The growing trend of multiple generations living together in one house offers a whole new market for housebuilders – they just need to consider age-inclusive and flexible design options, says David Schill of Aritco Lifts.
Much has been made of the complex social issues that an ageing global population presents in the near future, and yet surprisingly, entrepreneurs and brands – housebuilders among them – have been slow to recognise the potential opportunities of this dramatically shifting demographic.
In a decade from now, one in five of the UK’s population will be aged 65 or over, and in 50 years’ time, this age group will have increased by 8.6 million, roughly the population of London. In this time of unprecedented change, the wealthiest segment of our population today is aged over 50 —The McKinsey Global Institute (MGI) has noted that individuals in the 75-plus age group are now spending more on average than younger consumers.
A new trend in housing
Although they tend to be more financially secure, older generations struggle to find social care and suffer from loneliness and isolation, while younger generations struggle to find affordable and available homes. No matter what age we are, our homes contribute to our mental wellbeing – our feeling of safety, identity and the quality of our social interactions.
Inter-generational living is a win-win solution, and recent research suggests it is on the rise. According to the Office of National Statistics, around 6.8 per cent of households in the UK (1.8 million homes) were multi-generational in 2019, and 125,000 new families are set to embrace this trend every year. Courting this new, blended consumer group needs foresight and flexibility from the building trade, and a focus on homes that can be adapted to changing needs as we age.
According to housing research agency the NHBC Foundation, British builders need to look to Asian countries, where new-build housing aimed at multiple generations is considered a market in its own right. Construction techniques such as modular housing with moveable walls are popular, as they allow for flexible living spaces that can be expanded, contracted and customised as requirements for space change. Innovative new materials are favoured as they can play a role in the circular economy by being recycled or re-used.
Another critical element for a house designed for intergenerational living is a home lift. In Asia, accessibility is not seen as a requirement exclusive to the older generation. The convenience of a home lift to access different floors is considered just as valuable to young parents with small children, for example, as a matriarch or patriarch confined to a wheelchair. A lift with a modular design that can be customised, extended up to an additional floor, moved or even recycled is seen as important in order to future-proof a home in the long term. It will both add value for the homeowner, and will help the developer attract capital investment at an earlier age.
A new, collaborative approach
With so many stakeholders involved in the design of a new home, collaboration, inclusive design and customisation are key when it comes to deciding the layout of the house and elements within it. The inter-generational family home needs the option of areas or floors designated to different generations that can be modified over time, with a mix of private spaces (bedrooms, bathrooms and rooms for entertaining guests) linked to communal ones for family meals, for example. The technology and cabling embedded within the building will need to be adaptable as smart home systems evolve beyond energy automation and security, to include improved voice recognition and health and wellbeing monitors.
Beyond the functionality of the building, customisable design elements to suit every member of the family will make a new-build much more saleable and desirable. The humble home lift, for example, should be so much more than a metal box that moves between floors. It should be a ‘canvas’ for personalised artwork, with adaptable lighting to suit a mood or interior, and it needs to be either showcased like a prized piece of furniture or cleverly disguised behind bookcases.
Housebuilders need to wise up to the new marketing trend of customer experience – or ‘CX’ – which courts consumers of every age and considers their long-term needs. Research conducted by the NHBC Foundation found that multigenerational households do not require vastly different layouts to many homes already being built, they just need foresight from the housebuilders on how we will all be living in the future.
David Schill is the marketing director at Aritco Lifts