Thursday, May 7, 2009

The In-law Dilemma - or not!

I read somewhere - can't find it now - that nearly 40% of households contain a member of an older generation. The in-laws, for example. Since I read this I've become even more aware of my families' (and by that I mean, client/friends) situations.

I have one group who is looking for a place outside of Syracuse so the parents and children and grandchildren can share upbringing, downsizing, and aging issues together. They started out that way with an extra apartment, but as the younger family grew and the older parents aged, they needed more. And they still do. We've looked at houses close by and huge houses, ranches and capes, existing homes and "tobebuilts." While they are willing to pay a "pretty penny" they are not willing to wait, so modifications of homes seem the best solution. And where they want to be, it hardly exists.

Other friends of ours are looking for a home that will give them the capability of extending a warm welcome to the woman's father after it becomes necessary for him to join them. He's not interested now - and therefore can't contribute to their home - but he won't have a choice in a few years. They want to be ready. So instead of finding that home that will attract the grandchildren, they are looking for one that will attract the grandfather.

As the economy contracts I can see that more and more families will be co-mingling their housing assets. Why pay taxes and heat two homes when one large one will give them more options? Why send babies out to expensive day care or after school activities when Grandma is still capable of putting on the band-aids? When a family member is out of work, even temporarily, the single home can become a refuge and a relief. There are more streams of income, more helpful hands. More domestic jobs to do.

Our home, as I've said before, was designed to accomodate a parent. We have three bedrooms and 2.5 baths in the main house, then a ramp between the garage and the house that leads to the apartment. Tucked away behind the garage is another 1000 sf of living room, bedroom and handicapped accessible bathroom. The kitchen, such as it is, was installed in the hallway with the washer and dryer. The sliding glass door leads out to the deck and backyard, shared by both families.

Now that my mother has passed on, we use it for my real estate "office" and gym. When Alex and Rachel come to visit they have a separate space. When Rachel's mother came recently to plan for the wedding, she took the apartment and we all co-existed very well. Once we have grandchildren it will be an easy place for them to stay. Alex is already planning for the day when Bob and I move over there and he and Rachel take over the main house.

But the very sad part of it all is that our house does not exist out there. I've seen approximations of the design, and currently there's a great one in the town of Onondaga, but not this home. I've talked to my friendly builders about creating a community that would provide additional support and offer the same design in housing. They haven't jumped at the chance.

Most in-law quarters are downstairs, aka the basement. But this keeps the older people away from family dinners, ease of joining the family. My mother often wheeled her rollator over to watch SU games with us. She could never have done stairs. And if we had all been in one home, with her "room" or "suite" part of the first floor, we would not have thrived as long as we did.

Parents who move in with children generally come from their own homes. My mother was in hers for 56 years, 23 of those alone. To compress her stuff into one apartment was hard enough. But to ask her to live as an obvious guest would have been worse.

I think as the years go by we will see more designs like ours - I sincerely hope so at least! Accessible apartments that exist co-equally with homes, wide enough doorways to accommodate wheel chairs, and storage space, lots and lots of storage space.