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Vancouver’s Multi-Generational Household Trend

Vancouver’s Multi-Generational Household Trend
3 min. read

Photo: Syda Productions / Shutterstock

Builders say an increasing number of clients are renovating to make space for their parents or children in their home. This is particularly noticeable in Canada’s most expensive real estate market, Vancouver.

In the fifty years following World War II, a new Canadian family could reasonably expect to start their life together in a home of their own. But recent economic hardships and rising real estate prices in the wake of the 2008 recession have made that dream less possible for many low- and middle-income families.

Multi-Generational Renovations

The latest federal census found that multi-generational households are the fastest-growing housing category in Canada. Between 2001 and 2016, the number of households with at least three generations in the same home increased by over 37%.

According to Statistics Canada, as homeowners have moved from interior upgrades to multi-generational overhauls, the amount Canadians spend on renovations has risen 46% between 2008 and 2017. Homeowners spent $57 billion on renovations in 2017, about the same amount they spent buying new homes.

Laurel James, co-owner of Novell Design Build, told the Vancouver Sun that expectations need to shift:

“Over 90 percent of the potential clients that we meet now want to accommodate three-plus generations.”

Vancouver’s Multi-Generational Scenario

The trend is particularly apparent in Vancouver where in 2018 the city issued over 700 permits for laneway homes and over 20 permits for infill buildings. Both laneway homes and infill buildings represent secondary dwellings often used in multi-generational properties.

Over 1400 permits were issued for interior renovations including some form of additional living space. Of the 741 permits for new homes, 423 included a secondary suite, meaning just over 300 of those permits were for single-family homes and duplexes without a suite.

Homes for sale in Vancouver have become significantly more expensive in recent years. According to the Real Estate Board of Vancouver, the benchmark price of an attached home is $1.4 million. The move towards multi-generational homes makes more sense considering the gap between this benchmark and an average middle-class family budget.

Data from Altus Group shows Vancouver homeowners are planning more renovations than usual this year. About one in three homeowners who responded to the survey completely or somewhat agreed that they are planning renovations of $5,000 or more in 2019. That’s up from about one in four in 2018, and one in five in 2017.

Many of Vancouver’s signature home styles feature layouts that are well-suited to support multi-generational homes. Extra living areas can be rented out for revenue, turned into homes for adult children, or used as retirement suites for downsizing seniors. For example, despite their negative reputation, “Vancouver Special” style homes with main living quarters on the top and bedrooms on the bottom floor make perfect renovation opportunities for a multi-generational home.

More and More Laneway Homes

Laneway dwellings are especially popular in Vancouver. Typically, a laneway home is a modestly sized space facing the back lane of the property. Nearly half of recently built homes include them.

Some laneways rent for $3,000 a month – providing a significant boost to a middle-class family’s income. That revenue can also help convince new home buyers that a mortgage might be a worthwhile investment.

Building a laneway on your property usually costs between $250k and $300k, not including a $30k permit or design or landscaping costs. Still, a final cost of $350k for a high-end laneway is much more affordable than a typical single-family home.

Cheri Stefanucci, co-owner of Abstract Homes and Renovations, told the Vancouver Sun:

“We often see grown kids going into the main house and the parents live in the laneway. A lack of affordability means you are seeing the whole family all on one lot in one form or another.”

Experts will be watching closely to see whether this trend continues or if it tapers off as the economy continues to recover. In the short term, these renovation trends may carry on, especially in Canada’s most expensive real estate markets.


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