Prep Your Home for the Return of a Boomerang Kid
This difficult economy is sending folks back home to live with their parents again. Here's how to get your house—and yourself—ready for your family's re-nesting
Saying goodbye to older children who are fleeing the nest can be hard, but saying hello again a few years later—after you've turned their old room into a home gym and are accustomed to spending 20 uninterrupted minutes in the bathroom—can be even harder. As the economy continues to worsen, many adult children, from twenty-somethings to middle-aged sons and daughters with children and spouses of their own, are returning home. In fact, the AARP recently surveyed more than 1,000 adults over the age of 18 and found 33 percent of respondents ages 18 to 49 live with their parents or in-laws. The most common reason cited for those who were likely to move back home was loss of income, followed by a change in job status.
If you find yourself welcoming back your son or daughter, you'll have to make sure your home is ready. Even small upgrades can make this transition easier—you may even find yourself enjoying seeing Junior more often.
It's difficult for your son to snag that job that would lead to his independence again when his resumes are mixed up with your latest phone bill. Creating a separate work area is key, according to Natalie Caine, founder of Empty Nest Support Services, which offers consultations and support groups for parents and grandparents. If there is already a desk in your son's room, she says, try adding things that will help with organization and scheduling, such as a bulletin board behind a door. If a bedroom is too small, create a work area by partitioning off part of a living area (the living room, the kitchen, or even a finished basement) with screens.
Learn more about building a home office:
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Sometimes hard choices have to be made. Caine recommends going through your home with a critical eye before your son moves in and figuring out what you need to keep, what can be tossed, and what needs to be stored in order to avoid bumps down the road. Unfortunately, that sometimes means temporarily giving up a hobby space or storing items in your basement or a friend's house when you'd rather have them closer at hand. Additionally, if you converted your son's bedroom to an exercise or crafts room while he was gone, you're going to have to be prepared to make the conversion back. Sometimes if the situation is truly temporary, you may be able to meet both your needs and theirs (the room may be big enough both for a treadmill and a pull-out couch), but usually you'll have to make some tough decisions.
If you think your new living situation will be more permanent, look at adding an accessory apartment, which has a separate living and sleeping quarters, a place to cook, and a bathroom. It can be located upstairs, in the basement, over the garage, or even in a structure separate from the main house. Before you build, check with your local zoning authority to determine whether your town allows accessory apartments, and if it does, what covenants, conditions, and restrictions apply (there may be minimum or maximum size requirements, for example). If an accessory apartment is not permitted in your town, you might be able to ask for a special use permit.
Costs vary widely, but setting up a garden apartment in a home with a walkout basement or a split-level will be easier than raising the roof to add a second story to a ranch-style home. You should also discuss how much storage will be needed, whether additional parking is necessary, how private the entrance to the new apartment should be, and whether a studio layout will work or if more rooms are needed. When your daughter eventually moves out, you can rent the apartment for additional income.
Carolyn Jeanne Heida and her husband are both seasoned DIYers. After they completed many projects on their 1881 house, which is included in the National Register of Historic Places, their son decided to move back in to attend a local university. They planned to build him a four-room apartment in their utility basement, which already had a private entrance but wasn't considered living space. Their budget was only $3,500, so they had to have several frank conversations about what was really necessary and what was a luxury. In the end, they decided running up two flights of stairs to the house's main bath was impractical, so their son needed his own bathroom. He also needed a kitchenette for basic food prep, a storage space for his sports and photo gear, and a counter for working and eating. In the process, several ideas were nixed for their cost and lack of necessity, including wall-to-wall carpeting, built-in speakers, and all new furnishings (the couple found everything from atomic ceiling shades to the bathroom's Formica counter second-hand).
Learn more about getting what you need on a budget:
5 Tips for Getting the Goods Cheap
Small, Smart Upgrades for a Small Space
11 Ways to Save While You Splurge
How to Make a Small Space Kitchenette on the Cheap
Heida did hit one snag after her son moved in. Originally, she and her husband agreed to give her son free rent, utilities, and laundry service in exchange for six hours of yard work a week. The arrangement worked out fine for about six weeks, until the weather grew colder and chores stopped for the season. Sure enough, five months later, when the work was again needed, things got more complicated. The son had too much schoolwork and felt an hour of mowing every other week was sufficient to hold up his end of the deal. Finally, they all came to a consensus and drew up a lease, something Heida wishes she had done in the very beginning. Terms included how many hours her son must work, quiet hours, and a guest policy.
Learn more about how a proper contract can help you avoid conflicts and issues when remodeling or renting:
The Contract in Contractor
Find a Tenant to Help With Your Mortgage
How to Prepare a Lease for an Adult Child Who Moves Back Home
Always know what impact any living arrangements will have on your insurance needs. For example, says Loretta Wortens of the Insurance Information Institute, if your children are older and are bringing expensive possessions with them—perhaps a flat-screen TV, jewelry, or furniture—you should let your home owners' insurance provider know. You may need more coverage, and your premiums may go up. If you are doing extensive work to your home such as adding an accessory apartment, you will also have to modify your homeowners' insurance and ensure all contractors working for you have proper insurance. Finally if your son moves in with children of his own, you may want to raise your liability insurance because of additional risk. For example, if you have a pool, a toddler poses a greater risk of drowning than an adult.
Some understandably sentimental parents tend to keep their son's or daughter's room as a shrine to a happy childhood, even years after the child has left home. When your son or daughter does return, put the old sports trophies in storage, throw away any adolescent decor, and make sure the room is not stuck in a past decade design-wise. Holding onto the old will only make it even harder for you to see your child as an adult. If you just can't get rid of some of the old knickknacks, try building an attractive display case and placing it somewhere else in the house.
Some things never change. When your children were young, sending them outside to play gave you much-needed alone time. According to Natalie Caine of Empty Nest Support Services, you can use the same tactic, even when they are adults. If you have a small house or just want a little space for a few hours, set up places outside for them to work or socialize. Simply setting up a folding table and chairs outside may encourage them to soak up the sun while keeping up on email on a laptop. A fire pit or grill area may keep their sometimes-rowdy friends out of the house.