The right floorplan, and attitude, can make intergenerational living a beautiful thing
by Catherine Nikas-Boulos
As Sydney house prices continue to sky rocket, the great Australian dream of owning your own home is becoming an impossible feat for most families.
In many cases, young couples who do manage to save for a home deposit are only able to buy well outside the city limits away from their network of family and friends.
While a whole generation of young adults has failed to launch, so to speak, others are getting smart about their real estate prospects and pooling their money with their parents.
Together, they are able to buy a property that suits their individual needs or build a freestanding granny flat that offers privacy and security on the same lot of land.
While this trend might still be in its infancy, there are many building companies reporting a rise in homeowners looking for floorplans that can house two families comfortably.
KEEPING IT TOGETHER
Greg Hendy, design manager at Elderton Homes, says there is a steady flow of families looking to build intergenerational homes.
“There are many families who don’t want to put parents in a nursing home — they look after them themselves. It is a cultural thing with the majority of our clients,” he says.
“For many of them, intergenerational living is not a new idea — this is the norm for many cultures. However, as house prices keep rising, this is a living option that is starting to become a preference for a lot of other families.”
The idea of putting two families in the one home could be a recipe for disaster, but Greg says if you get the design right, you’ve got a good chance of keeping the peace.
The CSR-HIA Award-winning Astaire design by Ansa Homes includes a comfortable two-bedroom granny flat.
FINDING A FLOORPLAN
In-law accommodation could be as simple as allowing for an additional bedroom with a small ensuite and some storage space.
Greg says if catering to elderly parents, this master suite is best positioned on the ground floor of a two-storey home, and if space and budget allow, a private sitting room that is separate from the other living rooms in the home would be ideal. “We have seen clients requesting this living arrangement with our smallest homes and also with some of our largest homes,” he says.
“Naturally, with the larger homes it is possible to provide much more amenity than is otherwise possible with a small home.
“With a small home, it might be just converting one of the living spaces to an extra bedroom with its own ensuite. With a larger home, we see clients looking to also add separate living areas, greater sizes to the rooms.”
Obviously, every family is unique, and Greg says nearly all designs can be juggled to accommodate every situation.
“We have had a client who has designed their home to accommodate an ageing parent downstairs and a newly married sibling to the rear of the first floor.”
Greg understands that this home design approach might raise a few eyebrows, but he insists this set-up can — and does — work.
“Traditionally, for most home buyers, at first glance this lifestyle would not be the most ideal option.”
He says ideally everyone wants their own home where they don’t need to share their space, but on the flip side, buyers who combine with family, can potentially afford a home that they otherwise may not have been able to purchase.
Elderton Homes has released several designs that suit intergenerational families, including the Turon, from the small lot housing range.
The Turon design has a guest room option, which adapts a living space within the existing home to a ground floor bedroom with an ensuite and walk-in robe.
Other designs include Kurmond Homes’ Glenleigh 39, Masterton Homes’ Merlot Elite and Wincrest Homes’ Trafalgar. All offer a bedroom and walk-in robe with ensuite on the ground floor to suit intergenerational living.
For new intergenerational homes to work, Greg says the floorplan needs to be discussed upfront between all family members.
“The design is intangibly linked to the social issues created with having the whole family living together under one roof. It is important that the needs for all family members are considered and respected.”
Equally as important though is the need for compromise from all family members.
“The definition of what we need in a home might have to be questioned too — if they are really needs or are actually just wants.”
MAKING FAMILIES HAPPY
According to regional manager Matt Garrett, trained couple and family therapist for elationships Australia, the trend of intergenerational living has come full circle.
“Living with extended family was the norm in the past,” he says. “Our grandparents used to live with us, women didn’t leave home unless they got married,” he says. “As we’re living longer, people have older parents who require support, or there are young adults returning to their family home to save for a deposit for their own home.”
Matt says the idea of intergenerational living is still met with some resistance.
“Across all ages, we’re becoming a more mobile and fluid society but we still have the need to come home,” he says.
He has spoken to parents who have built granny flats for their married children on their block of land, and the family network has benefited because of it.
“It builds resilience and it tightens families. Family is still the bedrock of our society.”
Even so, there are bound to be teething problems until everyone finds their feet.
Before a situation escalates, it’s good to set down parameters and default positions.
“We deal with this in the clinic all the time,” says Matt. “We have young parents trying to hold down jobs, grandparents only too happy to take care of children in the short term at least but, over time, if the relationship isn’t cared for, resentment can build.
“Grandparents are happy to stay involved, but they are not live-in babysitters. Even so, I think the benefits of living together outweigh the problems.”
It’s important to set up boundaries. Matt says in conversations with elderly parents, some still see their adult children as kids.
“They’ll walk into any space and feel like they have a parental right to do that,” he says. “Having private space, especially in places like the bedroom, is very important.”
TIME TO TALK
Family communication will keep the relationships in the house running smoothly.
Setting up a family date during the week to raise issues is one way to deal with problems when they are small.
“It could be one dinner time or an hour every weekend, and anything is up for negotiation,” says Matt. “People struggle with communicating effectively, especially with family, when it should all just roll out organically, and it rarely does.”
Matt says when there are two families it can make for an uncomfortable household when parents can hear their child and partner fighting, or vice versa.
“Everyone bickers and argues, but it should be done at times of the day when children aren’t there,” he says. “Don’t leave seeking help too long — you need to nip it in the bud.”
More: Elderton Homes eldertonhomes.com.au
Ansa Homes ansahomes.com.au
Relationships Australia relationships.org.au