Multigenerational Living: Moving in With Aging Parents

Multigenerational living is not new.  In many cultures, families have been living together generation after generation and even in this country’s history it was far more common than it is today.  The trend is changing again, and builders who have been watching this trend have now started building single family homes with special apartments designed for multifamily living.  To allow this type of housing many towns will need to loosen their zoning restrictions but that flexibility is vital, as these new homes fill an increasing need.  With parents living longer and housing costs on the rise, this option does solve some challenges but it can create new ones.

Living with parents whether you are age 25 or 55 is not easy.  As adults we strive for our own independence and we like to live with certain freedoms.  When you have children of your own freedom quickly dissipates.  If you add additional adults to the mix without setting boundaries and expectations the transition may be more troublesome than you imagine.  Your parents need their independence too,  years of taking care of themselves and you is ingrained in them.  As your parents age, their mobility and health may slowly deteriorate, leaving you with new care-giving expectations however, preparing your home for these future challenges can help alleviate future stress.

The good news is living with your parents can come with many benefits.  Parents may be able to offset some childcare costs, perhaps agree to some of the dinner preparation and housework, and financially help with the bills.  Practical consideration aside, this is also an opportunity to give aging parents the gift of you and your families company.  Living with a grandparent has benefits for the children as well.  Sometimes grandparents can bridge the gap between stress filled parents and their children creating a calm amongst the chaos.                                                                                  

Aside from the obvious benefits there are things that you would need to be mindful of when deciding to live together.  Privacy is one such consideration.  When choosing to live with other adults, you have to create a space for privacy, a retreat from the ongoing hustle and bustle.  If your parents are moving from their own home to joint living arrangements with you they will need their own space as well.  This can be accomplished in a few ways.

Adding A Home Addition

Adding an addition to your existing home or your parents’ home might be a viable option.  Wondering where to start?  

  1. Check with the local zoning or planning department in your city or town.  Ask what the process is for adding an addition and see if they will approve the changes you are proposing. 
  2. Once you have verified that it’s an option, you should speak with a builder or designer that is certified in "aging in place."  This will ensure that any changes you make in the construction phase will accommodate future needs such as mobility issues.  Walk-in showers, larger door openings for wheelchair or walker access, hard surface flooring instead of carpet, grab bars and lever handle faucets to help with arthritis, are just some of the enhancements that will help them to live comfortably and safely in the home as they age.
  3. Need financing?  When you have the quote from your builder, start shopping around for a loan.  You might have many options to choose from so it is vital that you weigh all of them carefully.  If you need financial advice speak with an adviser or accountant.  If your parents will be gifting money for the addition, or you will be adding to their existing home, call an Estate Attorney that deals with elder law (see comments in Buying A New Home).  In any case, if you need a loan, build in a 10% buffer for any unexpected costs.

Adding A Bedroom

Adding an addition to your home is not always an option but creating a bedroom might be.  If you are adding walls to create a new bedroom and your home is on a septic system, check with your city or town to see if your system is big enough for the extra bedroom.  In New Hampshire for example, we compare capacity of the system to the number of bedrooms in the home. Once you have checked, inquire about any permits that might be needed. 

When you are considering the design, it’s important to make sure that your parents will have easy access to the main areas of the home, the kitchen, living room and bathroom.  Changes in your parents health may affect their balance.  To reduce the risk of falling you might want to consider removing any carpet and installing a hard flooring surface in all the main areas of the home, including their bedroom. It may also benefit them to replace your tub with a walk-in shower.

Finding storage space may be a challenge.  To prepare your home, it’s best to consolidate your items first and declutter.  When your parents come they may have a houseful of items that they are reluctant to give up.   Be patient, find out what their most important items are and explain the storage options they may have.  This might include renting storage space if there are big pieces of furniture or antiques they want to keep.  

Buying A New Home

Builders around the country are noticing the trend of multigenerational living and some are building homes with apartments for additional family members.  Some older homes may even advertise an "in-law apartment" or "accessory unit."  Towns may require new owners to reapply for a "special use" permit that was issued to the previous homeowners.  When you see a home advertised as such call the zoning department in the city or town where the property is located and ask:

  1.  Do they allow these apartments?
  2. What are the restrictions on these apartments?
  3. Would you need to be reapproved once the home is purchased?

If you are buying a home with your parents, investigate the options you have with regards to the title and mortgage.  Check with an Estate Attorney who specializes in elder law.  If one parent ever needs Medicaid assistance you want to understand how the state will view the property.

Living with your parents can be beneficial for everyone.  It’s imperative to establish boundaries and expectations up front.  Who will pay for what?  How will the home responsibilities be divided?  Can they help with the kids?   If you have siblings talk to them about what you are planning and keep them in the loop, as they may be able to provide support as your parents age.

Growing up in a multigenerational home myself provided me, my siblings and my parents many benefits and great memories.  Most of all, we remember our nana’s unconditional love.  So what are the keys to successfully living in a multigenerational household?  Good planning, great communication and lots of love.

My Nana,  Constance Cossette (Affannato)

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