Multigenerational Living a Top Trend in New Home Design; Will Builders Follow Suit?

Given that the 55+ housing market represents the “largest growing group of buyers” the National Association of Home Builders has ever seen in that age category, paired with the organization naming multigenerational housing as a top trend in 2012, it remains to be seen how this will be reflected in upcoming construction projects. 

Senior housing is changing, as demonstrated by consumers who want newer, different models of care—either in an age-specific community or in their own homes. And because products are shaped by what consumers want, builders are starting to pay attention to current market demand.

Rising number of multigenerational households

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Multigenerational housing is an emerging niche market, at least in certain areas, says Steve Melman, Director of Economic Services at NAHB, adding that the trend is “something to be aware of.” 

As the saying goes, history repeats itself—and so do multigenerational living trends, apparently. By the end of the Great Depression, about 25% of the U.S. population lived in multigenerational households, but 20 years later that number dropped to 15%. By 1980, just 12% of the population lived in multigenerational households.

Right now, the nation is struggling to recover from what’s being called the Great Recession, and the trend is similar: In the past few years, recent figures show multigenerational households surging back up to about 17% of the population, according to Pew Research studies.

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“Something’s clearly changing, and there are probably a couple of reasons: the recession is forcing people to move in with each other, or cultural shifts mean some groups are more comfortable having multiple generations living together, aside from economic reasons,” says Melman.

What might multigenerational development look like?

When building a home meant to house more than one generation, there needs to be a different design than for a traditional single-family home. 

One architect says he’s seeing some home developers taking large houses and simply splitting them up by putting in a separate entrance for the “primary” generation and the older parents, but he doesn’t think it’s the best method.

“This feels a little forced, just splitting off a little piece of a home instead of having something specifically built for what it was intended to be,” says Greg Irwin, partner at Orange County, Ca.-based Irwin Partners Architects. 

But he’s also seeing a rise in developers asking about how to incorporate senior accommodations, as multigenerational households increase and put more pressure on the need for intergenerational communities.

Being intentional about designing a home for multiple generations could mean dual master bedroom suites, says Melman, or “in-law” apartments with their own separate functionalities that may increasingly be used to house Grandma. The two master bedrooms could be used for the “primary” homeowner and for a returning college graduate or maybe an aging parent. Alternately, the primary homeowner could choose to have a caregiver (family or professional) move into the second bedroom.

Top trends for 2012

Irwin’s findings are consistent with the National Association of Home Builders’s (NAHB) list of the hottest design trends it expects new home designs will feature in 2012. Released each April, this year’s list pegs multigenerational living as a top trend, along with expanded amenities, reworked spaces, and more cost-effective, impactful designs (homes shaped like rectangles rather than multiple roof lines, etc.).

“Many families are all living under one roof due to increasing cultural diversity and the state of the economy during the past few years,” says NAHB. “New single-family home designs reflect this with “shadow” units that are built alongside a home, or separate living units that access the main floorplan through a door, or homes with at least two master suites—often with one located on the ground floor to be more accessible for elderly occupants.”

Where is the demand?

During a 2007 NAHB survey, a panel was asked if they thought demand for two master bedrooms would increase; 62% said yes. By December 2010, when NAHB again asked that question, expected demand had fallen pretty far down the list, “because at that point it was pretty hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel for the recession,” Melman says. 

“The trend might have been thwarted by the recession, but the demand is still there,” says Melman. What’s happening is that people are having a hard time qualifying for mortgages in general—let alone a larger home meant to house multiple generations. 

NAHB pegs the current 55+ housing market as the largest growing group of buyers the industry has ever seen for this age category, but Melman points to  another age range—a somewhat younger one—as the target audience.

“It’s the trade-up buyers—people who have a first home and are now trading up to a larger home,” he says. “They may be the ones who have elderly parents who might move in, instead of moving them into assisted living, which would be terribly expensive. Having them move in might be a better solution.”

The 55+ buyers, he says, are going to be empty-nesters and many will be looking for a smaller footprint. Young families, on the other hand, generally can’t afford to buy large first homes. Trade-up buyers, in their mid-30s and 40s, he says, “could use that larger home for a variety of reasons, whether its for their growing family, or aging parents.” 

Overall, the market for new construction is slowly, steadily improving—especially for older demographics.

“Consumers are starting to see the resale market show some improvement, which allows them to start thinking about moving into 55+ housing,” said NAHB Chief Economist David Crowe. 

Written by Alyssa Gerace

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