IN NO TIME AT ALL, it seemed, Ivy Vann and Hugh Beyer went from being empty nesters to having their nest overflowing with family members. When Hugh's father died, the couple invited his mom, Molly, to come live with them. A few years later, their son and his wife moved into an apartment on the third floor of the family's large Victorian home in New Hampshire. "They thought they would stay for two weeks," Ivy says, "but it ended up being 18 months, and we were very sorry to see them go."
The boomerang phenomenon—adult children returning to live with their parents—is running headlong into another trend: parachuting parents.
The Vann/Beyer family is by no means an isolated case. The well-publicized boomerang phenomenon—adult children returning to live with their parents—is running headlong into another trend: parachuting parents. Between 2008 and 2011, the number of parents living with an adult child climbed nearly 14% to 4.6 million, according to AARP. That's in addition to the 23 million adults between the ages of 18 and 34 now living with their parents, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
Like many families, the Vann/Beyers say they couldn't be happier being surrounded by people they love. Yet even in the best cases, multigenerational homes pose financial and social challenges that are best addressed at the outset, says Bill Hunter, director of Personal Retirement Strategies and Solutions for Bank of America Merrill Lynch. "Often, the desire to spend time with family is just one motivation—there's also the need for financial support, or caregiving," says Hunter. To help ensure your happiness—and theirs—consider these things.
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You may be willing to trade a little privacy for the benefits of having the gang under one roof, but will they all be happy in your home? Your kids will likely be pretty self-sufficient and able to address their own needs, but parents may be a different story.
"Forty percent of America’s homes are 60 years old – or more. These homes, built in 1969 or earlier, reflect yesterday’s demographics. They were built with yesterday’s families in mind: a pair of parents and their average of 2.5 kids. What was important to these families? Living near the kids’ school and somewhere that provides the parents with a manageable commute to work. But, a different balance might be needed when you’re trying to accommodate the needs and lifestyles of three generations in one home. The oldest generation may face boredom, isolation and other challenges with health," notes Erin McInrue Savage, vice president of research at the consulting company Age Wave. "When choosing a home to suit everyone’s needs, consider the availability of health care services, transportation, support services, and whether all generations will be able to enjoy the leisure activities in and around their home."
Is Your House a Tight Fit?
If the old homestead doesn't fit your needs, an addition or even a new, larger house that suits the entire family may be the solution. Either fix may require a loan. "If you decide to remain in your house, this would be a good time to have a serious talk about how long you plan to stay there, as that could affect the type of loan that ends up being the best solution for you," notes Kathy Ciaffa, director of first mortgage pricing and fee management at Bank of America. And if you decide to purchase a new house, you might look into approaches that let you put little or no money down to avoid selling well-performing investments or incurring capital gains taxes, she says.
Should You Charge Rent?
Serving as landlord can be tricky, particularly when it comes to your adult kids. If you plan to charge rent for an extended stay, you may avoid raising hackles by being open about your own costs, and why and how much you expect them to contribute.
If they've never owned their own home they may not realize how high such expenses as maintenance, insurance, mortgage payments and property taxes can be. Decide early which costs adult relatives will chip in on. They may help with such basics as food and general living expenses or even a renovation project. The Vann/Beyers, for example, agreed that Molly would foot the bill for the bedroom and bathroom renovations necessary to help her to live comfortably.
What If Circumstances Change?
Think about current out-of-pocket costs as well as what might be in store down the road, Hunter says. "Even a self-sufficient parent may need some at-home care in a few years," he explains. "At some point you may also need to modify your home, such as by adding a ramp or railings."
Last November, Tom Moser, 60, a financial planner, and his wife, Kristin, 56, a registered nurse, moved into a Next Gen home in Marana, Ariz., with Tom's dad, Lee, 82, a widower, who had lived 20 miles away. Tom had worried because night driving was becoming a concern for Lee and he "was kind of housebound."
Each sold his respective home and chipped in to buy the $300,000, 3,200-square-foot, two-unit residence. (Tom's living space is 2,500 square feet; his dad's is 700.) Lee pays 15 percent of the utilities and helps with errands.
Tom's sister Diane Weeks, 58, and brother-in-law, Wes, 57, along with Wes' parents, have moved next door into another Next Gen home; their son, his wife and baby lived there for a while, too. Tom's mother-in-law, Susan Liem, 81, just bought the house on Moser's other side. "Everyone has separate space. We're not stepping on each other," he says. "This is my dream of being able to care for one another, but not do it alone."
Tom has his own elder care plan: "When I'm 80, I know exactly where my wife and I are moving: right into my father's place. Hopefully, my son or daughter [now 23 and 26] will slide into my place."
A helpful arrangement
Multigenerational setups were common during the Great Depression but declined once people began to rebound economically. Now, as John Graham, coauthor of Together Again: A Creative Guide to Successful Multigenerational Living, observes, the recent recession has prompted a move back from valuing independence to interdependence.
"Families may be coming together because of the economy," says Donna Butts, executive director of Generations United, "but they're staying together because it helps them all."
Jason Ng, 38, his girlfriend, Jamie Sonoda, 30, and their 20-month-old baby, Addison, live in a home he and his parents rebuilt on their property in Aiea, Hawaii. His mother, Karen, 64, has dubbed the den "the nest," because she and her husband, Melvin, 69, have private space to watch TV. The two couples split bills equally: mortgage, utilities and groceries. Karen and Melvin adore caring for their granddaughter during the week when Jason and Jamie are at work, and don't charge the new parents.
"I dream of having my own house, but the land in Hawaii is expensive," says Jason. "If I moved where it's cheaper I'd have a 1.5-hour commute. I love where I grew up, and a comparable house goes for $700,000 to $800,000. We got everything we wanted for $500,000 and split that. And we live in the same house as my parents, so if there's an emergency, I'm right here."
Then, the challenges
But the multigenerational housing scenario is not so rosy for everyone. Family friction, strain on spouses, and less opportunity for work and personal time are very real concerns.
Kris Radjewski's 92-year-old mother-in-law has lived with her, Kris' husband, Ed, 55, and their 14-year-old daughter, Lexi, in Lake Hopatcong, N.J., for 13 years. The elder Mrs. Radjewski has taken over the family room in the basement, where Kris' older daughter, now away at school, would entertain friends. Now Lexi feels she has no space for hers. "She's fed up and wants her life back," says Kris, 50. "My daughter needs her mom, and I'm either working or taking care of Grandma."
Ofelia Ramirez, 37, a housecleaner from Kyle, Texas, can relate. She has the 24/7 company of her husband, 42, her children, ages 16, 14, 7 and 6, and her 80-year-old mother-in-law. "The kids like having her around and we get to share a lot of memories," says Ramirez. The downside is unsolicited advice about how to raise her children and feeling she can't have their own friends over for dinner. And yet, on days her mother-in-law is not around, "it feels like somebody is missing."
Ellen Lewis, 49, of Leonardtown, Md., describes having her mom, now 78, live with her, her second husband and her four kids, ages 10 to 20, as "not bliss, but it's not hellish either."
Lewis, who owns two knitting shops, says her parents (her dad died in 2001) were incredibly helpful when she was raising her kids, dealing with a failing first marriage and then dating her future husband. "But the dynamic has changed a lot over the years. You can't look at this as an equal relationship," she says. "It's OK. It's my time to take care of her. I have to remember the good times. I don't want to see her in a nursing home."
Sally Abrahms writes about aging and boomers. She is based in Boston.