Smart Moves by Ellen James Martin

Considering a Move? Don't Let Grown Kids Ruin Your Plans

As pandemic constraints gradually lessen, many seniors who’ve been vaccinated are exceedingly restless. Finally, they’re revisiting home-selling plans that were on hold for months due to COVID-19.

“There’s enormous pent-up demand to leave the big family manse for a more comfortable and economic lifestyle in a happier place,” says Mark Nash, a real estate broker and analyst.

Meanwhile, a severe shortage of available properties has brought major heartache for wannabe homebuyers who’ve been facing intense competition among rival bidders. Hence, any sign of greater supply is welcome news for buyers.

A new report from Coldwell Banker Real Estate is offering hope for buyers. A company survey of homeowners found that a remarkable 20% are considering a home sale in the next 12 months.

If even a fraction of those pondering a sale put their properties on the market, that could “take the edge out of the inventory disconnect,” says M. Ryan Gorman, Coldwell Banker’s CEO.

Why are more owners looking ahead to a possible sale in the post-COVID period? Gorman says the motivations are multiple. Some seek to move to another state to save on taxes or enjoy a better climate. Still others hope to take full advantage of the strong seller’s market for as long as it lasts.

Nash says some income-constrained seniors need the proceeds from the sale of their property to support themselves in their retirement years. Others choose to move to simplify their lifestyles and reduce upkeep obligations.

“The old story about the pleasures of downsizing still resonates for many elders,” says Nash, the author of “1001 Tips for Buying and Selling a Home.”

But in the post-pandemic period, numerous potential downsizing seniors are facing a barrier to their plans: grown children who moved back home during COVID after their schools or workplaces closed.

Arpita Chakravorty, an economist for Zillow, the national real estate company, calculates that the number of so-called “boomerang kids” living in their parents’ home plateaued last October. Yet more than 780,000 are still residing there.

Nash says many senior owners who have grown children living under the same roof have mixed feelings about downsizing.

“Of course, they’re sympathetic with their children’s legitimate housing needs. But at the same time, they’re anxious to move forward so their own housing game plan can play out. And this might involve downsizing to a retirement community where younger people aren’t welcome,” Nash says.

Here are a few pointers for senior sellers with adult children at home:

-- Don’t jeopardize your own moving plans.

Michael Crowley, who runs an independent real estate brokerage, says he’s observed how some clients have sacrificed their retirement dreams to maintain quarters for grown children.

Of course, many young adults living in the family home are unaware of their parents’ financial situation. Nor do they grasp the full cost of owning and maintaining a large property. That’s why Crowley suggests that an important first step toward your housing transition could involve a family meeting to go over these realities.

“Sit down and outline your situation with your children. Describe all the costs associated with ownership of your big house and why it’s important to reduce these expenses in retirement,” says Crowley, a past president of the National Association of Exclusive Buyer Agents (naeba.org).

Obviously, many young adults are well intentioned, and once they realize how important it is for their parents to downsize and reduce costs, they’re more motivated to find their own housing solutions, he says.

-- Consider the concept of offering a temporary rent subsidy.

Given how difficult it is for many young adults, including recent college graduates, to obtain a well-paying job, it can be a jarring transition if they’re jettisoned from the family home without sufficient funds to cover their own housing.

Should you help them pay to rent a place of their own? Crowley says that might be a reasonable way to proceed with your home sale without fear that your offspring could become homeless.

“Parents with the financial means might give their kids the equivalent of six to 12 months’ worth of rent for a modest apartment, along with money to cover their security deposit,” he says.

-- Stay focused on protecting your retirement assets.

By the time parents reach their late 50s or early 60s, many need to focus much more intensely on their own finances rather than on subsidizing their grown children.

“At a certain stage, people have to get on with their own lives,” says Donna Goings, a real estate broker affiliated with the Residential Real Estate Council (crs.com).

If you have a grown child or two living with you yet you wish to downsize, it might be feasible for the offspring to remain in your next household for a short while, assuming you’ll have a spare bedroom there. But in that case, Goings says you should charge them at least a minimal level of rent -- proportional to what income they can bring in.

Should you feel guilty about asserting your own need to downsize, even if that means your boomerang kids can’t go with you to the new place and must find alternative housing? Not at all, Goings says.

“The best thing you can do for your kids is to see that they get on their own two feet so they’ll develop the skills for independence,” she says.

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