Choosing a grandchild-friendly home needn't cause owners to sacrifice

Find a place that's both affordable and well suited to their lifestyle, noting that children adapt easily to new environments.
BY ELLEN JAMES MARTIN Published: October 13, 2012

Are you a retired or nearly retired person whose life revolves around the grandkids? Do your friends joke that you've scaled back your career to become a “professional grandparent”? Yet are financial concerns forcing you to sell the big house that's accommodated so many family gatherings?

If so, you might worry that your need to downsize could put your relationship with grandkids in jeopardy.

But with thoughtful planning and flexibility, that needn't be the case, said Sue Johnson, co-author of “Grandloving: Making Memories With Your Grandchildren.”

“Children are like puppy dogs. It doesn't matter where you live. What matters most is what you give them from your heart,” Johnson said.

After retiring from full-time careers, she and her husband downsized to a lower-cost area within driving distance of all seven of their grandchildren. There they selected a modest ranch-style house on a creek where the whole family can fish and play.

“We call this house our grandchild magnet. That's because the grandkids were a huge part of why we moved here, and they love to visit,” Johnson said.

Originally, the couple's three-bedroom house was a one-story place with just a single bathroom.

But to accommodate family gatherings, they built on a second story, adding two more bathrooms and an extra bedroom and doing much of the construction work themselves to save money. Despite the addition, the house is still a tight fit when many family members visit.

“The kids are sleeping on cots or sleeping bags on the floor. But everyone has lots of fun,” said Johnson, who co-authors a blog on the art of grandparenting (www.grandloving.com).

Sue Patton Thoele, a semiretired psychotherapist and author of a number of books on family issues, said that although most grandparents would like to own a home that provides recreational attractions for their offspring, that's not always an affordable option.

“Many of us have tremendous financial concerns we didn't have before the recession,” Thoele said. “And when you're retired, you don't want to have a big mortgage that strangles you and makes money concerns such a huge stressor. So you've got to work within your means.”

She urged grandparents to select a place that's both affordable and well suited to their lifestyle — noting that children adapt easily to new environments.

Here are a few pointers for homebuyers seeking a property that will serve their needs and those of the extended family:

• Question whether you need a big yard.

Kay West, a longtime real estate agent and a past president of the Council of Residential Specialists (www.crs.com), spends as much time as possible with her three grandsons, ages 3, 6 and 10, who live nearby.

As West tells her homebuying clients with grandkids, they don't need a lot of outside space to keep them happy. One good substitute is to buy a home in an area with a park nearby. West chose to live three blocks from a park with a large and colorful playground set that her grandsons enjoy.