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Real estate

Multigenerational living arrangements are becoming more common and in-demand

Suzanne Eakin’s 500-sq.-ft. in-law suite above the garage at her daughter Laurel Cholmsky’s Rothwell Heights home.

For just more than five years, Suzanne Eakin's grandson would scoot downstairs of his parents' Rothwell Heights home, cut through the garage and head over to Ms. Eakin's in-law suite above the garage, where, in the 500-square-foot space, grandma would make breakfast every morning.

"This kid had the nicest breakfast in Ottawa," Ms. Eakin says with a laugh.

That opportunity was afforded to Eakin's family as multigenerational living arrangements have become more prominent in Canada's capital. With a lower population density than Toronto or Vancouver, the neighbourhoods allow for such add-ons to existing homes.

According to the City of Ottawa, permits issued for secondary dwelling units within existing homes increased nearly two per cent from 2015 to 2016, and are on track for comparable growth again in 2017.

Laurel Cholmsky, Ms. Eakin's daughter, says her real estate agent said it was a "good idea" to increase the value of their home – located just 10 minutes from Ottawa's most expensive neighbourhood, Rockcliffe Park and a 15 minute walk from the Ottawa River pathway – because it is hard to find in-law suites that aren't located in the basement.

Suzanne Eakin’s 500-square-foot in-law suite sits above the garage at her daughter Laurel Cholmsky’s Rothwell Heights home. Suzanne Eakin

"It'll be a selling point," Dr. Cholmsky says. "Most people have suites in their basement, and that's much less attractive."

Ms. Eakin retired in 2009 and her suite was built in 2010, featuring a full kitchen, a sitting area and a quaint sleeping nook.

"I knew I was going to retire and wanted to come back and be closer to my family. My son lived in Toronto and has two little kids and my other child lives in Montreal, so to come back to Ottawa was perfect," she explains.

She previously lived in a large home in the post Westmount area of Montreal, and in a big Victorian-style home in Halifax, so admits she wasn't accustomed to living in a small space. But after watching many episodes of HGTV's Small Space, Big Style – which mostly centred around residents of New York City trying to get creative with their small living areas – she felt inspired and says it gave her the courage to live in a small space.

Nisha and Brian Ouellette’s multigenerational home in Ottawa features a main-floor in-law suite, which houses Ms. Ouellette’s 83-year-old mother.

About 15 minutes east of Dr. Cholmsky's house is Nisha Ouellette and her husband Brian's home, bought in 2000, which also features a main level in-law suite.

Since its renovation, the house now has 3,100 square feet of livable space – double from when they bought it – and the in-law suite was built in 2004. The couple – along with Ms. Ouellette's 83-year-old mother – is moving to the Thousand Islands area (near Kingston) to retire in cottage country.

The couple originally moved from Vancouver and was drawn to the Ottawa River, which they can walk to from their home. Their home is less than 25 minutes by bike from Ottawa's downtown core and was large enough that essentially a one-bedroom apartment was built, which, Ms. Ouellette says, can be used not just by an older person, but by teenagers or a mid-20's graduate in between school and his or her first job.

The suite features hardwood flooring, granite countertops, and stainless steel appliances.

"We added so much square footage, about 500 feet of open retreat area, and its now a great space for a teenager too. It's a very multifunctional house," she explains.

A living space in the attached suite at the Ouellette’s Ottawa home.

When Ms. Ouellette told her neighbour they were selling, she says she was surprised, as the home has been totally revamped from when they purchased it nearly 20 years ago.

But the couple knew they were ready to downsize, and although Ms. Ouellette says the layout is only attractive to a small percentage of the market, with a large segment of the population getting ready to retire, she believed there would be demand for a practical type of home like what they have, as multigenerational households are the fastest growing type of household in the country according to recent data from Statistics Canada.

From 2001 to 2016, multigenerational households rose by nearly 40 per cent, and in 2016, 6.3 per cent of Canada's population (or approximately 2.2 million people) lived in a multigenerational dwelling.

Ms. Oulette's home will be on the market in late-2017, and she's confident it will be an attractive listing.

"The house has totally changed since we bought it," she says.

The kitchen in the Ouellette’s attached in-law suite.

With multigenerational housing on the rise across the country, and trending in Ottawa, Dr. Cholmsky says having an in-law suite will be a selling point moving forward.

In their home, the space could easily be transitioned into a home office or unit to drive rental income, if Ms. Eakin decides to move out or passes on.

But the key to multigenerational happiness, Ms. Eakin says, is to have autonomy.

"You have to have a good working relationship with the parent and the child whose home it is. I think that's really crucial," she explains. "Before I did it, I questioned people who were living in the same kind of arrangement and I said, 'what makes it work?' And they said, 'always knock.'"