What to Look for in a Multigenerational Home
More and more people are living in multigenerational homes. Here are some features to look for in a home for everyone, according to experts.
More and more, Americans are finding themselves living in multigenerational households. Some do it for financial reasons, while others are looking to care for aging relatives more easily. As more and more people seek to bring multiple generations of the family together under one roof, you might find yourself on the market for a home that can accommodate this type of living arrangement.
“The demand for multigenerational homes has exploded over the past few years, especially since the time of COVID when families really started to rethink the makeup of their home,” says Will Palmer, broker and owner of Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate Historic.
As you hunt, there are some key features you’ll want in a multigenerational home that you might not otherwise prioritize in a single-family home. We spoke with experts for their insights on how to find the perfect home for you and your expanded, multigenerational family.
Why a multigenerational home?
The Pew Research Center defines multigenerational households as homes with two or more generations of adults living together. If a parent and child are living together, that child must be 25 years or older for the arrangement to qualify as multigenerational. In some instances, there are skipped generations living together, which would include grandparents living with grandchildren.
When these households were polled, financial reasons top the list for multigenerational living arrangements, and the pandemic spurred that decision for about 13% of adults polled.
“Affordability is top of mind for all buyers, and purchasing a home with the intention of multigenerational living is a cost-effective tactic,” says Alex Toth, head of business development at Opendoor. “Multiple incomes allow buyers to opt for a larger home, and having multiple paychecks contributing to bills helps alleviate some of the financial stress.”
Following the pandemic, many families were financially strapped while others felt lonely and isolated in their homes. For many who became ill, it put caregiving top of mind, according to 2023 studies done by the National Association of Realtors (NAR).
“The post-pandemic years have also continued to reinforce the importance of community and time with loved ones, and that’s translating into households,” Toth say, citing the NAR studies. “Fifteen percent of first time buyers and 23% of repeat buyers cited caretaking of an aging parent as a reason to buy a multigenerational home. Fifteen percent of first time buyers and 11% of repeat buyers also said spending time with aging relatives was a top motivator.”
And the need for caregiving isn’t just for elderly relatives.
“In some cases balancing career and proper caregiving can be a financial burden as well as being difficult logistically,” says Agent David Harris of Coldwell Banker Warburg. “Multigenerational living allows a grandparent or great-grandparent to provide childcare without the financial burden that comes with it.”
Agent Alana Lindsay of Coldwell Banker Warburg points out that there are also cultural considerations at play.
“It comes down to finances, especially here in the United States, where multigenerational family living has not been the norm for a very long time,” she says. “It also comes with the changing demographics of the United States. A lot more people are immigrating here from other countries where multigenerational families are the cultural norm.”
What to Look for in a Multigenerational Home
Your personal preferences for a multigenerational home will vary just as your desires for a typical single-family home might, but there are a few things that experts suggest adding to the list.
“Last year we saw historic demand for multigenerational homes, which reached purchase rates of nearly all-time highs at 14%,” Toth says, referring to the NAR study. “As more families consider moving into multigenerational homes, it’s important they lay out the priorities and needs of each family member to ensure everyone is guaranteed a home they’re comfortable in. For example, mom might need a home office, the kids might need a playroom, and grandma might need a wheelchair-accessible bathroom.”
Palmer says the first item on the list should be enough square footage to include more than one living area, “so that everyone has their own space to unwind and relax.”
Of course, balancing space and cost is a tricky balance, especially when you remember that many families move in together to save money.
“The biggest challenge is finding a home with enough space while also being affordable,” Palmer adds.
Toth advises buyers to consider what he calls multi-use spaces as well.
“Multi-use spaces could be a spare bedroom or extra living room,” he says.
Having adaptable spaces will make it easier to adjust along with life changes, such as growing families or if someone gets a new work-from-home job. Adaptable spaces can also ensure increased privacy throughout the home.
And don’t forget bathrooms.
“There should be a proportionate number of bathrooms for the number of people. It is very different to share, let’s say a two-bedroom, one-bathroom property with just your sister versus sharing that same one with three other adult family members,” Lindsay says.
From there, you’ll want to consider special features to accommodate aging parents and relatives.
Palmer suggests single-story homes or homes with wider doorways, which can accommodate wheelchairs should someone need one currently or down the line if they decide to age in place.
Like any home, you’ll also want to consider location. Palmer points out that aging relatives might prefer good proximity to hospitals and other health-related services, for example.
And keep in mind that a multigenerational home is often considered a forever home.
“They need to think about tomorrow and not just what today’s needs look like,” Palmer says. “What will the family and situation look like in five years? Multigenerational homes don’t tend to move as often as a more traditional family does.”
Of course, you don’t just have to find a perfect home on the market to meet all of your needs. New builds specifically designed for multigenerational use could already have the features in place that you’re looking for.
“Some builders even design homes with built-in suites featuring an additional kitchen and living room area, creating an independent space while remaining close enough for family care,” Toth says. “Lots of new build homes are also part of master planned communities, with amenities such as pools, gyms, and community centers, which appeal to many members of a multigenerational home.”
Following the Rules
Say you’ve found a home you absolutely adore. What else should you know before moving every family member in?
First, you’ll want to make sure that the number of people living in the home is allowed according to local code. Some cities have laws dictating the ratio between occupants and bedrooms, for example. From there, you’ll want to make sure that any upgrades you do to the home to accommodate more people are also up to code.
Palmer had a client who added a new bedroom and bathroom onto the home, against code and with major consequences.
“At the time, the county didn’t catch that the septic tank wasn’t technically big enough for that number of bedrooms and made them remove the bathrooms and closets,” he said.
Toth also cautions against additions such as accessory dwelling units until you’ve done your research.
“Those who want to purchase a home with or add an ADU to their home will need to pay close attention to local regulation,” he says.
You can bypass some of these concerns when you build new or buy a new construction home.
“Purchasing from a homebuilder allows buyers to let them know in advance the goals and needs of their household, and discuss their zoning questions directly,” Toth says.
Aside from local rules, you’ll also want to have some boundaries in place with your family to avoid problems with finances, personal routines, and privacy.
“Before embarking on a multigenerational home arrangement, it is essential for the family members to come together with your local agent, financial planner, and attorney and clearly discuss openly the different opinions regarding housing design and needs, lifestyles, privacy needs, and other personal routines that may cause family members to be upset or disagree upon,” says Agent Karen Kostiw of Coldwell Banker Warburg.
Kostiw adds that it’s wise to get these agreements in writing, even if that seems extreme.
“Discuss challenges and set specific boundaries as a means to avoid ruining family relationships,” she says. “It’s important to work with your team to ask the important questions and develop a personalized plan for the family.”