Smart Moves by Ellen James Martin

Moving and Grandchildren

A retired receptionist in her 70s lived in a senior housing tower for people of modest means. But her fondest dream was to buy a house a short walk from where her only grandchild lived with his parents. Unfortunately, health issues and budgetary limitations kept that from ever happening.

The receptionist was hardly alone in her longing to purchase a property very close to her offspring, says Joan McLellan Tayler, a long-time realty company owner who's assisted many retirees in relocating near their grandchildren.

However, she cautions that some retirement relocation dreams prove disappointing as they play out. Sometimes living close to the grandchildren isn't enough to create the strong bonds older people desire.

"These days many parents are so tremendously busy with their work that they have little time left for family interactions. Another problem is that lots of kids are into technology and their grandparents aren't, which can make interactions boring for everyone," Tayler says.

Well before deciding to buy a home near your grandchildren, Tayler urges you to talk through your plans with their parents to ensure they're supportive of your goal of seeing the grandchildren more.

Here are a few pointers for retired homebuyers with grandchildren:

-- Disabuse yourself of the notion that you need a huge yard.

Tayler spends as much time as possible with her grandchildren, most of whom live in her immediate proximity. And although the condo she owns has only a small patio with a few flowerbeds, the youngest children always seem to enjoy visiting there.

Of course, as toddlers grow into school-age children they range more widely with their play activities. Even so, that doesn't mean you'll need a large yard to keep them happy. One good substitute is to buy a place within walking distance of a neighborhood park.

-- Find a house on a quiet street, if possible.

Tom Early, a veteran real estate broker who works exclusively with homebuyers, advises clients seeking to purchase a place near their grandchildren to think about the kids' safety when pondering the street on which to live.

"Consider buying on a cul-de-sac or dead-end street. If that's not possible, pick a low-traffic street with few cars passing through," says Early, a past president of the National Association of Exclusive Buyer Agents (naeba.org).

-- Find out if a community you're considering allows for extended visits.

Do you and your spouse plan to retire to an area far from your grandkids' home? In that case, Lee Tews, an independent real estate broker, says you'll want to be sure the community you choose allows for extended guest visits.

"Many new condo and townhouse communities, along with new detached home neighborhoods, limit the length of guest stays. And this can put a dent in family visits," he says.

"It's not unusual for all the restrictions to run 200 pages long. But before you buy into a community, you'll probably want to scan them for provisions that could hinder your lifestyle," Tews says.

-- Try to find a property with at least one extra bedroom.

If your married offspring live several states away, you likely hope to have as many lengthy and meaningful visits as possible from them. But will you have the accommodations to make them feel comfortable in the home you buy?

"For this purpose, it's wonderful to buy a house with an extra master suite that has its own private bathroom," Early says.

Perhaps you can't afford a home with such fancy guest quarters. But it would still be good to choose a place with an extra bedroom for family visits, she says.

"If your grown children and their kids are staying in a hotel, that means they won't integrate as well when the family gathers," Early says. "It's only natural that all the family members will want to stay close together -- not to have to go back to the hotel early for the children's bedtime."

An extra bedroom can also come in handy for retirees who live near their grandchildren.

"It's special for small children to have a room at their grandparents' place where they can keep their toys. But if you can't afford a dedicated room, at least create an area in your new place with a corner shelf where they can keep their things," Early says.

-- Don't assume that a resort area is your best choice.

Some grandparents pick a community that offers easy access to recreational magnets, such as ocean resorts, swimming pools or major amusement parks. Others move near cities that provide unusual sightseeing opportunities, like a large zoo. They hope such lures will cause their offspring to visit more often.

But Early says retirees shouldn't chart their move on the basis of exceptional tourist attractions. That's because most areas offer sufficient leisure activities to keep the children interested.

"Remember that it's vastly more important to have an intrinsically warm and loving relationship with the kids than to live near a beach or a glitzy theme park," he says.

(To contact Ellen James Martin, email her at ellenjamesmartin@gmail.com.)