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how to find a multi-generational family home

How to find a multi-generational family home that makes everyone happy

July 27, 2018 — Written by Suchi Rudra

Multi-generational living is catching on in the U.S. The Pew Research Center shows that 20 percent of the population (64 million Americans) currently live in a multi-generational household. That’s up from 17 percent in 2009 and 19 percent in 2014. The study defines multi-generational living as including two or more adult generations under the same roof, or grandparents and grandchildren younger than 25.

Most often, the reasons for living with extended family members center around finances or health, like an adult child moving back in with parents after a job loss, or elderly parents moving in with an adult child because they can’t physically live alone anymore.

Bringing generations together under one roof requires a house with the capacity to handle a range of lifestyle demands. Maybe your elderly parents prefer an in-law suite, while your 20-something daughter prefers a private entrance. Maybe you can renovate your home to accommodate everyone, or perhaps you need to buy something new, together.

Either way, you’ll all have a lot to consider.

Addressing your family’s needs

If your multi-generational living plans call for creating new space in the home, remember that more people living in the same space means more communication and negotiation. As a family, consider:

  • Is this living arrangement temporary or permanent? If it’s temporary, consider whether you need to buy a new home or if you could modify your current property.
  • What are the needs of your multi-generational family? Will your 75-year-old father need a ramp instead of front stairs? Will your driveway have to accommodate multiple cars? Will you be cooking and eating together regularly, or do you prefer separate kitchens? How many bedrooms and bathrooms do you need?
  • How will the living space be divided to suit every family member’s needs and privacy? What boundaries will be set to maintain privacy?
  • What is your plan for sharing the financial responsibilities—paying bills, groceries, property taxes, home insurance, maintenance and repairs to the house? Be sure you’re aware of how much every adult member can realistically contribute so you can finalize your budget for a purchasing a new house or undertaking renovations.
  • How will you divide the household chores, like dishes, laundry, trash, mowing? Who will be responsible for caregiving duties for an elderly parent or relative living in your home?

Weighing a renovation

Sometimes, renovating is the most effective way to create the living space your family needs. You could update your current home, or look for a new home with an eye toward immediately fixing it up.

Before any work starts, you’ll need to confirm that the local and county zoning laws and homeowner’s association regulations, if applicable, will allow you to proceed with the renovations. A contractor might help you with this. If you’re buying with an eye toward renovating immediately, discuss your needs with your realtor.

To learn more about how you can renovate your home to fit everyone’s needs, including aging-in-place modifications, the National Association of Home Builders offers a guide on the principles of universal design, which focuses on a design that makes things accessible for the elderly and disabled.

Finding a home that fits

Once you’ve hammered out the details of what type of home you need, and if you’re buying a new home, share all that information with your realtor. The more that person knows, the better they can help you find something that works for the whole family.

In general, consider homes that have a versatile design. Multifunctional spaces, as opposed to customized rooms, allow for maximum flexibility to accommodate the needs of all family members. For example, a minimally furnished room with built-in shelving could be used as a daytime office for your adult son working from home, a playroom for your child or an exercise room for your father.

house hunting tips that help make the right choice

A house with open access spaces is also important to address the safety needs of the youngest and oldest members of your family. You can keep an eye on everyone, and create paths through the house that are safe for all.

Consider focusing your house-hunting on properties with multiple master suites, or an in-law suite with a kitchenette located on the first floor for easy access. For maximum privacy, ask the realtor about the possibility of renovating to allow for a separate entrance to the in-law suite. If you aren’t in a hurry to move in, there may be home builders in your area who offer build-to-suit multi-generational homes.

However, simply buying a larger house is not the only solution. This list from The Balance includes a number of alternate residential housing options for greater privacy. Perhaps your family builds two houses on one lot, or purchases a duplex or two condos within the same multi-story building.

Because your joint families would still be living separately, this solution works well if your elderly relatives do not require constant care. You might also want to consider a separate-but-together living option if the emotional and psychological aspect of sharing a home might seem difficult.

Also, not all of these housing options will be available where you live, and your budget and size requirements will narrow the possibilities further.

A perfect location to buy or build

Location always matters in real estate, but combining generations could add further considerations. If elderly parents are unable to drive but would like to stay active or spend time outdoors, a location near amenities they can access independently will make life easier for everyone. Maybe you’ll need a place near public transport, with access to walking trails, parks, a community center or library, or other recreational spaces. The same goes for adult children, who might be living at home to save money. Cutting back on gas or not having to buy a car could be a priority for them.

Similarly, if an elderly parent needs regular medical care, living near a hospital or medical provider, as opposed to facing regular hour-long commutes for treatments, might also be a consideration.

If you can’t find a home that fits your needs in your top neighborhood choices, consider buying a home and renovating it. Or consider buying land and building a custom home. A growing number of home builders across the country are offering flexible spaces and multi-generational floor plans, according to the trade magazine Builder.

Money talk

Once you find a home, you’ll likely need to obtain a mortgage. If several members of a family are on the application, creditors take into consideration all applicants’ credit profiles. A loan application should include only those who are applying for the loan, and who can afford to pay it back.

getting mortgage for multi-generational family

However, some multi-gen-friendly financing options are becoming available. For example, FannieMae HomeReady allows home buyers who meet certain income caps to apply for a mortgage using the additional income, but not the low credit score, of extended family members.

When it comes to real estate taxes, consult with a tax advisor to discuss how deductions will work if there are multiple people contributing to the mortgage payments. You can also look into tax deductions if you’re caring for an elderly parent who can be considered financially dependent on you.

It’s also good practice to confer with your home insurance agent, since most standard policies don’t provide coverage for a combined family household.

One of the biggest questions will be whose names go on the deed to the house. The deed is a powerful document that helps determine who owns the property in case of the death someone on the deed. You might want to consult with a financial planner about this.

Selling a home, possibly two

If you are moving in with parents, you may need to sell one or both homes, depending on your plans. Timing is vital — ideally, you wouldn’t sell your current home, or homes, before you’ve closed on something new, but that’s easier said than done.

If you are concerned about the logistics of selling or fear you won’t get a good price, you can rent out your current home. It’s time-consuming and can be difficult to sell one house, much less two homes if you’re combining households into something new. Holding on to one house and taking the rental income will help pay the new mortgage.

You could also list it for sale while you have tenants, although you should make sure you have the proper rental agreement in place and that the tenants are aware that the house could be sold.

Beyond the sales, you’ll also have two households worth of furniture and appliances to contend with. These discussions can get emotional if a parent wants to keep a sofa that doesn’t fit with the adult children’s decor. Selling off some extras might help offset the costs of buying and moving, or sweeten the deal for buyers if you leave them behind.

When Keith and Erin Westergaard of Paradise, Nevada, decided to move with Keith’s mom into a more spacious and new home, they didn’t want to get burdened with the whole process of getting their old house ready for sale. They chose to skip the hassle of listing, showings, and months of uncertainty and sell to Opendoor, so they could start enjoying their new home and its sprawling backyard as soon as possible.

multi-generational family moving

The big move

As you combine households, consider the other details of what everyone will need. Perhaps you need to keep all the TVs and both microwaves and fridges because there will be separate living spaces in the new house. Take the time to discuss these items and also the purchase of any special furniture for young children or medical equipment for elderly parents.

The more organized you are, the smoother the move will be. Consider assigning each person specific tasks and responsibilities. You can have weekly or bi-weekly meetings via online chats or in person to discuss progress and address questions. If you’re looking for a way to organize the process online, you can use a free project management app like Trello, so everyone can view, assign and collaborate on the required tasks.

No matter what happens, take the time to consult with each other along every step of the way. Consistent and clear communication will be your family’s most effective tool for getting through this long process with the least amount of complications.

Final thought

Creating one big happy family under the same roof will inevitably have its ups and downs, but if everyone is communicating throughout the entire long process, living in multi-generational harmony won’t be so far out of reach.

Also check out our blog with house selling and buying tips for other life events:

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