For many people, owning a home marks a significant step on the path to achieving the “American Dream.” While the dream of homeownership has remained constant for countless generations, the profiles of home buyers, as well as the types of homes they are searching for, are ever-changing. In fact, according to a recent Coldwell Banker Real Estate LLC survey, 37 percent of agents noted an increase in home buyers looking to purchase homes to accommodate more than one generation of their family. These include homes with “mother-in-law suites,” garage apartments, refurbished basements, or other separate living areas.
Whether they are driven by financial reasons, health care concerns, a strong family bond or the desire to own a home that meets potential future needs, families who are looking to purchase a home with space for multiple generations can often find the process a bit overwhelming, especially if they have not lived together previously. But, there are a few simple ways to limit stress and avoid damaging family ties.
- Determine your exact needs. Every family has their own specific needs when it comes to buying a multi-generational home. Some may just want an extra bedroom or two for family members, while others will require areas with a separate kitchen, entrance, handicap accessibility or even a larger garage for additional cars. Desired location may also be influenced by proximity to local hospitals, senior centers or schools. A multi-generational family should determine their exact requirements before beginning the search. Once the list of essentials is finalized, it’s best to contact a real estate professional who can determine if the expectations are realistic given the homes currently on the market.
- Be prepared to compromise. With several family members weighing in on their home-related preferences, there’s bound to be a few differences of opinion. Looking beyond the necessities like the home’s layout and size, there may be disagreements on things like style, date of construction and overall feel. The more people involved in the decision making process, the more difficult it may be to agree on all of the features of a future home, so multi-generational home buyers should be prepared to compromise.
- Speak with a real estate professional. A family who is purchasing a home with the intent to create separate living areas should speak with a local real estate agent who can advise them on how to inquire about city ordinances and zoning and building codes before closing the deal. There may be laws or regulations in place that could prevent the buyer from turning the home into a multifamily unit or adding on to an existing property. And, while buyers may not plan to charge their family members rent each month, they should also research local laws and rent restrictions on second units that could prevent them from legally renting out or inhabiting a second dwelling down the road.
- Put everything in writing. Families who are purchasing a home together should consider signing a written contract outlining who is responsible for everything from finances to chores and childcare. Additionally, the family should delineate how assets will be divided should the living situation not work out or change.
- Take inventory of everyone’s belongings. Before joining households, each family member should make a list of the furniture they plan to keep and compare lists. There may not be a need (or a place) for three televisions and two kitchen tables in the new house. Consider selling unwanted pieces of furniture online, or holding a garage sale. The money made can be put to good use on purchases for the new home.
Most importantly, be patient and give everyone time to adjust to the new living situation. Even though buyers of multi-generational homes likely know each other well, they should prepare to be exposed to family members’ habits that they may not have been aware of if they were previously living in separate homes. Multi-generational living will likely take some getting used to, but the more time families spend together the closer they may become, making their new living situation even more of a rewarding experience.