Pros and cons of multi-generational living

Tim Waring, Head of Residential at Lister Haigh, Harrogate, looks at the trend towards multi-generational living

Have you ever wondered just what estate agents mean when they describe part of a property as being suitable for a wide variety of uses? Or have they just run out of flowery adjectives for a home that already has the proverbial spacious sitting room, elegant dining room and comprehensively fitted breakfast kitchen?Well, it seems that modern day living styles may provide the answer as more and more homes are adapted or extended to satisfy the growing trend for “multi-generation living”. This is where two or more adult generations are living at the same property.

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Rising trend

To put this trend into context, recent research suggests there could be 1.8 million such households in the UK, up 38% since 2009. It will probably not come as any surprise that the factors driving this increase include the opportunity to support older family members, the lack of retirement homes, the opportunity to help with childcare and, perhaps most notably, the number of millennials living with parents due to house price and affordability constraints. The Resolution Foundation believes about 20% of 25–34-year-olds currently live with parents compared with only 16% in 1991.The concept of a granny annexe is not a new one and I know a number of instances where rather bland garage blocks or ranges of outbuildings have been adapted for an elderly relative, but often these have been rather sparse and utilitarian, sometimes some distance from the main house itself.What is becoming increasingly apparent is how multi-generation living, is now proving to be families genuinely living together, increasingly all under the same roof. For many it’s essential that house layouts are adapted to give individual living areas, maybe combining two bedrooms and a shower room so one of the bedrooms can be used as separate sitting space.

Adaptations

For many the most important aspect of generation living involves creating a large overall living room (perhaps by knocking through between a kitchen and dining room) with the enlarged space becoming the focal point for the comings and goings of the whole family on a day-to-day basis.There are many practical upsides to this style of living. A large family under one roof pays one set of bills for council tax, internet, water, electricity and gas. Other household expenditure, from the likes of food shopping to property maintenance can be shared. Social well-being, personal interaction and family relationships can thrive with more daily contact between generations, especially grandparents with their grandchildren, who they might otherwise only occasionally see if living apart.

Happy families?

It may all sound like “happy families” and not something that might happen with your own relatives, but for many it does seem to work. In fact, it’s a style of living that has been culturally ingrained in some parts of the world for many many years and it is now rapidly growing in North America too. Canada reportedly saw a 40% rise in multiple generational households between 2001 and 2011, and some believe almost 20% of the population in the USA have multiple generations under one roof. Admittedly, these are places where there is generally more space to extend.

Benefits

While there are potentially inheritance tax benefits to multi-generation living, there are inevitably some downsides, in addition to the obvious assumption that you do/can/will all get on. It is harder to get the best mortgage deal if more than two people are listed on the property title deeds and many companies won’t lend to people over 70 or 75. And what happens if you do fall out, especially if the arrangement has been set up on the back of mutual trust and understanding?I think the whole concept has considerable merit and it is a trend that will continue. However, I do anticipate some readers wondering whether they could live with “the mother-in-law”.