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Published March 07, 2014, 08:06 AM

'Granny flats' new trend in home construction

WEST FARGO, N.D. – Visitors to her mom’s suite in Nancy Kelly’s new home in the Shadow Wood development here have one of two extreme reactions.

By: Emily Welker, Forum News Service

WEST FARGO, N.D. – Visitors to her mom’s suite in Nancy Kelly’s new home in the Shadow Wood development here have one of two extreme reactions.

They either love it or question whether it’s such a great idea to have your mother living under the same roof.

“We each kind of know where our own boundaries are,” Kelly said.

Her 75-year-old mother suffered a couple of problems with her heart health in recent years. So they opted for what’s an emerging trend of apartment-like spaces in single-family homes, often designed for elderly parents.

Having lost her father in 2003, Kelly wasn’t willing to let her mother stay alone following two valve replacements. Moving her in made more sense than Kelly staying overnight at her condo, or her mother staying in her guest bedroom.

“The thing is, you have to have the right personalities,” she said. “There’s no fights.”

The right personalities, and the right real estate, said her contractor, Don Dabbert Jr., who constructed the home with its “granny flat” for Kelly this summer.

Also called a “mother-in-law suite,” the unit in Kelly’s home includes a living room, sunroom, full kitchen and bathroom, plus a master bedroom and guest bedroom. There was a focus on soundproofing, and the apartment has its own separate entrance.

“There’s very much times people don’t realize there’s a person home, or not home,” said Dabbert. “It’s a win-win for everybody.”

The granny flat is one of three Dabbert has built so far in the metro area.

The units can also accommodate boomerang kids coming home after college, or an adult relative of any age who suffers from health issues.

National homebuilder Lennar Homes has built homes with the built-in apartments in the Twin Cities, under the brand name NextGen homes. The company has sold about 600 nationwide, according to Lennar’s Minnesota marketing manager, Tim Fohr.

Fohr said NextGen homes are taking advantage of demographic trends. U.S. Census data shows that the percentage of Americans in multigenerational households fell from 25 percent in 1940 to 14 percent in 1990 but has bounced back since. By 2009, the figure had reached 17 percent – meaning about 51 million Americans lived in a multigenerational home.

Why the increase?

People are living longer. The number of Americans 65 and older is expected to rise 35 percent from 2010 to 2020. Because of rising health care costs, the appeal of saving money by living with children is increasing.

Eric Searles, an associate planner for Woodbury, Minn., which has seen four such granny flats go up, said it’s legal, as long as the units are not completely separate – as traditional duplexes are.

The apartment and the home must have some common area inside, like a hallway or kitchen.

The house must be designed for one family only, he said, including one small unit next to a larger, multibedroom home.

West Fargo also requires that the homes not be a duplex, Kelly said.

So far, Dabbert said the Fargo area has lagged behind stronger demand for multigenerational housing that’s developed in larger cities.

The lag in demand may be due to several factors, he said.

Fargo hasn’t suffered the ill effects of the recent recession as dramatically as other cities, so there may be less need to consolidate houses for local families.

Also, the road to grandma’s house, if she lives near Fargo, is often both shorter and less traffic-riddled than in bigger cities.

However, both Dabbert and Kelly think the interest exists among local homeowners. The home was finished this past summer and featured on the Home Builders Association’s Fall Parade of Homes.

Kelly, who also has her real estate license, estimates that about 1,000 people walked through and saw her mom’s new digs, and she’s had quite a few inquiries from them.

“Our kids get to see her a lot more, too, have supper together,” she said. “It’s really nice to come home to a nice warm meal, see Mom. She didn’t realize how lonely she was.

“People would buy them if they were here.”

The St. Paul Pioneer Press contributed to this report.

Readers can reach Welker at (701) 241-5541.