Home for the holidays

Published November 16, 2021
Bret Lawrence
by Bret Lawrence

Elliptical Shaped Photo of People Smiling and Sharing Food Around a Table

What You’ll Learn

How our notions of home shape the holiday season

Why some household trends are changing

The pros and cons of coliving and co-borrowing

Homes play a big role in many holiday traditions—in the last 5 Novembers, an average of 52 million people travelled home each year to be with loved ones. That’s almost 1 in every 6 Americans! From cooking and eating meals to relaxing with friends and family, homes are the spaces we gather to celebrate.

But trends in residential living and household structures are always shifting, making room for new traditions and new notions of home. Here is how we started, some of the current trends, and how they might impact holidays in the future.

How did we get here?

Throughout human history, the structure of residential living has fluctuated based on social and economic needs. Community living was the norm for hunter-gatherers because it was an effective way to combine resources, and support more people within one network.

When these nomadic groups settled down and began farming on a large scale, households were more likely to contain large families who lived and worked on the farm.

As people shifted from agrarian to industrial society, living structures adapted again. Rather than laboring at home on farms, people moved to metropolitan areas looking for employment. Large farming households (which might have previously been home to extended family, relatives, or even neighbors) kept shrinking until they looked more like the “nuclear unit” we think of today.

During the early 1900s, the average household size was 4.6 persons. By 1940, that had dwindled to 3.6 persons, and then 2.5 persons by 2010, when 27% of all households had only one person.

For many people, the single-family household (2.5 kids, white picket fence, etc.) is ingrained as the norm when it comes to residential living. But once again, changes in social and economic needs are impacting the way people live.

Multigenerational living

A multigenerational household is one where three or more generations (typically children, parents, and grandparents) are living under one roof. According to a recent study, the number of Americans living in a multigenerational household has nearly quadrupled in the past decade, going from just 7% in 2011 to 26% in 2021—a 271% spike!

There are obvious economic advantages to this kind of residential living structure, since sharing household costs between multiple parties lightens the load for homeowners. But there are also social and emotional benefits to families that choose to cohabitate. Childcare and elder care can sometimes be managed more seamlessly, and loneliness or isolation are not as prevalent.

While the COVID-19 pandemic prompted many families to make the shift to a multigenerational household, some report that there’s no going back. In fact, according to the same study, about 70% of families living like this plan to continue doing so long term.

Homebuying with friends

Adding a co-borrower to your mortgage application might improve your chances of getting approved for a home loan—especially if you don’t have the strongest debt-to-income ratio on your own. And while you might think of an ideal co-borrower as being a close relative or partner, co-borrowers don’t have to be family members. Particularly for young single borrowers who are facing high rent costs in many major cities, going in on a home together can be a smart financial move.

Purchasing real estate with anyone is a big commitment and you need to find a co-borrower with the right financial background to complement your homebuying goals. That said, while there are some practical precautions to take into consideration, many people are deciding it’s worth it—according to a Wall Street Journal report, the number of co-buyers with different last names increased by 771% between 2014 and 2021. Not only do you get to amplify your purchasing power and possibly score a nicer place, you can also split household costs and build equity together (something that’s not possible for renters).

How the holidays are adapting

As household trends shift, it makes sense that the holidays we celebrate within these spaces (and the people we celebrate with) have also adapted. According to an Atlantic article on the phenomenon of Friendsgiving amongst Millennials, relatives aren’t the only people who qualify as family these days: “Given what we know about this generation’s habit of delaying marriage and parenthood into later stages of life compared with prior generations, it makes sense that...the most important people in their lives might be friends.”

For homeowners that live in a multigenerational household, spending time with extended family is part of daily life rather than a special occasion. For homeowners that live with friends, holiday get-togethers might be blended events with family, neighbors, or other community members. And in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, many people have different attitudes about the importance of holiday festivities, choosing to create new traditions with nearby friends rather than traveling long distances.

Coliving all year round

Sure, seeing your friends and family around the holidays is nice. But could you live like that all year round? Co-housing isn’t as radical as it used to seem. To some, it’s an effective way to foster connection and community, gain an economic advantage, and manage household duties. Here’s how to know if it’s right for you.

Pros of multi-family household living

  • Share responsibilities. When you have more people living under one roof, you can split responsibilities like chores, housework, and childcare.
  • Share homebuying costs. Homeowners who pool their resources can increase their buying power. This can be particularly advantageous for first-time homebuyers who might not have as much set aside for a down payment.

Cons of multi-family household living

  • Less privacy. One of the big perks of living in a single-family household is privacy. You have more control over your environment and you don’t have to compromise with other housemates.
  • No equity. If you live in a house you don’t own, you won’t build equity.

At Better, we know that buying a home isn’t just a transaction—it’s an investment in your future. Ready to work with a lender that puts your needs first? Getting pre-approved only takes a few minutes.

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