- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 8, 2010

Plenty of baby boomers can claim membership in the “sandwich generation,” caring for elderly parents and young children at the same time. While those responsibilities can be daunting, recent reports reveal that, whether by necessity or choice, many of these baby boomers are combining those three generations into one household.

American household size had slowly been shrinking, year by year, as families had fewer children and more people opted to live alone. Census Bureau estimates had predicted that the average household size would continue to fall to 2.53 members in 2010, but instead, the average household size is anticipated to rise to 2.63. Though adding a fraction to the average household size may not seem important, economists and demographic researchers say the simple fact that households are growing could have a major impact on the housing market, among other areas of the economy and culture.

A recent Pew Research Center report provides evidence that multigenerational households are becoming more common: 49 million Americans (16 percent of the population) lived in a household with at least two adult generations in 2008. Twenty years earlier, in 1980, there were 28 million people (12 percent of the population) living in multigenerational households.

“Designing homes that meet the needs of multigenerational households appears to be an emerging niche for home builders and remodelers,” says Stephen Melman, director of economic services at the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB).

Mr. Melman points to several reasons for the rise in generations living together.

“The economy has encouraged recent college graduates and other young people to return home to live with their parents rather than establish their own households,” Mr. Melman says. “There may be some element, too, of relatives moving in with each other because they have lost a home due to foreclosure.”

Seniors and their adult children are creating households together, too, either with the parents moving in with their adult offspring or the adults moving in with their parents. The Pew Research Center says about 20 percent of people age 65 and older live in multigenerational households.

“Multigenerational housing is also part of a cultural trend, since people in certain ethnic groups often live with several generations of an extended family,” Mr. Melman says.

He says, though, that it is difficult to predict whether the growth of multigenerational households is a temporary trend linked to the recession. Some economists anticipate that when the economy improves, there will be an increased demand for rental housing, followed by demand for affordable condominiums, town homes and single-family homes as new households are formed.

In the Washington area, some remodelers report a small increase in the requests they are receiving to create additional living space for parents of the homeowners.

Bill Abbott, a Realtor with Long & Foster Real Estate in the District, says he has worked with buyers looking for homes to accommodate more than one generation or even to accommodate their own future needs for one-level living.

“I’ve had more and more people planning ahead, making sure they have a first-floor master suite or a finished lower level that works as an in-law suite,” Mr. Abbott says. “Some buyers, especially if they are looking downtown at homes that are not that large, will consider looking for an apartment nearby for their parents or in-laws.”

Whether they are homeowners interested in remodeling or potential homebuyers, the key to a successful multigenerational household includes creating space and privacy for additional adults that can be adapted to other uses for resale value.

“The ideal is to be able to have all the functions of the house as they were before adding an elderly parent or in-law to the household, and to be able to expand the living space of the home in an attractive way so that it doesn’t look as if it is taped onto the side of the house,” says Jerry Levine, president of the Levine Group Architects + Builders in Silver Spring, Md., and of the National Association of the Remodeling Industry. “Generally we seem to be seeing more requests for either an addition to a home or a lower-level remodeling project to accommodate three generations living in one home.”

At the NAHB International Builders Show in 2010, the New American Home Showcase home was a one-level residence with a master suite at each end.

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