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Spring Home and Garden Archives The Altamont Enterprise, May 21, 2009

A growing trend: Homes that hold several generations

By Paige Spawn Pierle

Sharon Emerson is caught between taking care of her children and her 74-year-old mother. “They call us the sandwich generation,” she said. “We are sandwiched between helping our elderly parents and our own kids.” She, her husband, and their 6- and 10-year-old children currently live in Waterford. Her mother lives in Clifton Park.

“It can take a toll on people, on your marriage,” Emerson said, of helping aging parents. “A person in my situation has to go to Mom or Dad’s house to mow the lawn and do other maintenance work on the house, then turn around to do the same maintenance work on their own house.”

Her solution? Buy a house with an in-law apartment. “We’ll be there to help her,” said Emerson. “She will go through a lot of changes in the next 10 years.” Emerson worked as a director of social work in a nursing home. One of her brothers is a nurse and the other is a doctor. They want to take care of their mother themselves.

According to a survey that The Boomer Project administered for Home Instead Senior Care, an international company that helps the elderly live at home independently with help from non-medical home care and companionship services, the average age of people who share a home with the elderly relative for whom they are caring is 52. Of these caregivers, 28 percent have children under the age of 18 in their homes.

Home Instead Senior Care created a website, www.makewayformom.com, which provides resources for people living in intergenerational homes as well as a calculator to help them see whether living independently from the parent is cheaper or more expensive than living with the parent.

Emerson sees her decision as a win-win situation. “Mom will know we are here to help her and she is there to help us,” she said. “If I have to run to the store, she is there to watch the kids.”

Emerson is looking for her new house with the help of Brain McQueen, realtor for Coldwell Banker Prime Properties.

About 10 percent of McQueen’s clients are looking for homes with in-law apartments, like Emerson. His advice? Hire a realtor.

“Most people don’t know how to search for in-law apartments,” he said. Houses that could meet the buyers’ needs may not always be marketed as having an in-law apartment. Real estate agents do not restrict their searches to “in-law apartments” but look for houses that have a detached garage or five bedrooms or four bathrooms. “You can expand on a lot of different things to make it work,” he said.

Janna Shillinglaw, realtor for Team Shillinglaw with Keller Williams Realty - Capital District, agrees. Some houses with separate living quarters are marketed as having a separate space for a long-term guest, a teenager, or a returning college student. By marketing the space with these names, the buyer does not need to have aging parents.

“Anytime you market a home, you try to get the widest possible audience,” she said. “You can’t always guess who will be the perfect buyer for your house.”

McQueen advises buyers to find a house that has a separate entryway for the parents, so they can enter the house without going through the main entrance. “They have their own privacy to come and go as they want,” he said.

This is the type of home that Emerson would like to buy. She wants her mother to have her own kitchen, bathroom, and bedroom. That will help both families have some privacy and remain independent from each other.

“You try to maintain a balance between taking care of your own family and taking care of your parent,” said Emerson.

She also wants to buy a house that does not have stairs. “They’re [the elderly’s] knees start to give out and it’s scary—they may fall,” she said.

While Emerson is surprised at the number of houses with in-law apartments for sale in Glenville and Saratoga counties, she is aware that she may have to build a new home, if she cannot find a house that fits her needs. Building a house with an in-law apartment can further complicate her situation, as towns have different zoning laws for in-law apartments.

“Technically and legally, an in-law apartment has no kitchen,” said Zenie Gladieux, associate broker with Weichert, Realtors - Northeast Group. If there is a kitchen, it must be listed as a two-family home.

Rodger Stone, zoning and code enforcement officer for the town of Guilderland, said that this depends on the town. For Guilderland, in-law apartments must have a kitchen. If there is no kitchen, they are just houses with an extra bedroom and bathroom. For this reason, in-law apartments are zoned as two-family houses in Guilderland. They need to have a certain amount of square footage, separate entryways, and separate parking spaces. They must meet town codes and New York State codes, and are subject to annual fees and annual inspections. “It has some detail to it,” Stone said.

Of the houses for sale in Guilderland, Bethlehem, New Scotland, and the Hilltowns, only about 14 have been marketed as having in-law apartments in the last three years, said Gladieux. Most of these seem to be in either Guilderland or New Scotland. The prices start as low as $128,000. “The houses are worth more and sell more quickly if they have been updated than something that has not been touched in 50 years,” Gladieux said.

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