Builders Respond to Desire for Multigenerational Homes

The new American household is much like the old multigenerational household that existed before World War II, recent population trends show. And builders are responding by offering "bonus" and "flex" rooms, while circumventing outdated zoning.
November 30, 2012, 1pm PST | Jonathan Nettler | @nettsj
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Penelope Green examines efforts by the nation's largest homebuilders to "accommodate the changing shape of the American family: boomer couples with boomerang children and aging parents, an increasingly multiethnic population with a tradition of housing three generations under one roof, and even singles who may need to double up with siblings or friends in this fraught economic climate."

Lennar, Pulte, Ryland and KB Homes all offer alternatives that can provide semi-private accommodations for additional household members without running afoul of zoning that bans accessory dwelling units.

"Scott Thomas, national director of product development for PulteGroup, the largest homebuilder in the United States, said his company now offers layouts with larger 'flex rooms' and an over-the-garage apartment it calls the Grand Retreat," notes Green. "Ryland and KB Homes have been offering similar alternatives, and have seen their popularity increase as multigenerational households become more common."

"'For whatever reason,' Mr. Thomas said, 'whether it’s the return of something that was part of our lifestyle in the past, or simply related to the economy, multigenerational living is definitely taking place.' Thirty percent of Pulte customers are asking for such features, the company said."

And what about the pesky “dead hand of single-family zoning,” noted by Michael Litchfield, the author of “In-Laws, Outlaws, and Granny Flats: Your Guide to Turning One House into Two Homes”? "To circumvent zoning that is leery of duplexes," says Green, "Lennar’s Next Gen houses run on a single electric meter, have only microwave convection ovens in the apartment, and from the outside look like other houses."

“One address, one hookup, one electric meter,” said Alan Jones, Lennar’s Arizona division president.

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Published on Thursday, November 29, 2012 in The New York Times
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