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Their grandparents and great-grandparents wouldn’t think twice about it, but the Baby Boomers might blanche at the notion of moving in with family members to save some cash. But the tough economy has forced many Boomers’ hands, giving new meaning to the term "multi-family unit."

Hey, even the White House is getting in on the trend. Marian Robinson, Michelle Obama’s mother, moved in to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue with the President and his family.

Real estate giant Coldwell Banker (Stock Quote: CD) has the numbers — 37% of the firm’s 2,360 real estate agents said in the January study that “multi-generational” housing was a top priority for homebuyers. About 70% of Coldwell Banker agents say that the number of multi-generational homes will rise significantly by the end of 2010.

A separate study, this one from the U.S. Census Bureau, estimates that there are 4 million multi-generational families in the U.S.

Unfortunately, getting a chance to get to know grandma better isn’t the primary driver for the new generation of multi-family households.

Coldwell Banker reports that financial concerns are the number one reason why homebuyers move in with other family members. Health concerns are next, followed by strong family bonds.

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Who’s a likely candidate to live with older family members, like a parent or grandparent? College graduates who can’t find a job are at the top of the list, along with the recently unemployed. But the Coldwell Banker survey says that even heads of households with jobs are bringing families in under one roof to save money, and to keep the mortgage payments rolling in — in case a financial calamity happens.

So what steps should you take if you see a multi-generational home as a viable, maybe even a necessary, option?

Here are some tips:

  • Lay down some ground rules. If every family member knows their roles and responsibilities, things are easier. For example, what will family members pay toward the house’s mortgage? Will older family members be expected to baby sit — whether they like it or not? Whose car gets the garage in winter? Who will mow the lawn and cook the meals? Laying down the law going in will make the process go more smoothly.
  • Who is the primary decision-maker? Even if the adult son or daughter’s name is on the mortgage, the elderly parent may still feel they call the shots in the household. After all, that’s the way things went 20 or 30 years ago. That could cause tension, unless family members sit down and discuss who decides on big-issue items, like furniture purchases, household renovations and even who controls the television clicker. Have that conversation before you blend your families — it could save you some major headaches down the road.
  • Give in to one request. Everyone in the blended household will likely want one thing. It may be a favorite chair, a tool bench in the garage or a painting of dubious quality hanging in the front hallway. Try to give everyone a favorite “something”, so everyone feels like a genuine part of the home.
  • Give everyone a household task. Conversely, giving everyone in the house a specific responsibility — trash, lawn care, bill-paying and rides to baseball practice and school dances — is another good idea. Again, it gives everyone a role in the house, contributing to the household’s smooth operation.

Call it a necessary evil, or call it a budget blessing in disguise, but multi-generational households are increasingly becoming more commonplace in the aftermath of the Great Recession.

With some common sense steps, the experience can be a manageable, even a preferable one. But only if you put those tips into action.

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