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Renovations for multi-generations under one roof

Michele Lerner | Improvement Center Columnist | September 6, 2013

Widespread unemployment, a weak economy and the housing crisis are all factors that encourage multiple generations (three or more) to move into one home, but some families find the experience so rewarding that they continue to stay together even after an immediate financial emergency has passed. The Census Bureau says that as of 2010, 4.4 million American households included three or more generations, an increase of 15 percent just since 2008.

The "sandwich generation" of baby boomers with children or young adults who need their support along with their aging parents find that sharing expenses and babysitting duties can make life easier. If you're planning on combining households, consider the benefits of remodeling your home to accommodate every generation.

Best renovations for multi-generational households

Making your home more comfortable for your family should be your main concern when renovating, but you should always be cognizant of your home's future resale value.

"Additional bathrooms or additional bedroom space probably adds the most value to the home," says Bill Millholland, executive vice president at Case Design/Remodeling in Bethesda, Md. "If you're concerned about resale value, talk with a real estate professional or look for comparable homes for sale in your neighborhood to see if adding an extra bath, family room or bedroom results in a higher selling price."

Millholland says that four-bedroom homes are usually more valuable than a three-bedroom home, but you may see diminishing returns after you have five bedrooms.

According to the 2013 Remodeling Magazine Cost vs. Value Survey, you'll get a 73 percent return on your investment for adding an attic bedroom and a 63 percent return on your investment in a master suite addition. A bathroom addition will give you a 55 percent return on your investment.

Ideally, each bedroom should have its own bathroom, but if that's not possible, make sure you incorporate extra storage into shared bathrooms. If you have enough space, try to associate a sitting room for each generation so that family members can enjoy some privacy when they need it.

Aim to have at least one first floor master suite as well as an in-law suite with its own bedroom, bath and living space.

While extra bedrooms and bathrooms are vital to accommodate multiple households, you may also want to consider a home addition to expand your living space such as a kitchenette or new kitchen. If you add a family room, the Cost vs. Value Survey says you'll recoup 63 percent of your investment.

If you're renovating your kitchen and great room, consider designing areas for adults to relax, toy storage and a place for kids to do their homework. Whether you expand your home with an addition or choose to remodel the basement or attic, Millholland says it's important to orient the space to take advantage of natural light or views.

"Adding windows or doors to attics or basements can make a huge difference," says Millholland.

If you are accommodating older generations, consider the benefit of creating a one-level living space with a bedroom, bath, kitchen and family room that can be accessed without stairs. Some manufacturers offer "pods" that can be attached to your home for an elderly relative.

Try to incorporate more than one entrance to your home, which adds to the privacy of family members.

Small home improvements

Besides adding new living space, multi-generational households and future buyers typically appreciate some smaller home improvement projects, suggests Millholland.

"You can add under cabinet lighting over the kitchen counters, good lighting at the front door so you can find your keys, and house numbers that are large enough to be seen from the street for emergency vehicles," says Millholland. "Make sure you have handrails for all the stairs and use lever handles instead of knobs because they are easier to use. 'Comfort height' toilets that are higher than the standard version are a good idea in a master bath or one used by older people with less mobility."

When remodeling, incorporate universal design features such as wider hallways and wider doorways in case a family member should ever need crutches or a wheelchair.

Creating a home with space for togetherness and room for privacy will keep a multi-generation household in harmony.

About the Author

Michele Lerner, author of "HOMEBUYING: Tough Times, First Time, Any Time," has been writing about personal finance and real estate for more than two decades for a variety of publications and websites including Investopedia, Insurance.com, HSH.com, SavingsAccount.com, National Real Estate Investor magazine, The Washington Times, Urban Land magazine, NAREIT's REIT magazine and numerous Realtor associations.