Health and finances leading generations to share homes


Grandma may be moving in instead of heading to the retirement home and the jobless college grad may be back bunking with her teenage sister.

Nancy Snider's mother and daugher
Nancy Snider's mother and daugher

That trend was pinpointed by Coldwell Banker recently, in its first ever multi-generational housing survey of its members. "We were just getting some vibes that this was happening in the marketplace and we reached out to see" what people were hearing, Diann Patton, a California broker and Coldwell's consumer specialist, told WalletPop.

What they got was an earful. More than a third -- 37% to be exact -- of those surveyed said that in the past year they have found themselves encountering growing numbers of buyers looking for places that could accommodate grandma and the grad. Almost twice that many said they expected to see more demand in the future for multi-generational living space. The top incentives were finances and health concerns.

To some extent, Coldwell needed look no further than one of its Pittsburgh agents, Nancy Snider, who three years ago sized up, instead of down, to accommodate a family expanding in unanticipated ways. With two grown children out of the house, Snider had adopted a young girl. Then her parents moved in and, with them, her mentally challenged brother. (Her mother and daughter are pictured at right.)

"Our theme is 88 to 8," Snider told WalletPop, laughing.

For Snider, the solution was a "sprawling ranch" house, with five bedrooms and three bathrooms "so you really can get away from each other." Since she's an agent, finding the house was not complicated.

"I went to list a house, I'm looking around at it and I said to the seller, 'I'm pretty much thinking we ought to just get an appraisal because I think I am going to buy this house,'" she told WalletPop.

For other agents faced with buyers who want to house more than one generation, the trend means reassessing their inventory.

"It's just an eye-opener for sellers," Patton said. "We're ... having them look around and say, 'Could we convert this attic? This basement? Wow, could actually put a wall here, an exterior door here."

Some of the now unfashionable monster homes with two master suites, Patton said, may even find themselves sought after by these extended families.

Patton recommends that families considering such arrangements formalize them with a written contract -- either informally or via an attorney -- laying out everything from financial arrangements to chore sharing.

"Put some of the expectations in writing, so everyone understands who is responsible for what financially, in terms of the chores and so on," she said. "It's not a business venture exactly, but it's kind of like one."

Snider, however, said her arrangement was not codified in any way. She bought the house, her parents pay rent. Her mother cooks and helps care for 8-year-old Jayla. The biggest conflict they have faced was deciding which furniture from their combined households to keep and which to retire.

"Furniture was a nightmare," Snider said. "You wouldn't think that would be a big deal, but I liked my stuff, she liked her stuff. We just had stuff everywhere, blending two households. We hired a designer...and she didn't know whose was whose – she just chose what worked."

Once the furniture hurdle was cleared, the multi-generational arrangement began working so well, she said, that her friends are jealous.