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With multigenerational housing, builders hope for suite success

From the outside, the new home in the Lawson subdivision doesn’t seem all that different from the other houses on the street.

But it has one major feature that the others don’t: Inside this home is another one.

It’s folded into the main house so inconspicuously that a passer-by would probably not do a double-take. From the street, it appears to be just a ground-level room facing the front lawn.

It’s more than a room, though. It’s a suite with the basics found in a normal house: a bedroom, a bathroom, a living/kitchen area, space for a washer and dryer – even its own front door, which is mere feet from that of the main home.

Miami-based Lennar Corp., the builder of the “Next Gen” home, which was unveiled last week in Waxhaw, is gearing it toward a very specific market: multigenerational households. Lennar sees dollar signs in the societal trend of aging parents moving in with their children as health care costs rise and college students choosing to live with mom and dad as they struggle to find work in a still rocky economy.

“Next Gen really is a series of homes designed to cater to the changing family in America today,” said Jon Hardy, president of Lennar’s Charlotte division.

Multigenerational homes have been built in other U.S. markets in recent years, and even smaller builders have sold some in the Charlotte area. But now big-name homebuilders are viewing Charlotte as a test lab for houses aimed at extended families wanting to live under one roof, and they are making a push to roll out such homes here.

Columbus, Ohio-based M/I Homes is in the design phase for multigenerational homes that the company plans to build in the Charlotte region, said Tamara Lynch, vice president of sales and marketing for the company’s Charlotte operation. Lynch, who would not disclose locations, said M/I will put the spaces for extended families on top of garages, rather than connected to a main home. Construction won’t begin on those homes until next year, she said.

Recession accelerates rise

It’s a sign of the times that more families are seeking multigenerational housing, experts say.

Lynch said some cultures in the U.S. value living with other family members. According to Generations United, a Washington, D.C.-based group, immigrants to the U.S. are more likely to live in multigenerational homes. M/I will be designing its proposed new homes with those people in mind, not just college graduates who are trying to break into the job market, she said.

Generations United also said the recession has accelerated the rise in U.S. multigenerational households, which increased from 46.5 million in 2007 to 51.4 million by the end of 2009.

According to a 2012 report from the Pew Research Center, three in 10 parents said an adult child decided to live with them because of the economy. Pew said at the time that the share of Americans living in multigenerational family households was the highest it had been since the 1950s.

And Charlotte’s older population is growing. In 2000, residents 62 and older made up 10.4 percent of Charlotte’s population, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. That rose to 10.9 percent in 2010.

Lynch, of M/I Homes, said multigenerational homes have been sprouting in the West and will eventually make their way to the rest of the country, moving East as housing trends often do.

“We, as builders, are being challenged by the top architects to stretch our thinking in this regard,” she said. “The issue is we’re not creating those extra spaces.”

Lennar began introducing Next Gen homes in Nevada, Arizona and California beginning last year, according to Hardy, the Charlotte division president. Next Gen homes are in 25 U.S. markets, he said, adding that the company just sold its 1,000th.

In the Charlotte area, Hardy expects 12 percent to 15 percent of Lennar’s new homes to be Next Gen. The homes will be built in nine of Lennar’s subdivisions in the Charlotte region, including Franklin Meadows in the town of Matthews, Hardy said. Lennar’s only other Next Gen home in the Charlotte area so far is in the Brookedale Commons subdivision in Harrisburg.

Private spaces, independence

The Next Gen suites themselves range from about 450 square feet to about 800 square feet. The Waxhaw home, which has three bedrooms in the main home, is priced at $327,000, or about $100 a square foot. The house also comes with a three-car garage.

Even as homebuilders design homes big enough for lots of family members to share spaces, they’re also trying to find ways to give family members privacy. In Lennar’s home in Waxhaw, the second floor of the main house features a loft (“so that if you need to get away,” said Veronica Perez, director of sales).

Homebuilders are also striving to give elderly family members a sense of independence. A suite does that more so than a bedroom in a typical home, said Lennar’s Hardy: “They can enjoy living their way.”

For some smaller homebuilders in Charlotte, multigenerational housing is not a new product. Alan Banks, a partner in Charlotte-based homebuilder Evans Coghill Homes, said his company has built such homes in the Charlotte area for the past two years or so.

“It is indisputable that multigenerational homes are on the rise,” he said, adding that his company is building one in Fort Mill, S.C.

Banks, who is also president of the Home Builders Association of Charlotte, said his company has decided that the house it will build for the association’s HomeArama home tour, which will be in November in Mint Hill, will be a multigenerational house. Construction on that home starts this week, he said.

“The market’s saying ‘We want multigenerational homes,’” Banks said.

Roberts: 704-358-5248; Twitter: @DeonERoberts
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