Generational Housing Boom Leads To Bigger New Homes

October 04, 2013

New homes are back in a big way – literally. This summer, a typical new house in Phoenix was more than 20 percent larger than a resale home as builders across the country add more space to accommodate post-recession lifestyles.

family Three generations live under this roof. From left, 19-year-old Jamie Dusseault, grandmother Jacque Ruggles, mom Marci Dusseault and 22-year-old Chelsie Dusseault. (Photo by Peter O'Dowd-KJZZ)

Take Jacque Ruggles' family for example. Four women from three generations live under one roof.

“I’m the matriarch,” Ruggles said. "I’m grandma.”

Ruggles makes the monthly $1,789 mortgage payment on the home in Gilbert, which she bought new about a year and a half ago. Ruggle’s daughter Marci Dusseault lives here, too. Marci comes with a college-aged daughter named Jamie.

“I’ll eventually move out, but right now it’s nice to not have to worry about a lot of bills and I can focus on school,” said Jamie, a student at Mesa Community College.

But the family affair did not stop there. Jamie’s older sister moved in last November. Chelsie, 22, had been living on her own for a while, but...

“Then life happens,” said Chelsie, who lost her job and racked up $6,000 in credit card debt. “So I had to move back in,” she explained.

Their home just so happens to be made for this type of living. It was designed with a 600 square-foot suite. There is a kitchenette and a living room.

Nineteen-year-old Jamie was the lucky one to move into the extended wing. The walls are covered with bright red paint and pictures of her friends. Her mom jokes that Jamie will not be leaving anytime soon.

“She’s going to be living with me until she’s 40,” Marci said.

family After the recession ended, Lennar Homes started building NextGen suites for multi-generational families in 18 states. This development is in Gilbert, Ariz. (Photo by Peter O'Dowd-KJZZ)

The homebuilder, Lennar, now offers these so-called NextGen floor plans in 18 states. In Arizona, the company said 25 percent of its sales last year were multi-generational houses.

And now there is competition. Maracay Homes spent 18 months post-recession and invested $4 million studying demographic trends, said spokeswoman Gina Canzonetta. 

Maracay’s designers took note of today’s struggling adult children moving home and the millions of aging baby boomers who will need affordable places to live for years to come.

“It’s the new normal,” Canzonetta says. “It’s how we live post-recession.”

Maracay’s generational suites, which are converted into livable space from what would be a garage in a typical floor plan, look a lot like Lennar’s. They’re equipped with a microwave, stackable washer and dryer and a door to the home’s front courtyard.

With all these choices, and a few others in the main house, Maracay’s floor plans, “are expanding into the 3,000 square foot range on average,” Canzonetta said.

“The long term is definitely toward larger houses,” said Robert Denk, a senior economist for the National Association of Homebuilders. He said new homes have consistently gotten bigger since the 1970s, with temporary setbacks during recessions.

Nationally, the median size of a new house is now about 2,400 square feet, up 17 percent since a low point in 2009, but Denk said generational housing is only part of the story.

“We’ve lost a lot of the low-end buyers,” Denk said. “At this point, it’s only the higher-end buyers that are in the market at all, and so that’s what’s pushing the demand for larger houses.”

Back at the Dusseault household, space is still tight. The women also live with four dogs that have a way of making their presence known. Meanwhile, Grandma’s shelf space for toiletries in the bathroom has recently vanished in favor of her granddaughter’s stuff.

But 22-year-old Chelsie said living together at time like this has been good for the family.

“I can barely just get by with barely paying the bills that I have,” Chelsie said. “You know, I don’t have any extra money really for food and everything, so I really lean on my family a lot for everything. I’m very appreciative.”

Her mom, Marci remains understanding.

“The last few years have been a struggle for all of us,” she said. “We have gone through a lot. To be able to be here for each other has been a blessing.”

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