Friday, July 10, 2020 / by Erik Bjorklund
The ups and downs of multigenerational housing.
You can see the allure: grandma coming up from her place downstairs to read bedtime stories or babysit, not to mention being able to split utilities and mortgage payments with the in-laws. It’s no wonder multigenerational living has been on the rise in recent years. While the move is most popular among nonwhite populations, the total number of people living in such homes went up from 17 percent to 19 percent between 2009 and 2014. As of 2018, a record 64 million Americans are living in multigenerational homes, a move that can seem even more appealing during a global pandemic. From being able to closely care for vulnerable family members to having a larger community at home during quarantine to help with child care and at-home schooling, COVID-19 has cast a new light on this living trend.
Yet, little is known about a subsection of that trend: multigenerational homebuyers. To explore what it means and what it takes to not only live together but to make major life purchases together across generations, Curbed spoke to five people scattered around North America who have taken the plunge.
Pega Ren and Keph Senett
A mother-daughter duo living together in Nelson, British Columbia, Canada
Keph Senett: This wasn’t something I had planned on, but with the recent economic downturns over the last couple of years, and now COVID, we started thinking about what we could do to make our positions more secure. My mom, who is a therapist, has had her house for ten years. I moved into what she was using as a counseling room in January, and she got a little office space outside of the house before the pandemic.
Before this, I had no intention to become a homeowner for many reasons, including that it’s nearly impossible because of the indebtedness you have to go into. My mom had paid for the first chunk of the house, and I took over the rest with some money from my retirement savings plan, untaxed. There are so many pros to this, from reducing our environmental footprint to sharing labor and resources.
Pega Ren: Gravity has lightened for me by 20 percent — the financial burden was lightened. I can now be picky about the clients I take on. Life got easier in a number of ways, and she cooks! I was able to offer her the security of a single place to live, and she was able to offer me the security of staying in my home more easily, now that I don’t have to work all the time to afford the house. We’ve been able to convert the money we’ve saved into a new roof and fixing the parking pad — things that would have been very stressful otherwise.
Just recently, I had an accident. I cut my leg on a faulty step coming out of the hot tub. I was caught and hurt and was able to just call for Keph. She came to the hospital with me. She just took care of it — all I had to do was call for her.
Living with her partner and mother in Lee, Massachusetts
I moved back a couple of years ago and started looking for apartments. The rental market in the area I live in has a lot of second-home owners from New York City and Boston, so it’s a lot of short-term rentals. The few I found were either out of my price range or didn’t allow a dog. I started toying with the idea of buying a house on my own, but I didn’t have anything for a down payment.
At the same time, the apartment building my mom was living in sold, and the residents were told they’d have to move. My mom had cash from selling the house I grew up in and a divorce settlement with my father, but not credit, so we decided to combine our assets and buy something together. We bought a single-family home with three levels. We each have our own level, with the kitchen as a shared space in the middle.
We hadn’t lived together at that point in over ten years. The first six months of living together didn’t go that well. We’re equal owners, so it can be hard to come to an agreement on major investments. The house needed significant updating — lots of wallpaper and fixtures. Most of that we did ourselves. It’s not as picturesque as HGTV makes it seem, especially since we don’t have the same taste. There were times we considered selling, but it has worked.
Also, when we moved in two years ago, I was single and actively dating. There’s a lot of stigma when people say they live with their parents. I don’t think people believed me when I said I owned the house. Now that my partner is living with us too, we’ve talked about my mom moving out. My partner and I want to live alone before we have kids, but when that happens, my mom has offered to move back in and be a live-in nanny in exchange for rent. That’s the most economical form of child care for me. What are we going to do — live alone for six months just to have her move back in?
Living with her parents, husband, and three kids, plus one on the way, in Madison, Wisconsin
It was much less planned than someone might think. My husband and I were living in our first home, and I would cruise home listings just to look. One of the homes I stumbled upon was out of our price range, but it was a beautiful home. It was nearing our five-year anniversary, so I emailed my mom and made a joke about getting us a great gift. One day, there was an open house, and my mom asked if I wanted to go look. When we walked in, I could tell she had researched it quite a bit and had taken the joke more seriously.
They owned their condo, and we owned our home. Thankfully, summer 2018 was a great time to sell a home. We put that money toward a down payment and got a mortgage together. Along with the mortgage, we have a household checking account that we all pay into each month.
Our situation works because it’s a larger home where we have private space and my parents like to snowbirdand go to Arizona in the winter. Probably the biggest point of contention is household chores. As a young family with little kids, we’re undoubtedly much messier. My parents have always had a house cleaner, but I’m a stay-at-home mom, so that’s not something we do. She comes and cleans their space and the joint space but not our space upstairs.
Living with her mother and son in Fort Worth, Texas
My mom thought about moving into an active senior-living place, but I didn’t like that. I said I could always move back in, but then I would lack some privacy. We thought about buying duplexes next to each other, but then we saw that a developer was building multigen homes. It’s essentially a house with a small apartment with a kitchenette inside. The “apartment” doesn’t have an oven or a stove, so it’s still considered single family. We only have one property tax and one set of utilities.
My mom and I have always been very close. We used to live next to each other before I was divorced, and after that we were just six miles away from each other, so it hasn’t been challenging at all. Especially during the pandemic, my son has had to do distance learning, and my mom took it upon herself to help him while I work from home, so it’s all worked out beautifully. I 100 percent recommend it. Recently I’ve been sick, and it doesn’t matter how old you are: When you’re sick, you want your mom.
When they sent us the title documents at closing, they listed my mom and I as husband and wife! We were like, “Um, no!” Everyone is so used to couples buying residential properties.