It has long been a truism in real estate that the number one retirement home location is “where the grandkids are” followed closely by “where the kids live.” According to recent research by the National Association of Realtors®, where the kids and grandkids are is exactly where the older generation wants to be. Apparently, multigenerational living is hot since the pandemic began.

Multigenerational is defined as more than two generations sharing a living space. Multigenerational home purchases accounted for 15% of sales after March, versus 11% before.

Multigenerational living makes a great deal of sense during a pandemic.

  • The pandemic has stressed working parents to the max. Having extra adults close by is a great relief valve.
  • Buyers have been seeking extra space for offices and home workout spaces. Having a family compound makes that more feasible, since there are more adults sharing the cost.
  • Travel is difficult during a pandemic. Many grandparents have been unable to visit their children and grandchildren because of state quarantine restrictions.
  • Pandemic sellers say that living close to family and friends is the top reason to sell, especially among those moving large distances.

Another trend spotted in this report was that people expect to live in their new places for about 10 years. This is down from the previous expectation of 15 years. This makes me wonder. Will people tire of having to maintain bigger properties and head back into city condos in the next ten years?

What would your family compound look like?

What used to be typical in Somerville, Cambridge, Boston, Brookline, and many cities in eastern Massachusetts were family compounds in two and three-family houses.

A young couple would purchase the house and live in the small unit. When they outgrow it, if they have children, they move upstairs to the bigger unit. When the children are grown, sometimes their young adult children will live in the smaller unit and the parents stay in the “family home” part of the house. Sometimes, the older generation will move to the smaller unit, and the young adults will take the bigger upstairs unit, with or without children.

In these spaces, there is a possibility of a closed door, and full privacy, but also the option to open the doors and have children moving freely between the two households.

Here’s an example:

1920-1996. Before I bought my house, I lived in a two-family that functioned that way.

It was purchased around 1920 by a couple who had two daughters. The couple raised the two children in the upstairs unit. Both parents both lived in that unit until they died.

One of their daughters moved into the downstairs unit when she got married. She raised three children in that apartment, with her parents upstairs. She was 80 when she moved to a condo in 1996. I lived with my husband in her parents’ unit for the last six years that this extended family owned that house.

1996-present. The house was sold to the family next door. The neighbors rented it for a while, then deeded it to their daughter and her husband. So now, the house I lived in is in a family compound again: just a bigger one, with side-by-side two family houses.

Here’s another example:

The two-family house that my husband and I bought also had an extended-family history.

The owners immediately before us had one couple downstairs who owned the house, and the wife’s sister living upstairs. Later, the owner’s family moved to a single family and the sister’s family was still renting upstairs. Not multigenerational, but extended family.

The owners before the folks we bought from had the multigenerational things going. We met them shortly after we moved in. (They found out it sold, so they came to see who bought it!) That family was in the house about 40 years. The first generation raised four children upstairs. Two of the sons rented downstairs as adults. At one point, one of the sons and his wife and child rented downstairs.

More examples all over. If you ask people who grew up in the cities around Boston, you’ll hear lots of stories of families housed in changing arrangements for generations.

This kind of arrangement comes in very handy during a pandemic. Would it work for you?


Happy Thanksgiving!