In recent years more and more South Africans have embraced the concept of hive living, with multi-generational households becoming a familiar concept in many suburbs.
This trend is driven to a large extent, by the fact that higher living costs, coupled with rising property prices have turned hive living into a more accessible means for first-time buyers to get into the property market. When considering the idea of multi-generational families living together, having a number of adults squeezed into one average-sized house is what most of us picture.
Adrian Goslett, regional director and CEO of RE/MAX of Southern Africa, says however, that the trend of hive living is actually what is increasing the popularity of properties with two or more dwellings on the same stand. In fact, in cases where properties do not already have multiple dwellings some owners are subdividing or building granny flats.
“Rather than downscaling to another property or retirement home, many older homeowners are choosing to build onto their current property,” says Goslett. “With more people living on the premises, there should be greater collective income coming in to pay shared costs, which will make it easier for everyone financially.”
Ezra and Melissa Davidson, from Cape Town, have had to do exactly this to help their adult daughter and her husband. “My son-in-law was promised a contract job in Canada, together with a beautiful home for the two years that they would be there. They sold their home and everything in it and were supposed to stay in our guest room for a maximum of three months waiting for everything to be finalised. The deal somehow went south and they were left high and dry with no home or belongings, not even cars,” tells Melissa. “They have two small children; we had to welcome them into our home while they figured things out.”
According to Ezra this was understandably a very stressful time for everyone: Their daughter had quit her teaching job in anticipation of moving overseas so they were both looking for jobs while the money from the sale of their home and belongings was being depleted to cover living expenses.
“I sat my son-in-law down and told him that we should consider building a garden flat onto our property; my wife and I could live there and they could live in our three-bedroom home. They would never have been able to buy a home big enough for their family in the location they needed, so this seemed like the best solution for everyone. My wife and I would now have our own space back and our kids would have a huge amount of worry lifted from their shoulders.”
Goslett points out that the increased safety element is another influencing factor in the way South African families are making decisions. “South Africans are some of the most security-conscious people in the world. As a result, property buying and living decisions are heavily influenced by safety and security. Hive living provides people with a greater sense of security without paying a high premium,” he adds.
Victoria and Johan Coetzee from Centurion agree with Goslett. “My mother is 61, very active in her business still and always on the run somewhere to meet friends or clients. In November 2015 she was robbed and held at gunpoint while two men ransacked her home. Thankfully she was not physically harmed but emotionally she really took a hard knock,” says Johan. “She stopped going out and was always close to tears and very emotional. I had to tell Victoria that my mother would need to move in with us; I was also very concerned about her safety so it was for my own peace of mind as much as hers.”
Victoria showed some foresight in knowing that having their independent mother live with them in their medium-sized three bedroom townhouse would create problems, even if it offered temporary emotional relief. “I suggested that we sell our townhouse and build a home in a security estate where we could build a separate apartment for my mother-in-law,” explains Victoria. “We had to rent a tiny apartment with our two young, active boys for almost 18 months. It was a sacrifice but now that we are all settled in and have our privacy as well as peace of mind I can see that it was definitely worth it.”
The Coetzees say that, while it has really paid off for them, it took some smoothing over before everyone was really comfortable with the new living arrangement. “My mother would ask Victoria to look after her two dogs; we don’t even have dogs, and then Victoria would be stuck looking after them for an entire weekend,” says Johan. “Her parenting philosophies are also quite different from ours, so we had to learn to be firm in what we want for our boys, even with granny literally next door.”
According to Victoria it took some frustration, gentleness, open-mindedness and real talks to make this work with clear boundaries for everyone.
Goslett says that if you want to make hive living work for your family, boundary setting is a definite requirement. “There needs to be a few ground rules in place from the start; especially about finances. Each aspect, no matter how small, needs to be discussed and considered,” he adds. “All parties will also need to come to an agreement about the usage of common areas and inviting guests over.”
Jeannette Vermeulen from Ruimsig understands how important boundaries are from personal experience.
Vermeulen’s husband died shortly after she was retrenched. “It was such a tough time, I felt like I had nowhere to turn,” says Vermeulen. “Eventually my son came to fetch me from the room I was renting under horrible circumstances. The plan was for me to live with them until I was able to find a job and afford my own flat again.”
Vermeulen says that it was fine in the beginning, even enjoyable; she now had more time with her grandchildren and could relax since her children were helping with financial concerns. But then she met someone online and boundaries were blurred.
“My kids spoke out very strongly against me dating another man, what they felt was too soon after their dad died,” explains Vermeulen. “They were snooping on my phone and watching my every move. I was happy but made to feel so guilty. The relationship ended before it even really began.”
Vermeulen has since found employment and is now renting a small garden flat. “Luckily I feel that the relationship with my son and daughter-in-law is heading towards the right space again. It has changed my view on multi-generational living though; I will rather spend my days alone than live with that kind of invasion of privacy again. They treated me as if I was a rebellious teenager!”
Home buying and living is such a deeply personal component of human life, it influences our identity, how we approach our days and interact with each other. Each home has a unique atmosphere, and if you were to ask a thousand children what makes their home Home, each one would likely give a special, different answer.
It seems that in this case having “the money talk” is actually the easy part. For multi-generational or hive living to really work everyone needs to understand the limitations and benefits, and respect personal boundaries and each individual’s way of doing things.