s helping us as much as we are helping her,” says Vincent, who footed the bill for their $430,000 house.
Staying Where You Are
Of course, many families don’t have the luxury of buying a specially designed multigen home with two master suites and kitchens. Instead, they renovate or make do as best they can.
Martin Abramovitz, a former non-profit planner, added a wing to his Newton, Massachusetts, home so that his daughter, her husband and their two kids, ages 4 and 1, could live in a community with an excellent school system. The two families share a kitchen (zoning prohibits having two kitchens) and a laundry room.
They split many of the expenses, which helps to reduce living costs. In addition to saving money, the arrangement allows Abramovitz to have rich, ongoing interaction with his grandkids.
Benefits of Multigen Living
Multigen living may be making a permanent comeback. According to 2014 data from the Pew Research Center, about one-fifth of this country’s population live with two or more adult generations.
For some, having their parents living literally next door could not be a worse idea. If they never got along with their folks, there’s unlikely to be a lovefest between them now.
But, for others, a multigen arrangement is a smart option.
First, there’s the money factor. Staggering home prices, a high cost of living, and job loss can make homeownership difficult. But, pooling the resources of two or more generations often means that everyone can live better for less. Families may even be able to postpone or eliminate long-term eldercare expenses, which can be extremely costly. A 2016 Genworth cost of living survey found that the median price for assisted living is $43,536 a year and a private nursing home room is $92,376 a year. (Keep in mind that professional caregivers may be required if older adults live at home, too.)
Of course, financial concerns aren’t the only reason to live together. In fact, in some cultures, it’s not uncommon for different generations to live together and support each other. Multigen living is a great option for managing childcare or eldercare, fostering a deep bond between grandparents and grandkids, and staving off feelings of loneliness and isolation for a single adult or an older parent. And for parents who realize they may need help in the future, planning ahead and making a move now can provide peace of mind.
“These factors are leading generations to the same conclusion: that they need each other, says Dr. Len Fishman, director of the Gerontology Institute at UMass Boston.
And “granny spaces,” like the one Christina Lim lives in, can be very versatile. If circumstances change, the suite can be converted into an office, a guest suite, a boomerang child’s new digs, or perhaps even a rental space.
Rules or No Rules?
Who will pay for a new place or for fixing up the old? Will all of the expenses (e.g., home insurance, lawn maintenance) be split or just some? Will you eat together all of the time, some of the time or rarely? Who will do the cleaning, cooking, and shopping? If you share the laundry, the living room or a bathroom, how will that arrangement work? How will guests and noise be handled? What are their expectations, and yours? Many families don’t discuss home sharing rules in advance, but should.
For Abramovitz, the biggest sticking point has been the difference in kitchen cleanliness standards between his wife and daughter. Other families face more serious issues: intense family friction, the stress and strain on a marriage and children, and less personal time and privacy, to name just a few.
But Vincent Cervantes has “no complaints.” Rather, he’s so smitten with his GenSmart home that he’s talking to his parents, now in their 70s, about replicating the situation with his sister.
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