Home builders catering to extended families

An inside look at the added suite of a “Next Gen” house built by Lennar Homes, Thursday Dec. 22, 2011. These homes, designed to house multiple generations of a family, comes with a separate self-sustained suite that can house an additional family or family member and still maintain privacy.

Lennar's Next Gen Homes

An inside look at the main section of a Launch slideshow »

Las Vegas’ sluggish economy has changed the way some families live.

Laid-off parents have moved in with adult children. Boomerang kids with college degrees but no jobs have returned home to mom and dad.

Home builders are answering the call.

Multigenerational houses — those with attached in-law suites or backyard casitas meant to accommodate grandparents, adult children or other extended family members — are being added to the valley’s landscape with increasing frequency. Developers with Pulte Homes, for example, included casitas in a dozen layouts offered in Henderson, Summerlin and other parts of Las Vegas. Home builder Lennar recently completed a wave of multigenerational construction in the Madison Grove at Providence development near Centennial Hills and plans to build similar homes in six more communities in the coming months.

Multigenerational households can take many forms, but most typically are defined as parents or in-laws living with adult children ages 25 and older, parents living with adult children and grandchildren, or “skipped” generations made up of grandparents raising grandchildren.

“Homes-within-homes,” as developers call them, provide cohabitating family members with privacy and autonomy while still allowing them to pool resources, save money on child care or offer one another emotional support. They eliminate the need for an adult son or daughter to sleep on the living room couch and make the question of whether to convert the home office into an elderly parent’s bedroom a moot point. Home builders hope the concept will encourage new home sales in a market flush with foreclosures.

“Who has been harder hit than Las Vegas, with 22 straight months of foreclosure and record unemployment?” asked Jeremy Parness, division president for Lennar, which is building multigenerational homes in Nevada, California and Arizona. “We see this as some kind of relief for that. Families can share payments and bills and have time together but still retreat to their own private space. For us, it helps bring a little life to the real estate industry and remind people there’s a viable new home market out there.”

From the street, little distinguishes a multigenerational house from its conventional counterpart. Only when you round the corner and see its second front door or stumble across its backyard casita do you notice a difference.

The Lennar homes start at $309,900 (the same base price as single-family homes in the neighborhood) and offer almost 3,000-square-feet of traditional living space, in addition to attached 700-square-foot suites with a bedroom, bathroom, laundry closet and combined living room-kitchenette. A locking door at the end of a hallway office connects the main house to the suite, but the suites also have separate entrances, doorbells and front doors.

The combined square footage of the main home and suite is similar to that of a comparably priced traditional home.

“You live on your own, but can visit the main house when you want,” Parness said. “For the main house, we want them to feel like they didn’t sacrifice any space for this layout.”

The number of American families combining households skyrocketed as the economy plummeted in the late 2000s. A Pew Research Center report found that more than 50 million people, or 1 in 6 Americans, now live in multigenerational homes. That’s a more than 10 percent increase since 2007, although the phenomenon has been rising in popularity for more than two decades due largely to increasing immigration by Asians and Latinos, many of whom are culturally accustomed to living with parents and grandparents.

Even so, most families are turning to multigenerational living because of the economy. A national survey by Generations United found that 40 percent of families living in combined households did so because of a job loss or underemployment, while another 20 percent cited health care costs.

One of the couples who recently bought a Lennar said they did so to keep their grandmother out of an assisted living facility. Even with a new mortgage, payments on the house were still cheaper than the thousands of dollars a week a nursing home would have cost, and the grandmother was able to keep her pet.

Multigenerational living also appears to be a successful model economically. While residents’ adjusted incomes overall are lower, Pew researchers reported that the poverty rate among people in multigenerational households is substantially lower than for those in other households.

At Madison Grove, developers can barely keep up with demand. Three multigenerational houses completed earlier this month already have sold, and three more are in the works. Lennar expects to build similar models in six communities in Henderson, Summerlin, Northwest and West Las Vegas over the next 45 days, Parness said.

“This isn’t for everyone,” Parness said. “But we see this being a good part of our mix going forward.”

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