Daryl Whitaker can take comfort in knowing that her grandmother, Shirley Shear is nearby. In fact, so close that she's right in her own back yard.
The 88-year-old twice-widowed former employee of Florida Tile is living behind Whitaker's home in South Tampa, in what was formerly the family guest house turned into a game room.
Shear, who owned a home in Lakeland for 50 years, fell and developed a blood clot almost two years ago, and her family felt it was unsafe for her to live alone.
She couldn't afford full-time home care and she couldn't keep her beloved, blind dog, Sugar, in an assisted living facility. So Whitaker's husband, Joe, and their four children gladly gave up their little getaway by the pool in order to make Shear safe and secure.
"It's fun here as long as I have my dog," she says. "It's private, but it's nice to know that the family is nearby if I need them."
The Whitakers' solution reflects a burgeoning home-building trend. Popular in Europe, the so-called granny pods are just one way families are bringing multiple generations under one household.
Companies such as Lennar and M/I Homes also have noticed the trend and are building homes that can accommodate seniors, adult children fresh out of college, and extended family members.
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When Joe Whitaker asked his close friend Henry Moseley Jr. to remodel the guest house behind his South Tampa home for Shear, Moseley customized the cottage and realized what a wonderful solution the unit was for seniors who wanted to have their own private space yet still be close to their family.
He and his son Henry III began researching the concept that was so popular overseas and decided the solution was a perfect fit for Southwest and Central Florida, two of the largest senior areas in the United States.
Together, they launched Home Care Suites, a custom backyard cottage business designed as an alternative to assisted living.
At a time of high unemployment and home foreclosures, the number of U.S. households in which multiple generations of the same family double up under the same roof has spiked significantly, and one in five seniors is part of this trend.
And if the rising cost of home health care, assisted living and nursing home care is any indication, the "granny pod" might be a more affordable option that provides privacy, security and peace of mind.
According to a national study by Genworth, a provider of long-term care insurance, in 2012, the average monthly fee for an assisted living facility was $3,300.
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Home Care Suites offers three models, which can all be customized to suit a senior's needs and the family's budget. They range from 256 to 588 square feet.
The price varies based on site conditions, but it ranges between $42,000 and $83,000. The homes can be financed for less than $800 a month. Home Care Suites provides free property analysis for the homeowner to determine zoning regulations and requirements.
"We build these units with structurally insulated panels that are extremely energy-efficient. They're like an igloo," Moseley said. "All of these are hurricane-rated and flood-protected buildings. It's just like building a new house. It all has to meet zoning and building code. From start to finish, it's probably about 120 days.
"These suites don't raise your property taxes and they can be a federal tax deduction if a doctor deems that your home needs special medical accommodations, to the extent that the value doesn't exceed the fair market value of the existing structure," Moseley added.
Depending on the individual's level of care, each Home Care Suite can be can be fitted with a customized emergency-response system that monitors everything from daily vital signs to voice prompts, reminders for medication and an automatic call to a family member who's away from home.
"There are basically two components to aging — the bricks and mortar component and the health care component," said Henry Moseley III. "By doing it our way, all the money a family saves on the brick and mortar component can be used on the health care component."
The Moseleys are quick to note that a Home Care Suite can be used as additional living space such as an office, guest house, exercise room or man cave.
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Like Home Care Suite owners, Lennar and M/I echo the versatility of their multigenerational approach, but their offerings don't involve a separate living facility.
Lennar has built approximately 30 NextGen homes around Tampa Bay communities that feature a "home within a home" floor plan that folds into the main house as a separate but adjacent dwelling.
The suites include an eat-in kitchenette, living room, one or two bedrooms depending on the model, walk-in closet, bathroom, washer and dryer, private entrance and in some cases, a separate garage.
M/I will unveil its own multigenerational home design in January. David Parker, vice president of sales and marketing for Central Florida, says the Tampa Bay market is a good area to introduce the home in M/I communities where there's a call for it.
Like Lennar's multigenerational home, the M/I unit is an isolated suite with a separate entry that leads directly into the unit, a combined living/dining room, a bedroom, and its own garage.
The suite will be part of a 3,400-square-foot home that, depending on the location of the community, will list for around $300,000, slightly more than an average single-family home of that size because of the duplicate appliances and utilities.
"It's a small niche but it's a niche that we don't want to be left out of," Parker says. "I see it evolving."
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The Whitakers were glad to give their extra space to their grandmother because they didn't have to drive back and forth to Lakeland.
"We were doing her laundry, cleaning her house, going grocery shopping, and we weren't able to enjoy her," Daryl Whitaker says. "To pay and trust somebody to come live in your house — this was extremely scary for us and we didn't want to put her in that uncomfortable situation.
"There may come a time when her needs will be greater than what we can provide at home, but until then, this gives her the space, safety and security she needs without giving up her independence."
Kathryn Moschella can be reached at [email protected]