Lakewood Ranch is at the heart of a nationwide trend of multiple generations living in one home.
Like thousands of Northeasterners, New Jersey resident Janice Markell thought her life plan might eventually take her to Florida. Someday.
She just didn’t think it would happen so fast, in spring 2021, not long after she turned 60. And she never thought her Florida relocation would take place in a custom-built home designed to provide private quarters for three generations. There’s the middle generation — Markell, now 62, and her husband, Don Markell, 75. The couple is sandwiched by their son, Spencer Markell, 27, and Janice’s mom, Edna Smith, 92.
“It never occurred to me we would make this move with my mom,” Markell says. “But then the lockdown happened. And everything changed.”
The Markells bought a Stock Development spec house in the Lake Club in Lakewood Ranch in August 2020 for $1.05 million. The foundation was laid when they bought it, and it was move-in ready for the family seven months later. The 3,100-square-foot house (about 4,000 square feet when including the lanai) was essentially, if not evenly, split into three wings, one for each generation. Edna Smith had her own living room, bedroom and bathroom, and Spencer had his own sitting room, bedroom, and bathroom.
While Spencer has since moved into his own home in Myakka City, the Markells’ move represents a rapidly growing trend in Lakewood Ranch and the surrounding area: multigenerational living, when grandparents, parents and children live in the same home (or at least two of the three).
The number of Americans who live in multigenerational family households is about four times larger than in the 1970s, according to a March Pew Research Center report. As of March 2021, there were 59.7 million U.S. residents who lived with multiple generations under one roof.
“It’s certainly becoming more prevalent,” says Derek Nelson, franchise owner with AR Homes Sarasota/Nelson Homes. “We’ve seen a lot of this and have been designing that kind of home for more and more people.”
David Hunihan, a longtime Lakewood Ranch homebuilder and CEO of Lee Wetherington Homes, has seen the trend bubbling up for years, but of late, multigenerational housing, he says, has “become more culturally acceptable.”
“You see kids living with their parents longer,” Hunihan adds, “and parents making conscious decisions to buy a house to live with their kids.”
Both A.R. Homes and Lee Wetherington Homes are approved builders in one of the newest communities in Lakewood Ranch to promote multigenerational housing, Star Farms at Lakewood Ranch. John Cannon Homes is another builder at Star Farms, a 700-acre gated community with room for 1,500 residences, in a mix of homes, villas and townhomes. Amenities for Star Farms, in the northeast section of Lakewood Ranch, between State Road 64 and 44th Avenue East, are planned to include a club, fitness center, resort-style pool, dog park, an event lawn and trails.
The developer of Star Farms is Forestar Group, a subsidiary of D.R. Horton that has projects in 55 markets in 23 states and delivered nearly 17,000 lots in 2021. Construction of Star Farms, where D.R. Horton is also a builder, got underway in early 2021. Plans include nearly 300 homes in the first phase, with up to 25 floor plans.
“Builders have designed floor plans that allow residents to balance togetherness and privacy,” Forestar West Florida Division President Tony Squitieri says in an email response to questions.
As of mid-June, A.R. Homes had sold three homes in Star Farms, and a fourth was under contract — all in the $2.5 million to $3.5 million range, Nelson says. While none of those homes was built specifically to cater to multiple generations, Nelson says the topic has come up often in conversations with clients. Ditto for Hunihan.
Nelson and Hunihan both say at the price level of custom homes, multigenerational floor plans and designs, for the most part, are there for the asking. “As a custom builder we can handle virtually any custom size house,” Hunihan says, “as long as we can fit it in the home site and it fits the budget.”
Builders note several reasons for the surge in multigenerational housing. Three of the big ones, says Squitieri, are developing closer family relationships; increased living costs; and aging-at-home trends for seniors.
“Multigenerational living offers families convenient places and activities to interact with one another and helps mitigate rising living and health care costs,” Squitieri says.
That’s certainly true with the Markells, in the Lake Club. Janice Markell says the emotional scars of having her mom in an assisted living facility during heavy Northeast lockdowns were raw. It motivated the family to think about Florida fast — a decision they don’t regret.
“The only way this move could work would be if my mom could stay with us,” Markell says. “This fit our family perfectly.”
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