Just recently I listed a raised ranch in Yorktown Heights that is set up perfectly as a multigenerational house, with independent living space for a separate or related family on each level. Thinking about the prospects who might be interested in buying it, I am aware that there is a much bigger market for this kind of living arrangement today, but it also brought back many personal memories.
When the Germans invaded Lithuania during World War II, my wife’s father and mother had to escape their native land because my father-in-law was wanted as a high-ranking army officer and surely would have been executed, but both of their sets of parents and most of their siblings chose to remain.
Only after 30 years when the Iron Curtain fell was my wife’s grandmother able to come to America to re-join her three daughters who had migrated here from various displaced persons camps. Mociute as we called her in Lithuanian, who was in her late 80s and didn’t speak a word of English, came to live with us for a while because my mother-in-law still worked, while my wife was a stay-at-home mom when my daughter was a baby. They kept each other company and spoke Lithuanian to each other all day.
I must say that it was interesting having Mociute with us day to day. She represented the Old World to me in that her husband in his youth had been a guard to Nicholas and Alexandra of Russia. In addition, she adored me, thought I was handsome and could do no wrong. And, for her advanced age, she was very hip, one morning suggesting to my wife that she doll herself up in the morning before I left for work because, she said, “there are pretty girls he sees all day at work.” I missed her when my mother-in-law retired and Mociute went to live with her.
After she died and my father-in-law followed soon after, we invited my mother-in-law to come live with us, but she declined, preferring her independence. She lived alone until her 90s, with the help of a caretaker and frequent visits from my wife. I would have loved the experience of having her live with us, because she was just as interesting as her mother.
The house I live in today has been around since the 1700s and descendants of the original owners tell me that as many as four generations have lived here at the same time. That was common in colonial times. Then, after World War II when there was a rush to private home ownership courtesy of the GI Bill, young married couples could afford to live on their own and preferred it that way.
I know that I couldn’t wait to be out on my own, leaving home for college at 18 and never going back. A generation later, however, my daughter lived with us from the time she graduated from college until she married, and I was delighted by that. And only recently she reminded me that she expects us to live with her when it’s time. I smile at her mentioning that because my wife and I remember when, as a seven year old, she told us that we should live with her in this same house after she grew up and married, assigning us to what is now a small rental unit, rather than the main house.
In the swinging and prosperous 80s and 90s, most young adults would rather have died than admit that they still lived with their parents. But in the 2000s, especially after being plunged into the worst recession since the Great Depression, that attitude has totally changed. Life is harder and more expensive, and multigenerational living is now much more common.
A recent survey among Coldwell Banker agents reported that 39 percent of agents interviewed cited financial drives as the principal reason that home buyers or sellers were moving into a house with other generations. Health care reasons were listed by 29 percent and six percent attributed combined households to a strong family bond.
Since 1990, the number of multigenerational households has grown by 40 percent so that today some 50 million Americans, or 16 percent of the population, live in such households. With life expectancy increasing, baby boomers now retiring and pension funds losing ground, these statistics should only continue to accelerate.
The main remodeling considerations to prepare for such an eventuality in your own household are to finish basements with a full bathroom and to include a full bath on the main floor as well, rather than just a half bath.
Another good idea is to remain best friends with family members who came before and after us. In my case, I’m happy to report it’s been a love fest all the way.