Australia’s extended families are changing the way we design & build our homes
Times are a changing. Our kids no longer leave home at 17, parents live longer, and many of us have given up commuting to work and instead work remotely from home. And, housing is less affordable than ever. These changes are having a profound effect on our living environments with many families opting for extended family living arrangements, building houses flexible enough to accommodate a variety of changes over the decades. It’s a growing trend and one that’s worth exploring.
Understanding multigenerational living
Multigenerational living is where more than one generation lives under the same roof. And a lot of Australians, over 4 million of us, live this way. Sydney leads the way, with one in four people living in multigenerational homes, while for the rest of Australians it’s one in five.
The reasons make perfect sense:
Working parents – Parents faced with childcare shortages or a lack of cash look to grandparents to take care of the little ones.
Aged care costs – with baby boomers living longer, adequate aged care facilities are still in demand, with many being expensive or just plain out of reach for many families. Keeping parents at home makes life more affordable, and easier to care for them. Also, many feel that they could do a better job caring for their mum and dad, maintaining their close relationship while saving money.
Improved relationships – many people, particularly those Australians with ethnic or Asian backgrounds mention the preference to live closely with their ageing parents, and for their children to develop a meaningful relationship with the grandparents while they are still around.
Housing affordability – according to Dr Edgar Liu from UNSW’s City Futures Research Centre, the co-author of the new book, Living Together: the rise of multigenerational households in Australian cities, 55% of his survey respondents quoted finance as one of the reasons they decided to live with other family members. As we know, housing affordability is at its most difficult which is impacting many. For most twentysomethings, saving money for a deposit is close to impossible (irrespective of the amount of avocado toast you may consume!) This stress is increased if young adults are living away from home and wasting potential savings on rent. Living at home with Mum and Dad make saving easier, especially if they’re also studying for much-needed qualifications. Parents also benefit, with twentysomethings pitching in on rent to help slug off the final mortgage repayments.
Also, many Australians with a desire to own their own home feel that co-purchasing is the only way they will be able to afford such a luxury, and it makes sense to go into such a serious, long-term investment with a family member rather than a friend.
Building for intergenerational living
‘Future proofing’ is an apt buzzword when it comes to building for multi-generations. It’s all about building to accommodate a variety of living circumstances that may occur over future decades.
Plenty of space and areas allowing for privacy are paramount – researchers say that survey respondents state privacy as the biggest bugbear of shared living arrangements. Space separation is a must, with researchers recommending quiet, private sleeping and study areas but shared living spaces (although this recommendation is not always necessary for certain home builds). And, while open plan living is attractive, too much of it can be a problem due to noise travel or a general lack of privacy. Instead, allow for private areas, and ensure that bedrooms and studies are positioned in quiet parts of the home.
Ground floor living is essential for the elderly, so ensuring that eating, sleeping and bathroom activities can all take place on the one floor is a must. Wheelchair friendly features are also important; ensuring adequately wide doors, ramps and that kitchens and bathrooms are wheelchair friendly. If at a later stage, grandparents were no longer around and a bedroom was free, then it could easily convert into a guest room or much-appreciated study area.
Some multigenerational house designs embrace privacy further by offering separate kitchenettes (a handy feature for adult children or grandparents), separate front doors, additional bathrooms or ensuites built with every bedroom for more privacy.
If the predictions are correct, multigenerational living is not going to go away in a hurry. So when planning your new family home, think about your requirements not just for now, but in 10, 20 or even 50 years time.