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Cashing in on the Multi Generational Household Trend

Cashing in on the Multi-Generational Household Trend

A recent trend in Canadian housing may have a large effect on the way renovators and custom home builders approach projects in the future.

With more and more ordinary wage earners unable to afford to purchase their own homes, there's a major movement afoot towards homes housing multiple generations, and that's created different renovation and custom home opportunities. 

While this trend has been seen most often in Vancouver -- where laneway homes are springing up right, left and centre -- it is definitely a national trend, as suggested by the numbers. 

StatsCanada indicated that the percentage of young adults (aged 20-to-29) living in their parental home rose from 27 per cent in 1981 to 42 per cent in 2016. Between 2001 and 2016, the number of households in Canada with at least three generations has risen 37.5 per cent, the greatest increase of all household types.

Smart renovators have figured out a way to leverage this trend.

Take Laurel James, for instance. The co-owner of Vancouver-based Novell Design Build says that over the last decade she's noticed that considerations for multiple generations have become a part of most of the company's projects.

James says more expensive housing and the difficulty in getting mortgages and loans have left homeowners to seek solutions that provide more with less, leaving them "pushing the boundaries of what’s possible within the typical single family home property lot."

As a result, she says most of Novell's projects now involve designing and building multiple dwellings on a single site, providing for flexibility as children become teenagers, as young families try to get a footing in the housing market and for older generations which are seeking aging in home considerations.

James explains that programs exist to develop standard residential lots to add a secondary suite, possibly a duplex or a duplex with suite. Depending on if the lot qualifies, she says laneway and/or infill homes have become standard fare with nearly every development the company does.

Vancouver and the surrounding municipalities have slowly begun to shift their zoning opportunities to accommodate the trend, but the demand is overwhelming, James says.

This trend plays well with the move to higher density in urban areas across Canada, and James says this is a "sustainable and considerate" means to achieve those goals.

"It translates into extra help and options for childcare, aging in home, assisted living, and more creative ways of pooling resources," she says. "Families support one another while increasing their flexibility and adaptability to change and convert spaces over time."

The opportunity for contractors is immense as James explains that almost every single family home they design and build expands to two or even three dwellings on one lot.

"That means an instant increase in volume - scaling your sales potential with each homeowner," she says.

Handling a project like this requires a different approach to design, James says.

"Creating a good variety of private, semi-private and public areas with thoughtful sight lines between buildings becomes paramount," she explains. "When it comes to building, the parking, landscape and utility requirements become more complex especially on a small regular residential lot."   

James advises that contractors interested in pursuing this market need to:

  • Understand that with a broader client base that spans generations, there are also broader preferences and concerns to manage;
  • Really listen to your clients, listen to their unique needs, preferences and ideas;
  • Place a good emphasis on thoughtful design at the onset of planning; and 
  • Budget accordingly for the additional time to do so.