Real estate agent Jeffrey Chubb recently sold a single-family house in Reading to two parts of the same family: the parents, who will move into a unit above the two-car garage, and the adult child who will move his family into the main house. Each sold their own homes in New Hampshire before combining in Massachusetts.
Meanwhile in Worcester, broker Erika Hall said it is not uncommon for home shoppers to look closely at garages — not as places for their cars, but for their parents, after conversion to an in-law apartment, of course.
“There’s a demand for having a separate space with a modest kitchen, a sitting area, bedroom, and bath for an older parent or parents,” Hall said.
They sound old-fashioned, or maybe the setting for a bad sitcom, but in-law apartments are enjoying a small renaissance, especially among baby boomers, who have either aging parents or grown kids they want to keep nearby. Some 50 million Americans live in a multigenerational household — about 16 percent of the total population, and that number has been steadily climbing for several decades.
A big driver of the trend is the increase in immigrant populations in the United States — especially Asian and Hispanic communities — that have a stronger tradition of families living together across all ages. But in more recent years other boomers, too, have contributed, as more middle-aged Americans elect to care for their elderly parents in their own homes, or are willing to welcome back their grown children during a turbulent economy or expensive housing market.
“It’s really creating not only a great financial advantage, but also a great lifestyle advantage — grandparents are so much closer to the grandchildren,’’ said Jeff Roos, an executive at home builder Lennar, which is designing new houses with in-law apartments cleverly inserted inside the overall layout, rather than as an awkward add-on somewhere in the back of the house.
Dubbed NextGen, the homes were first launched in Arizona but have since spread outward through the West and, more slowly, toward the East. In some Lennar subdivisions, the NextGen homes account 40 percent of all homes being built.
The idea, Roos said, “is to create space, independent living space within the floor plan of the home. It’s met with huge success.’’
Hall, the Worcester broker, believes that home builders in Massachusetts should pay more attention to this market.
And one key ingredient of any in-law apartment, she and others said, is that there has to be a clear separation from the main living quarters — for everyone’s sake.
“‘I think that lots of people recognize that in order for multigenerational living to be a success there needs to be a sense or privacy so one generation can feel like they can escape from the other,’’ Hall said.
Paul Briand, a former newspaper editor who now tracks boomer lifestyle trends for examiner.com, said that while boomers rediscover personal freedom once their children grow up and move out, their desire to still be a parent remains strong.
“I think for some of the boomers, the echo of that empty nest is a little bit too much,’’ said Briand. “I think there is a desire — and I think it’s a mutual desire — on the part of baby boomers to find a way to live with their children and their grandchildren.’’
Briand and other specialists believe more families will live together as boomers age and their children look for a way to care for their parents with multiple health issues.
For boomers, Briand said, “it might be the fact that your kids are now going through the same things you went through. I loved being a parent. It’s a huge challenge, but it was also a great, rewarding wonderful experience. Can we get back to some of that by the fact of our children are having children now?’’