Most of us are desperate to escape the in-laws and head back to our own homes after a big family event, but for some, whether for practical, economic or cultural reasons, living with extended family, in the same building or complex, is gaining popularity. The vast majority of family homes in the UK are self contained and separate even from their closest neighbours, but there are those for whom living in the same building and sharing certain communal areas with their friends or relatives is a way of life. Known commonly as a duplex or two-flat residence in the UK, these houses contain two storeys—one for each family—as well as a common cellar or basement and shared foyer and hallways. The building is typically owned by one party, but there are always separate, private entrances to each part of the home. In this way, multiple generations of one family can coexist closely, sharing certain practical elements of life such as childcare and meal times, but with the option to retire to their own quarters at the end of the day. In today’s increasingly competitive housing market, such arrangements make prudent financial sense, especially in the face of an aging population and its associated challenges.
In addition to the duplex, or two-flat home, another popular style of multi-family house is a semi-detached dwelling. Familiar to every Brit, these feature two adjoined homes in one building, each with a separate entrance and typically no connecting living spaces. They are almost always owned and rented by separate parties and the inhabitants can have as much or as little to do with each other as they like. Terraced homes, or townhouses, are also considered to belong to this category of home, and consist of self-contained dwellings separated by a party wall on each side. Despite the close proximity of each residence, there tend to be no common areas, except, of course, the occasional shared garden or driveway. Flats, or apartment buildings, can also come under the category of multi-family home, with communal stairways, entrance halls and grounds. Although each flat is usually individually owned, their layout and proximity are well suited to a degree of shared living if families or friends so wish.
One of the biggest and most obvious advantages to multi-family living is the financial benefits it offers. Sharing facilities and space with loved ones can reduce bills, as well as cutting down on travel times and costs. It also allows multi-generation families to share duties and responsibilities in the most efficient way, i.e. grandparents can care for the grandchildren while mum and dad are at work. It also allows older family members to remain under the watchful eye of their relatives, allowing them to live independently for longer. In terms of disadvantages, multi-family living can be a claustrophobic experience if not managed sensibly, and it’s possible that both younger and older generations feel they don’t have enough space. It can also lead to relationship tensions and frustrations, although these can happen in any home, of course.
As with any big housing decision, whether or not you’re making a prudent investment will depend on your requirements and long-term plans. If you’re keen to buy a large property with the intention of renting or subletting part of it to friends, family or others, the initial output can be relatively quickly recouped in rental payments. In today’s tricky financial climate, there are likely to be an increasing number of potential tenants willing to try this style of living, meaning you’ll never be short of interest in your property.
As with any housing quest, prices will vary wildly depending on the location, size and condition of the home you’re considering. It’s always best to consult an experienced architect, right from the start, to guide you through the process and set you on the right path. If you’re planning to build a home, you’ll need to research and plan thoroughly, to avoid any pitfalls later in the process. If you’re looking to buy, a very rough guideline is that £215k is the average price for a semi-detached home in England. The average flat will set you back the slightly higher sum of of £225k, although this will differ hugely depending on other practical considerations.