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How to make multi-generational living work for the whole family

05 Aug 2019

High property prices, rising consumer inflation and stagnant salaries, as well as the shortage of affordable retirement accommodation have precipitated a spike in multi-generational living in recent years, however, in addition to all the advantages, there are also numerous potential pitfalls to navigate.

Essentially, there needs to be room for a combination of social spaces for everyone to gather, but it’s equally important that everyone also has their own space, no matter how small.

Yael Geffen, CEO of Lew Geffen Sotheby’s International Realty, says multi-generational living can be a very smart fiscal move as costs become more efficient when shared, and it’s also a very practical way for generations to help each other out, whether it be providing a home or sharing a rung on the property ladder.

However, putting three generations under one roof - the most common multigenerational living arrangement - is not without its challenges, and thorough planning as well as a number of adjustments and compromises are necessary in order for it to work, says Geffen.

She says the first step is to take an objective look at your home and assess how well it works for everyone, young and old.

“If your home could be problematic for someone with mobility issues who might have difficulty climbing stairs or getting into a bath, then it might be a better idea to convert an attached garage into a self-contained flat as everything will be accessible and on one level,” says Geffen.

“And, if there is a choice of ground-floor and first-floor bedrooms, allocate the rooms on the lower level to the older generation even if they are still very mobile as these will remain accessible as your family ages. Also, having bedrooms on both floors with the youngsters upstairs will create a natural separation between generations.”

Within the home, living space decisions are critical to success and, as changes are far more difficult to make at a later stage once everyone has moved in, it’s best to get it right from the start.

Essentially, there needs to be room for a combination of social spaces for everyone to gather, but it’s equally important that everyone also has their own space, no matter how small.

If this is likely to be a long-term arrangement, it’s essential to factor in the future and create a home that can be adapted to your family’s changing needs. Aspects to consider for older family members include clear circulation spaces and wheelchair access, and also the possibility of needing additional bedrooms for children who might need their own rooms when older.

Practicality is key, especially in rooms like bathrooms which can be the most challenging of all for the elderly. Geffen suggests that one of the best solutions is to have a modern-style wet room with a low-slip tiled floor as opposed to the traditional small, enclosed shower and separate bath.

She adds that it’s important to bear in mind that too many floor and ceiling level changes are likely to compromise what you’re able to do with the building in the future.

However, preparing your home is only one aspect that needs careful planning and preparation - and the other can be even trickier.

“It’s equally important to prepare your family and ensure they all understand how this will impact their lives. Before moving in together, encourage everyone to talk about what they expect, including what they are excited about, and what’s making them nervous,” says Geffen.

“And be realistic about your expectations, after all, people won’t change overnight, grandparents are always going to prefer music at a lower decibel than teens and youngsters will want to hang out with their grandparents only so much.”

And once the deed is done and everyone is living under one roof, maintaining the harmony is best achieved through consistency and communication, she says.

Hold regular family meetings to discuss issues before they become problems, and try and stick to routines like set dinner times and bedtimes.

“Other issues that could require special attention include conflicts between grandparents and their adult children over parenting as attitudes often differ between the generations, and it should never be assumed that grandparents are available to take care of their grandchildren with little or no notice,” says Geffen.

“The biggest advantage of a multi-generational household is that it provides a wonderful opportunity for the generations to connect, so take advantage of it by treasuring the time, having fun and making memories.”

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