Multigenerational homeowners prefer big, happy families
Growing up in India, Devyani Bhatt lived in a multigenerational home with her parents, her paternal grandparents and maternal grandfather. Now, many years later and several continents away, she finds herself living in another multigenerational home, this time her own.
Bhatt recently purchased a quad-level home in Mount Prospect large enough to accommodate her family, which includes her two small sons, as well as her newly retired mother.
"There are a lot of benefits to having a grandparent in the home," Bhatt says. "The kids love playing with her, and she reads to them in her native language."
Multigenerational homes on the rise
Bhatt and her family are part of a growing trend: multigenerational homes are growing in popularity. The resurgence of co-living began as a solution to tough economic times around 2008, but the arrangement holds enduring appeal to many area homebuyers.
"We started noticing it when the recession hit, but since then homeowners have become savvier and are moving in with each other for many different reasons," said Bhatt's Realtor, Deanna Lullo of Century 21 in Addison. Like Bhatt, Lullo was raised in a multigenerational home and is now building several on spec to accommodate the demand she sees in the market.
The advocacy and policy group Generations United confirms the demand Lullo sees locally bears out nationally, as well. According to the group's statistics, the number of multigenerational homes in the U.S. rose from 46.5 million in 2007 to 51.4 million in 2009, a 10.5 percent increase in just three years.
Families today choose to live together for any number of reasons: shared home maintenance costs, personal financial hardship, health issues, difficulty finding a job after college, or a need for reliable child care.
"In some ways it's a return to an older way of living," said Dennis Baier, a mortgage loan originator with Crosscountry Mortgage in Rolling Meadows. Baier also chairs the Mainstreet Organization of Realtors' Senior Services Task Force, which helps seniors navigate real estate issues such as reverse mortgages, powers of attorney and adapting homes for older residents.
Baier said another factor driving the uptick in multigenerational households is the growing life span of older adults, which increases the need for family caregiving.
"It used to be much more common for several generations of family to live together under one roof," Baier said. "You're closer to your relatives. You're able to help each other and care for one another."
Downers Grove Realtor Linda Dressler, who has worked with several multigenerational clients, says the benefits to such an arrangement are far-reaching.
"Living together under one roof can really have a way of cementing bonds and enhancing relationships for families," said Dressler, who works for ACM Realty Services. "There are often financial incentives to this type of arrangement as well, but the biggest benefits are the ones you can't put a price tag on."
One of Dressler's clients, Hoffman Estates High School teacher Matthew Dowd, invited his in-laws to move in with him, his wife and two young sons after he purchased a split-level home in Schaumburg in 2011. The home's previous owners had added a second master bedroom suite and living room, creating a separate living space that was a perfect fit for the Dowds' needs.
The youngest members of the family, 2½-year-old Grayson and 10-month-old Griffin, especially love having their grandparents around. "My kids think they have four parents," Dowd said.
The living arrangements have even inspired new rituals. "We all have dinner together every night," Dowd said. "And when it's time to go to bed, the boys will go up and say good night to grandma and grandpa. It's all part of our nighttime routine."
Realtor Lullo thinks multigenerational homes are valuable to everyone, young and old. "It's a win-win situation," she said. "Grandparents become closer to their grandchildren, and the adults can keep an eye on their aging parents."
For some, keeping family together is part of maintaining ties to their culture. Realtor Cathy Shang, a broker at Burr Ridge-based Unity Realty, said tradition dictates many multigenerational housing arrangements.
"Asians are educated to support our parents. In our culture, we feel it is disrespectful to send them to a nursing home," Shang said.
Keeping families together, Shang believes, allows children to return the favor to their parents for having raised them.
Right home for right family
But for those considering inviting relatives to live with them, experienced multigenerational homeowners warn that not every home is suited for such arrangements -- nor is every family.
Dowd and his wife looked at more than 50 homes over a four-month period before they found one that had everything they needed.
"We wanted to find a home that fit our family and gave everyone personal space," Dowd said.
In addition to space, Dowd cautions that prospective multigenerational homebuyers should evaluate their lifestyles and temperaments before attempting co-living.
"You have to make sure you're compatible," he said.
Dowd wasn't concerned about living with his in-laws because he'd done it before; he and his wife had briefly but peacefully lived with her parents after they sold their first townhouse in Geneva.
"If you can, do a trial run," he said. "It's a big move, and once you're in, it would be hard to get out."
Bhatt involved her mother and mother-in-law in the house-hunting process. "They both needed to like the home before we made the purchase," she said. "I wanted their blessing."
To make multigenerational living as seamless as possible, she recommends that everyone has their own space -- and their own bathroom if possible.
"You don't want people to feel as if they're on top of each other," Bhatt said. "Look for lots of closet and storage space and a pleasant family room. That's where you'll spend most of your time."
Lullo cautions that there are very few homes available that require no additional work to accommodate multiple generations. For those looking to upgrade or retrofit an existing home to make them more livable for extended families, she says the most important fixes may not be the most obvious.
"Bedrooms, bathrooms and storage are important. But there is so much laundry to do in these homes, some people choose to expand existing laundry facilities or even add another laundry room to make room for everyone," Lullo said.
She also noted that parking can be an issue. Dowd, whose new home was otherwise well-suited for his extended family, still had to make some changes. "We widened the driveway and added a spot for my father-in-law's car," he said.
Other must-haves: big, communal spaces where families can come together, as well as private areas like breakfast nooks or porches so people can be alone.
"These homes need to be laid out in such a way that people don't feel crowded," Lullo said. "Kids should have a separate place to do their homework so they're not at the kitchen table when mom is trying to get dinner served."
Small considerations like that, Lullo said, help keep the peace.
Despite the risks and renovation, many who live in multigenerational homes wouldn't have it any other way. "You're here because of your parents," Bhatt said. "You can't forget them."
And for those who can't quite imagine living together, there is always the option of living nearby. One of Shang's contacts is looking to purchase two homes next door to each other: one for the parents and one for their children.