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The multigenerational household was a fairly common occurrence until the 1950's, when it gave up ground to the lure of the suburban development and the rise of the nuclear family.  Times have changed, and with them a greater appreciation for multigenerational living.

Today, nearly one in five Americans, or about 60.6 million, lives in a multigenerational household, according to the Pew Research Center.  For its purposes, the research group defines multigenerational as two or more adult generations sharing a home.  On a percentage basis, this is about the same as in 1950 and well above the 12 percent figure reached in 1980.  In terms of people, however, the number of individuals involved has almost doubled.

Why Families Are Sticking Together

Pew credits the influence of Hispanic and Asian populations on society, in addition to the more practical needs of the "sandwich generation," for the shift.  While technically these individuals can be any age, members of this group tend to be sandwiched between adult children still living at - or returning - home and elderly parents who prefer to age in place but need assistance.  While the trend toward togetherness accelerated with the Great Recession, it was already on the rise.  According to Pew, multigenerational living is a choise that is expanding among all U.S. racial and age groups.

Even families that aren't multigenerational are showing an interest in homes that accommodate the needs of an extended family.  For them, it may be about gaining the flexibility and space to be able to meet future needs.  There is also the opportunity to create a source of rental income, as more private homeowners turn into occasional landlords or one-room hotels thanks to online booking sites.

Recognizing the Multigenerational Home

As an emerging trend, the shift back to multigenerational living appears to have some staying power.  A recent consumer insights survey indictates that more than 40 percent of new homebuyers would like to be able to accommodate their elderly parents - nearly the same percent who want to be able to accommodate adult children.

National home builders are now designing homes specifically to meet the needs of multigenerational buyers.  They are commonly asking for the flexibility to accommodate separate living quarters and common areas under one roof.  This includes first-floor master suites with small sitting areas, kitchenettes, and separate entrances.  Multigenerational buyers also tend to favor open floor plans, wide doorways, hallways, bathrooms, and pocket doors to accommodate room reconfigurations. 

3 Tips for Meeting the Needs of Multigenerational Buyers

Although the nuclear family isn't quite as dominant as it once was, the houses built to serve it are.  That makes locating appropriate homes for these buyers a little more challenging. It also means adapting your search methods to this niche's needs.

Here are three tips for working with clients with multigenerational needs:

  1. Thinking "multi" is key to understanding how to work with these buyers.  It requires you to understand the needs of each household member, not just those of the buyer.
  2. Knowing how the local housing code treats renovations or accommodations for separate entrances, multiple kitchen facilities, and rental agreements becomes essential.  Many local ordinances are on the books that prevent "in-law" apartments from being carved out of single-family homes.  More recently, ordinances are being passed to prohibit short-term rentals, which may impact your buyer's plans.
  3. Understanding the cost advantages is also crucial.  Larger properties may seem more expensive at first, but when the costs can be broken down over two or three households, they may make more sense.  There are now mortgages that accommodate both multigenerational buying and renovating homes to accommodate older household members.

The preference for being at home with family represents a great opportunity to meet housing needs that are a little out of sync with the traditional housing stock.  Knowing where to find what multigenerational buyers are looking for could lead to a comfortabel spot in a growning niche.