How to survive a multigenerational household

What happens when grandparents, parents, kids and sometimes even grandkids occupy the same house? Does everyone live in harmony or do sparks fly? Typically it’s a bit of both, as the stress of living in multigenerational households takes its toll on families. Unfortunately, the rising house prices in the UK (and London in particular) are making it very difficult for young people to enter the property market. This is what’s forcing many young couples and families to move back in with their parents, as it’s easier to save up for a deposit on a house and a cheaper mortgage when you’re paying no (or very low) rent than when you’ve got cover rent, utilities and all other living expenses.

We take a closer look at the phenomenon, as well as how to survive it.

The trend

The number of multigenerational households in the UK is increasing. According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), in 2012 figures showed a 30% increase in the number of multigenerational homes over the last decade. In the past, the phenomenon was due to older family members moving in with their children, but recent times have seen fortunes reversed, as financial issues, rising house prices and the state of the job market have forced many young adults to move back in with their parents, often with their own families in tow.

The ONS refers calls them concealed families, as they are distinct family units who will not be recorded as separate households on a census because they live within an established household. This demographic consists mostly of young couples under the age of 35, whose earnings render them unable to meet the demands of home ownership in an increasingly expensive housing market.

According to the 2011 census, an alarmingly high number of young couples (up 70% in the decade up to 2011) can’t afford to live independently and have to stay with one set of parents. Then are the youngsters who never moved out in the first place, or who moved back home after university – the boomerang generation – all of whom are stymied by the high price of property and rental rates.

Not surprisingly, most concealed families and multigenerational households are in London, where property prices are staggering. East London, north-west London and west London seem to have the highest numbers of concealed families.

According to the Intergenerational Foundation think tank, over 500,000 households have at least three generations living under one roof, and that number is expected to rise to 556,000 by 2019. These living conditions are a potential source of frustration for both younger and older members of the household, but multigenerational living also has many benefits.

For starters, forget the stigma

The shift towards multigenerational living is especially noticeable in the UK and US, where living with one's parents past a certain age is frowned upon. In the post-war period, increasing prosperity and improvements in healthcare meant that older family members were less dependent on their adult children, who in turn were encouraged to focus on raising the perfect “nuclear family”. But in places like Spain and Italy, multiple generations living under one roof has long been considered the norm.

Married adults living with their parents is common in many cultures across the world. In fact, multigenerational households were once culturally acceptable in the UK, so you don’t have to feel that you've failed in some way if you find you have to move back in with mum and dad.

Remove the power imbalance

Unfortunately, a power imbalance often arises when you have more than two generations living under one roof. Adult children moving in with their parents are constantly made aware of the fact that they are not the home owners, making them feel like they have no rights or power. Older relatives who have moved in with their children may also feel overly dependent on their children, especially if they rely on them for care.

For multigenerational homes to thrive, this power imbalance must be addressed. Family discussions must take everyone's view into account, and all family members must be willing to compromise and pull their own weight, even those who perceive themselves as being the financial lynchpin of the household. Multigenerational living simply won't work unless is treated as equal. This is easier if everyone contributes something towards maintaining the house, even if it’s just babysitting.

Give people their space

Make sure every member of the family has a space they can call their own. Multigenerational homes offer the opportunity to spend more time with the extended family, but there needs to be a balance between shared space and private space.

In some cases, it’s a good idea to have a separate unit (a granny flat) set aside for older family members. These can be attached to the main home, but with separate entrances and perhaps even their own kitchen. According to Sharon Niederhaus, who has co-authored a book on multigenerational living, “even just giving someone a two-burner stove and a mini refrigerator can go a long way”.

When family members aren’t constantly tripping over one another and invading each other’s space, the entire household can benefit from accumulated wisdom and shared vitality.

Make the most of it

Keep in mind the benefits of multigenerational living. The family as a whole gets to spend more time together, with time being set aside for activities and games that all generations can participate in. The children get to spend more time with their grandparents, who in turn are able to provide free childcare, and serve as a positive influence in their grandchildren's lives. And grandparents can spend their silver years watching the next generation blossom.

When the time does come for family members to go their separate ways, you can consult an online estate agent like Tepilo to help you sell the old family home on your terms.


Get Started with Sarah Beeny's Tepilo now.