Reimagining Home

I graduated from college in May of this year.  After moving back home, the thing I immediately missed the most was living with a few close friends and within walking distance of the rest.  While many friends have stayed in the Chicagoland area, spending time together now takes much more scheduling and effort.  I missed my close-knit community.

Credit:  hrikken

Credit: hrikken

Then I picked up Bella DePaulo’s book How We Live Now: Redefining Home and Family in the 21st Century and learned that intentional living communities are no longer restricted to the college experience.  Nor is a traditional household, such as the one I was raised in, a requirement for a happy and successful life. In her book DePaulo, who holds a doctorate in social science from Harvard, breaks down housing stereotypes and presents the stories of many people who are finding alternative housing solutions to cater to their specific needs and desires.  The stories were incredibly varied:

  • Families defining new ways of multi-generational living. Parents with grown children who help with household costs, grandparents living with grandchildren, or even grown, married siblings sharing a home.
  • Friends committing to living together for an extended period of time, forming their own chosen family and community while cutting the cost of housing.
  • Co-housing communities, which are places where neighborhoods are structured around a shared common house and intentional relationships.
  • Married couples choosing to live in separate residences.
  • Older women finding security and companionship by sharing a home.
  • Single mothers becoming roommates to support one another in their parenting.

The situations were as wonderfully diverse as the people DePaulo introduced us to along the way.

I spoke with DePaulo to better understand how her insights into these changing housing desires can be met by real estate professionals. She suggested her book as an educational resource offering a glimpse into new ways homeowners are dreaming about their residential lives. These are dreams that, in the coming years, real estate professionals may more and more frequently be asked to meet.

I asked DePaulo if she felt it was the responsibility of real estate professionals to become educated about these movements and DePaulo took it a step further.  She said it is not only their responsibility but is actually in their own interest to have information about these options. Homes occupied by traditional nuclear families are currently only 20 percent of the market, she said, while alternative options are the ones that seem to be growing.

Throughout her book, the stories of individuals were united with two common themes that showed what people are truly looking for as they search for a place to call home. Whether they were living alone or living in a large community, almost everyone that DePaulo spoke with expressed a desire to have both community and privacy.

How We Live Now: Redefining Home and Family in the 21st Century is also an excellent tool for networking. It provides many names of the people and organizations who are the leaders of grassroots housing movements. It would be a great way to start conversations and begin building bridges, DePaulo said, between organizations and professionals who are all seeking to provide the right type of home for individuals and families.

Personally, I found her book to be an excellent way to overcome initial stigmas I felt towards alternative housing.  While the overview of housing options I hadn’t ever imagined left me skeptical, DePaulo’s wonderful way of weaving personal stories with facts, statistics, and the history of these movements not only eliminated my skepticism but left me dreaming in new ways about how I could see myself living in the future.

With many different living situations available, in the end DePaulo emphasized that there is no one right way or right choice when it comes to making a home. This excellent resource will be a great way to start helping your clients, and perhaps yourself, dream about a new way to live.

Victoria Holmen

Victoria Holmen is an intern for REALTOR® Magazine. She can be reached at

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