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Generation Homes' chief executive Kevin Atkinson offers some tips for successful multi-generational living

21 December 2018

Multi-generational living is a very practical way for generations of the same family to help each other out – by providing a home or by sharing a rung on the property ladder.  Responding to the challenges of modern day living can create great win:win situations.

Living together makes it easier for grandparents to help with childcare, and also means younger generations can help older family members to live independently for longer and can provide grandparents with companionship, support and care during that time.

As a national builder working with kiwi families, we’re seeing an increase in the number of families choosing to build a home for two or more generations.  We work through design decisions with many families to reach a solution that works for all the family now and one that will also meet their needs in the future.

Contrary to the urban myth that this demand is driven only by Maori, Pasifika and Asian families, recent New Zealand research shows this demand is across the board, culturally and ethnically, and involves a wide range of socio-economic groups.

This is not just a New Zealand phenomenon. World-wide, in countries where multi-generational living has not been the norm in the last 50 to 75 years or so, the demand for homes specifically designed to house two or more generations of adults is growing rapidly.

How close together?

The first consideration is whether to build a home and income (a main residence and a separate dwelling for grandparents which can be rented separately at some time in the future) or to build one large home with room for extended family – a true multi-generational home (MGH).  External factors are likely to influence that decision.  There may be covenants preventing new home and income units in your area or council rules preventing two full kitchens in one dwelling. Then it becomes an individual choice, influenced by how close families want to be on a day-to- day basis and how much support older family members need.

We are most often asked to create a home and income option, but we also get lots of interest from families wanting to live together in one large home.  If you are thinking about building a MGH there are lots of things to consider.  Do you have one large living area, possibly with separate zones or spaces for different activities like watching TV, reading or entertaining; or do you need more than one living room?

It comes down to budget

There can be as many bedrooms and bathrooms as the family want and can afford and this often means two (or even more) master bedroom/ensuites in the house.

Degrees of separation    

Sometimes grandparents want a studio or bedroom plus ensuite and living room, and this can include an extended scullery so they can make their own tea and coffee or prepare snacks without having to go to the main kitchen.

Access and outdoor areas

If separate access is required for different occupants of the home, this can be arranged in different ways.  A house design can be tweaked, turning a laundry door into a mock front door for some of the residents; or a ranch slider into a living area can be another entrance.  A bit of landscaping can change the presentation and focus of an outside door not originally intended as a main entrance.

It’s important to consider how each family member will use outdoor areas.  Does the home need space for swings and other outdoor equipment; should there be a BBQ area, will there be a vege garden, and is space required for an ornamental garden?  Storage for equipment used outside will also be needed.

Planning ahead for peace and quiet

Careful planning in the design stages can avert any noise issues in a shared house – especially if any of the occupants play a musical instrument or have loud hobbies. Noise insulation can be easily and cost effectively built in, so long as it is considered in the early stages.  

Into the future

Like any home building project, it’s important to consider what you’re going to need on the future as well as what you need now.  That may influence the decision to build either a home and income property or a larger MGH. 

It’s also important to consider the future needs of the oldest occupants and look at doorways and access areas to ensure they are easily managed and could accommodate a wheelchair if you think that might be necessary in future.

Cost considerations

An MGH will be bigger than the normal family home and therefore more expensive. An MGH project needs to start with a section that is at least 650-800 sq metres. In the Auckland regionthat section is going to cost around $6-700,000 and an MGH built on that will cost $700,000 or more to build.  But for around $1.4-1.5 million it’s a lot cheaper than building two homes.

The benefits for families of living together in one home far outweigh the time spent getting it right at the beginning.  It isn’t for everyone, but for families who are close, or who want to be close, there are very real benefits.

Kevin Atkinson - Generation Homes' Chief Executive