“Multigenerational living offers many benefits, but it’s important to agree on how it will work in practice – and also to have a property suitable for shared living”.
In this latest Insight, Queensberry Properties’ sales and marketing director, Hazel Davies, offers some thoughts and advice on the sometimes tricky prospect of sharing your home with other members of the family:
“The prospect of living in close proximity to your in-laws was a staple of comedy routines for decades, yet multigenerational living is now being taken increasingly seriously. Existing housing stock isn’t ideally suited to an expanding and ageing population, while property prices are preventing many young people (and even some couples) from flying the nest. And with almost a quarter of the British population aged over 60, it’s not just twentysomethings who are recognising the benefits of shared occupancy.
“Of course, multigenerational living isn’t a new concept. Indeed, it’s always been widely accepted in some countries. Some cultures encourage the blending of families and generations, and recent UN data indicates Pakistan has one of the world’s highest ratios of households containing a child under 15 and an adult over 60. More than one in three households in Senegal and Gambia meet that definition, while one in five American households is now multigenerational.
Necessity or desire?
“In the UK, the prospect of three generations under one roof has often been viewed as an act of necessity, such as ‘boomerang children’ unable to afford a place of their own. Yet in truth, multigenerational living can bring valuable benefits to every participant. Older relatives find themselves in the heart of an active household again, regaining a sense of purpose and spending time with their nearest and dearest every day. The burdens of being a parent are eased immensely if a relative is on hand to help with housework and routine, sharing advice and experience. And children benefit from the different conversations and experiences they will enjoy with their grandparents, compared to their parents.
“With every successful example of multigenerational living, friends and neighbours begin to view this approach to family life more favourably. However, some homes are more suitable for multigenerational living than others. A one-bedroom city centre apartment is clearly too small, whereas a large executive villa may offer multiple opportunities for sub-division.
“Every family will have different ideas on where the line between private and communal accommodation should be drawn, but these are some of the best approaches:
- A dedicated floor. Put aside any notion of banishing granny to the attic – a separate floor for older or younger adult relatives can be great. They remain within the home, but have a clearly defined zone to retreat to. A kitchenette maintains a degree of autonomy, while a single front door encourages shared domestic responsibilities.
- An outbuilding. A double garage is ideal for conversion into a quartet of living, cooking, sleeping and washing zones. A side extension or other outbuilding can also provide main door access for greater privacy, potentially with a soundproofed party wall (and maybe an interconnecting door) into the main family dwelling.
- A shared kitchen. While it’s important for adult relatives to have their own living space, bedroom and bathroom, a shared kitchen acts as a bridge between two otherwise distinct homes. It also brings people together at times of day when family members will get the greatest benefit from each other’s presence.
“It’s crucial to hold frank discussions before entering into any multigenerational living situation. Who owns the property, and who is legally just a guest? Is there shared financial responsibility for bills and groceries, or are contributions regarded as gifts? What happens in the event of changing circumstances? It’s advisable to draw up a legal document protecting everyone’s rights, especially if one participant is less enthusiastic than others. And while there’s no need to legalise ground rules, basic policies on etiquette and financial assistance are especially important between parents and returning adult children. A forthright chat at the outset could nip many future problems in the bud”.