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Multi-Generational Houses: The New Normal? by Winter Park Orlando Florida architect, John Henry

Services for Real Estate Pros with John Henry Masterworks Design International, Inc. 13013

About two weeks ago I was approached by a local custom builder to revamp an existing house design in plan and elevations in order to offer for sale to a client from Miami.  The client liked the builder's model in a smaller high-end subdivision but needed changes to the plan to accommodate him and his son, both doctors who are moving to Orlando. The facade needed more windows and had to be different from the model house just a few lots down.  The house above is the new elevation and the meeting is actually this afternoon for the builder to seal the deal.

After reading a fine tutorial by Debb and Bernie for a multigenerational house, I realized that this is exactly what I am doing right now. 

In July of last year, I posted information about multi-generational houses and living as was typical in the 'old country'.  If you missed it, please click here to see some more background information and details about one or two of the houses I have designed in the past.


The statistics are surprising: 20% of all Americans are living in multi-generational houses, over 60 million people -- and the rate is rising.  There are a few reasons cited:  marrying late, higher levels of immigration, cost of housing, financially capable Baby Boomers, need for in-house caregivers.

The definition given: 

The U.S. Census Bureau defines multigenerational families as those consisting of more than two generations living under the same roof.

Multi-generational housing design, however, may be a little late catching up to this trend.  The last recession saw a spike in Millennials living at home with parents.  And if many family members and friends are simply living together to share expenses, the result is a crowded situation where privacy concerns cannot be met.  Existing single-family housing is being simply converted to multigenerational use.

Of course, MultiGen living is not a new concept.  In this country and abroad, throughout Europe, Asia, and the Middle East, years ago it was the absolute norm and continues to this day here and overseas.  Grandparents were cared for by their children while the younger generation was tended to by the oldest and the middle generation continued to work and provide for all.

In the U.S. and other first world countries with the rise of adult care and medical facilities outside the home, the bonds between family members has weakened.

Economics is always a prominent reason to consider a MultiGen house, and even good friends can split the costs of ownership and maintenance.  A good contract is important in these cases.

I worked up another video presentation of the multigeneration house concept.  Please see below: 

Are you seeing this type of approach/construction trending in your area and what do you think about the projects that are being built?  How does resale compare to traditional single-family homes?  Are these homes well-received in single-family subdivisions?  Do they need their separate zoning?

I think a two-story house has a better way of offering privacy to two generations, with bedrooms and one living area given over to each, with communal spaces typically on the first floor, but in the link I provided you will see the main Living, Kitchen and Dining area on the second floor.

(From medieval times and before, a tradesperson and family would work on the ground floor and have living areas above.  In the countryside, the living areas were developed above the barn for animals below.)


Gordon Crawford
Gordon Crawford Home Selling Team - Morristown, NJ
Your Morris County Specialist!

Great post, John Henry.  Haven't seen the multigen housing here yet, but I can see where it would be a growing trend.  

Aug 08, 2019 06:11 AM
John Henry, Florida Architect

Thank you, Gordon Crawford   Let us know if things change in your area.  If you are dealing with high-end clientele this model is not as prevalent.

Aug 10, 2019 06:07 AM
Sham Reddy CRS
Howard Hanna RE Services, Dayton, OH - Dayton, OH

Multigenerational living is a necessity is many cultures inclding the one I grew up in.  Of course you have to give some privacy to gain lot of living expenses

Aug 08, 2019 06:22 AM
John Henry, Florida Architect

Yes, necessity has been the bottom line for the historical paradigm.  Yes, privacy, especially in smaller homes, is given up for savings on housing expenses.  Thank you, Sham Reddy CRS 

Aug 10, 2019 09:02 AM
Scott Godzyk
Godzyk Real Estate Services - Manchester, NH
One of the Manchester NH's area Leading Agents

I am definately seeing an increase in them here in NH as well. 

Aug 08, 2019 06:39 AM
John Henry, Florida Architect

Thanks for weighing in, Scott Godzyk   The two Master Suite model may be the first step in a standard offering by spec builders.

Aug 10, 2019 09:03 AM
Dorte Engel
RE/MAX Leading Edge - Bowie, MD
ABC - Annapolis, Bowie, Crofton & rest of Maryland

Dear John,

An old idea revived. What really needs to happen is a change in zoning rules. Locally, one county is changing their rules to allow tighter housing and multi-units. Since houses can last a century or more, it would be good to make the design flexible, so future owners can use it differently. I have seen little home offices, student housing, AirBnBs & many other uses for accessory dwelling units or in-law suites. Great topic.

Aug 08, 2019 07:13 AM
John Henry, Florida Architect

Hi Dorte, indeed this is an old idea repacked into a new concept.  I think at least one generation here has avoided the multi-gen way of living and now many outside forces are impinging on housing design. Thank you for your insight, Dörte Engel 

Aug 10, 2019 09:04 AM
Michael Rasch
International Property Finder - Property Option - Hallandale Beach, FL
Michael Rasch 305-741-1819

My very old long time ago business was Victoria Restoration, I could tell you what year your home was built by looking at the 2x4's ( been around forever and over time the real dimensions have changed) 

Anyway, you might want to look at the past to determine the needs of the future: for example, the Seniors (gram's) bedroom was always first floor, near the kitchen and had it's own bathroom. Then of course you had living room, dinning room, family room ( library ) and the kitchen which was huge with a table in the center. and of course the sun parlor or sewing room 

Stairs to the second floor always lead to the first 2 bedrooms ( left and right T intersection ) being the kid rooms ( the oldest having the room towards the street side view ), then walk along the veranda, and you'll  encounter another bedroom and the full bath for the kids. keep going and then you'll get to mom and dad's room. which has everything plus a ton of closets and it's own bathroom. 

Aug 08, 2019 07:42 AM
John Henry, Florida Architect

Memories of the long ago with mom and dad are wonderful and many of us had the great opportunity to be in a 'heritage' home where families lived there generation after generation.  The mobility that we have now has made housing a temporary, almost throwaway commodity.  Your recollection has cues of either an older Victorian style home or Bungalow.  Btw: what is the current dimension of a 2x4?  Still 1 1/2 x 3 1/2?  Do you know why dimensional framing has been cut down over the last 50-75 years?  Thanks, Michael Rasch 

Aug 08, 2019 09:36 AM
Gene Mundt, IL/WI Mortgage Originator - FHA/VA/Conv/Jumbo/Portfolio/Refi
NMLS #216987, IL Lic. 031.0006220, WI Licensed. APMC NMLS #175656 - New Lenox, IL
708.921.6331 - 40+ yrs experience

Our youngest son is considering making this move with his in-laws right now, John Henry ... what is old is new again ...

Congrats on a very deserving and interesting Feature!


Aug 08, 2019 08:01 AM
John Henry, Florida Architect

Thank you, Gene.  Yes, exactly: what is old is new again.  Sort of like the "Not So Big" phenomenon that mesmerized people thinking that the idea of building smaller allowed more money for interior details and whatnot.  In this case, there is solid reasoning behind designing for several generations under one roof.  I hope your son's move will work out very well!  Gene Mundt, IL/WI Mortgage Originator - FHA/VA/Conv/Jumbo/Portfolio/Refi 

Aug 08, 2019 09:04 AM
Grant Schneider
Performance Development Strategies - Armonk, NY
Your Coach Helping You Create Successful Outcomes

Good morning John - very well deserved feature.  This is a great idea and making multigenerational home designs like you have been doing is going to make it even more popular.

Aug 08, 2019 08:15 AM
John Henry, Florida Architect

Thanks, Grant.  This is a case of go with the flow or isolate yourself in an ivory tower (architecturally).  I like the challenge of innovation to solve a current social/economic problem.  It shakes things up and gives the consumer another alternative to consider. Grant Schneider 

Aug 08, 2019 09:02 AM
John Marshall - FORE!
LoKation Real Estate - Cherry Hills Village, CO
Specializing in Golf Course Properties

In Denver we have seen a couple builders add multi-gen homes to their inventory, and I love the concept, I recently sold two custom homes that were both designed for two families

Aug 08, 2019 08:42 AM
John Henry, Florida Architect

I am not sure if this is a trend due to economic uncertainty, a return to tradition, or a negation of the medical group care facilities but it certainly is catching on.  Do you find that multi-gen houses sell quicker and for a premium?  Thank you John Marshall - FORE! 

Aug 08, 2019 09:00 AM
Mike Easton
Movement Bank - Charlotte, NC
Creative lending solutions from coast to coast

I love my in laws and so does my wife but I think being that close to them might cause a rift eventually...also the multi generational housing would be something that not all buyers are interested in so wouldnt that hurt the resale potential and DOM??

Aug 08, 2019 08:44 AM
John Henry, Florida Architect

Good question.  If you look at the current thinking, a simple double Master Suite seems good enough to tag a house MultiGen.  I think there is more that you can do but if that is the least done in a new build then you will have more flexibility I think in the resale and be higher valued. 

Aug 08, 2019 08:58 AM
Jill Sackler
Charles Rutenberg Realty Inc. 516-575-7500 - Long Beach, NY
LI South Shore Real Estate - Broker Associate

This is absolutely the trend. I started seeing this with young couples years ago. It's beneficial to everyone involved.

Aug 08, 2019 11:01 AM
John Henry, Florida Architect

It really can be just a small innovation to an existing house or new design that I think will make houses more marketable, reach a larger potential buying group.  Thanks, Jill Sackler 

Aug 10, 2019 09:06 AM
Jonathan Hall
William Pitt Sotheby's International Realty - Danbury, CT
Realtor - Danbury,CT Area Real Estate~203-417-0523

I recently sold a teradown to a client so they could built a multi-generational home. They couldn't find anything acceptable in our market even with a sizable budget that was suitable as they needed a fully accessible in-law that was well connected into the main area of the house. 

Aug 08, 2019 11:04 AM
John Henry, Florida Architect

That's interesting.  It seems different areas have slightly different economic and social forces pressing for specific needs in houses.  We have a lot of houses being built for seasonal visitors from out of country who will bring two or three families to a vacation here in Florida.  Thank you, Jonathan Hall 

Aug 10, 2019 09:08 AM
Richie Alan Naggar
people first...then business Ran Right Realty - Riverside, CA
agent & author

As long as everyone has their private space....its all good and doable

Aug 08, 2019 01:10 PM
John Henry, Florida Architect

Privacy is a premium but can be worked out in a typically larger house with formal living and dining rooms and an isolated bedroom and bath.  Thanks, Richie Alan Naggar 

Aug 10, 2019 09:09 AM
John Wiley
Fort Myers, FL
Lee County, FL, ECO Broker, GRI, SRES,GREEN,PSA

Great post.

Here in SW Florida, there are several builders that put Multigenerational Homes in their subdivision. It is a growing trend.

Baby Boomers, who thought they were about ready to down size, found they had a parent that they needed to bring into their home. At the same time, their Millennial child finished college and could not get a job and they came home. Mixing 3 generations is tricky in a regular home.

I think more builders need to add this to their floor plan selection.

Aug 08, 2019 04:24 PM
John Henry, Florida Architect

Good point, John Wiley   You have stated the biggest reason multi-gen is a fallback, due to economics and caregiving.  Florida also has many snowbirds that will bring huge amounts of friends for the holidays so they require much large houses.  The less expensive houses being built as specs seem to solve this only by adding bedrooms.  For a short time, that is not a bad solution but longterm it is.

Aug 10, 2019 09:13 AM
Monique Ting
INET Realty Honolulu, HI - Honolulu, HI
Your agent under the sun

Aloha from Hawaii where the concept of multi-generation housing has been paracticed for decades ... Here those homes are called "Ohana" dwellings and they are quite popular. It is about time the rest of the country embraces the trend and sees the advantages of having several generations live under the same roof, while still having some privacy!

Aug 09, 2019 08:20 AM
John Henry, Florida Architect

Hello Monique, thanks for mentioning this unique Island Culture way of life.  The trend is growing and I see it being in the forefront for another 10-15 years.  Thank you again, Monique Ting 

Aug 10, 2019 09:14 AM
Patrick Willard
Rio Rancho, NM

We had some family friends when I was growing up that had about 3 acres and behind the main house they built a small house for the grand parents. I had another friend who's dad built a small two BR home on his poperty behind his house for my friend's older sister who was divorced with two children. My friend, Norman, and I would often baby sit for his sister. These living situations used to be fairly common.

Aug 09, 2019 10:14 AM
John Henry, Florida Architect

Correct, and they work only when enough land is available for a separate structure.  Whether connected directly or not depends on several factors.  Thank you, Patrick Willard 

Aug 10, 2019 09:15 AM
Ron Barnes
Associate Broker at Berkshire Hathaway Home Services Georgia Properties - Jasper, GA
"Most agents claim they're #1 - I THINK YOU'RE #1!

Very interesting! We have a "senior heavy" community, and this comes up all the time.

Aug 10, 2019 06:52 AM
John Henry, Florida Architect

Hi Ron, yes, this multigenerational thing seems to be the new 'it' in new housing.  It is an old story repackaged!  And seniors would benefit greatly of course having a younger generation close but not having to get in each other's way.  Thank you, Ron Barnes 

Aug 27, 2019 07:32 AM
Debb Janes
Nature As Neighbors - Camas, WA
Put My Love of Nature At Work for You

Finally got a chance to watch the video. Well done. And, personally we sell many more two stories to multigen folks...it does work better for privacy issues. We also sell homes with ADU's quite frequently. That's another great option when the living space doesn't need to be equal. Example; we have a current listing with a larger two story home,the  young family and two kids live there, a breezeway connects to an smaller ADU for the wife's parents.  

Aug 10, 2019 07:03 AM
John Henry, Florida Architect

Hi Debb and Bernie, I was inspired by your video layout of course!  Glad you liked the video.  Two stories can get two families under one roof without much overlap.  I built one for myself in Austin and it worked great.  Some folks think that they might be odd but there is so much flexibility that it is worth the slightly extra costs.  The ADU is a great idea.  You have to have enough space behind your setbacks to make it work.  Thanks, Debb Janes EcoBroker and Bernie Stea JD 

Aug 27, 2019 07:35 AM
Mary Hutchison, SRES, ABR
Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate-Kansas City Homes - Kansas City, MO
Experienced Agent in Kansas City Metro area

Huge demand for multi gen housing however.... available land to build it is farther and farther out, encouraging the car culture which many younger folks don't like...and it can be very expensive.   Adding an addition, if the space is there on an existing lot, is an option but also pricy for many pp.  I'm all for it!

Aug 12, 2019 08:54 AM
John Henry, Florida Architect

No doubt this takes some thinking and current subdivision covenants don't always allow a multifamily occupant house.  The new smaller shipped to door and ready to occupy mini houses seem to be an alternative for the millennials.   Thank you, Mary Hutchison, SRES, ABR 

Aug 27, 2019 07:38 AM
Peter Mohylsky, Destin BeachPro
PMI. Destin - Miramar Beach, FL
Call me at 850-517-7098

What are the trends in 2020?  Does someone have a crystal ball that I can borrow?  I know what I like and what works for me.  but it is not about me in the least.  it is all about my clients.  

Jan 21, 2020 01:25 PM
John Henry, Florida Architect
John Henry Masterworks Design International, Inc. - Orlando, FL
Residential Architect, Luxury Custom Home Design

Hello Peter Mohylsky, Beach Expert   General trends seem to be: the same as before.  From my perspective we are steady state with possibly a building inventory on multifamily and condos in certain growth areas.  Multi-gen continues to be about 20% of single family type housing but may ebb a little if immigrant controls effectively block the influx.  Thank you.

Jan 21, 2020 02:06 PM