Smart Moves by Ellen James Martin


Many retirees aspire to ownership of a place with easy maintenance, where arduous chores like cutting the lawn and keeping up the garden will no longer be issues. But at the same time they want a home where the extended family will wish to visit often.

With frequent contact, grandparents can play vitally important roles in the lives of their offspring -- including mentor, buddy and hero, says Dr. Arthur Kornhaber, a psychiatrist and author of seven books on grandparenting, including "The Grandparent Guide."

Of course, practical realities often make for less-than-ideal lifestyle arrangements. Many retirees face financial limitations that make it difficult for them to reside near the younger generation. Also, the adults' lifestyle preferences may not blend, says Fred Meyer, an appraiser and long-time real estate broker who's advised many retirees on housing plans.

Are you a grandparent facing hard choices on where to live in your retirement years? If so, these pointers could prove useful:

-- Make your housing move a family decision.

"Long-distance grandparenting is very difficult," Kornhaber says. A few years ago, he and his wife, who have four grandchildren and three great-grandchildren, moved across the country to live near several of them.

If you're contemplating a long-distance move to see more of the younger generation, he recommends you carefully think through all the implications of your move and discuss these in advance with your adult offspring.

"A lot more people in the current generation of retirees want to live near the kids. They're questioning whether a move to an adult community would be the right thing. But before they solidify their plans they need to go over them with the family," Kornhaber says.

The parents of many small children appreciate having the grandparents in close proximity for mutual support and perhaps also child care.

"When the family works as a unit, everyone is happier," Kornhaber says.

But he says that before you make a firm decision to move close to grandkids, you should determine whether their parents might also be uprooting in the near future --perhaps to take another job in a different state.

-- Make sure the new community you select is grandchild-friendly.

Do you and your spouse plan to retire to an area far from the grandkids' house? In that case, you'll want to make sure you select a community that allows extended guest visits, says Merrill Ottwein, a real estate broker and past president of the National Association of Exclusive Buyer Agents (

"Some age-restricted adult communities or neighborhood associations limit the number of days that guests can stay over. And this could restrict vacation and summertime visits from your kids," he says.

-- Locate yourself on a quiet street, if possible.

No matter where they decide to live, Ottwein advises clients with grandchildren to position themselves on a road that's safe for the kids.

"For small children, your best bet is to live on a cul-de-sac with no through traffic. Second best is a low-traffic street with speed bumps and few cars passing through," he says.

Protecting children from road dangers is particularly important if you're caring for very young grandchildren on a full-time basis. But it's also ideal for older kids who like to take their bikes and ballgames out into the street.

-- Try to buy a place with space for overnight visits.

If your adult offspring live a plane ride away, and you don't plan to move near them, you probably still hope they'll come to visit and stay over. That being the case, you'll want to purchase a home that offers them comfortable accommodations.

"A guest suite with a private bath would be ideal for the visiting family. Even better would be two guest bedrooms that share a dedicated common bath," Ottwein says.

You may not be able to afford a place with such fancy guest quarters. But at the minimum, it would be nice to have at least one small extra bedroom that would, for example, accommodate a visiting teenager or younger grandchild.

"Young children like having a room at the grandma's place where they can keep their toys. If you can't give them a dedicated room, at least be sure your new house or condo has a corner of a room where they can store their things," Ottwein says.

-- Reject the notion that you'll need a big yard.

Ottwein, who has 13 grandchildren and lives near most of them, spends as much time as possible with the kids. Fortunately, he and his wife own a large property with extensive gardens and play areas. But he says it's not essential for downsizers to have a big yard, playground equipment or swimming pool to attract visits from offspring.

"It's great if you could at least live near a park, a rec center, a soda fountain or a movie theater. But remember that the main idea is just to spend quality time with the kids. And you don't need to live richly for that," he says.

(To contact Ellen James Martin, email her at