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Cover story: Accommodating children returned to nest
It’s 3 a.m. Downstairs, kitchen cabinets are banging, someone is giggling, and there’s the unmistakable ding of a microwave at work.
Time was, Ellie Kirschenbaum would have stormed down the steps and given her children a piece of her mind. She doesn’t do that these days, however, because she’s not dealing with teenagers anymore; her son, Jared, and daughter, Amie, are 29 and 25, respectively.
“I’ve had to restrict myself,” said Ms. Kirschenbaum, who lives in a sprawling home in Chantilly. “I’ve learned that it doesn’t last long.”
She’s not alone in learning new patterns of interacting with her children. More and more adult children are ending up back at home as a tough economy, the cost of housing and the tendency of some parents to, well, hover, make a move back into the family home a no-brainer for many college graduates.
But having the kids move back in can come with a host of challenges, and to meet them, parents are reconfiguring expectations and space and are re-forming behavior patterns that may have taken years to develop. Looking forward to downsizing during the empty-nest years? You might find yourself remodeling instead.
“Having children come back changes the way you are planning to do things as a homeowner, both structurally and for your future plans,” said Robyn Burdett, a Realtor and vice president of Re/Max Allegiance in Fairfax. “Most people don’t want to move too far away because they know the kids are coming back at some point.”
According to a study conducted by Twentysomething Inc., a consultant firm specializing in young adults, 85 percent of 2011 college graduates are moving back home. Moving home where the rent is cheap — or nonexistent — can make sense for an adult child, whether he or she is trying to pay off loans or save up for rent or a down payment.
“It’s the new norm,” said Linda Perlman Gordon, a Chevy Chase-based therapist and author, with Susan Morris Shaffer, of “Mom, Can I Move in With You: A Survival Guide for Parents of Twentysomethings.”
The problem is particularly acute in the Washington area, where the high cost of housing coupled with the availability of low-paying entry-level jobs and unpaid internships makes it particularly difficult for 20-somethings to strike out on their own. And after four years spent in a small college town or suburban environment where the sidewalks were rolled up fairly early, the bright lights of our big city can beckon.
“Most of my daughter’s friends are living at home,” Ms. Burdett said. “The house is filled. It’s not just your kids, it’s their friends as well.”
Today, many families are adapting their rec rooms, attics, basements and garages to enable an adult family member to live somewhat independently from the main space.
Too often, however, homeowners may slide into some pretty shoddy renovations.
“It can be horrible,” said Elizabeth Blakeslee, an associate broker with Coldwell Banker in Georgetown. “People just stick cabinets up on walls, put in refrigerators that open the wrong way or can’t open completely. You need to get the permits and do it right. It’s a false economy not to.”
That’s especially important if a homeowner is looking to sell sometime in the future.
“It’s got to be aesthetically appealing,” Ms. Blakeslee said. “Lots of people’s ideas just don’t work.”
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