Lay ground rules before your child moves back home


August 25, 1991|By ELLEN JAMES MARTIN

They're called "boomerang children." They're grown offspring who move away from home for college, a job or marriage. Then something goes amiss, and they're back home.

"Times are harsh. It's very expensive to live. And certainly jobs aren't easy to get for our young people. Those are some of the reasons they boomerang," says Sandy Saddler, manager of the Prudential Preferred Properties office in Pasadena.

Understandable as the phenomena might be, it can be darn inconvenient. Very often, the grown children return just as their parents -- having arrived at middle age -- begin laying plans to move to smaller quarters.

"Most parents have given all they could to their kids. Now it's their turn to live their own lives -- maybe to sell their homes, go into retirement and travel. The last thing they want is young Hortense or Tom coming with them," says Harley Rouda, president of the National Association of Realtors.

Still, you can handle the vexing situation by laying plans in advance, housing specialists say. A child's return doesn't have to ruin the parents' plans to downscale their housing. However, the parents probably should postpone their move, Mr. Rouda says.

"Probably the worst thing you could do is sell your home, wind up with a smaller one and then have your grown child trailing after you to the new place," he says.

Why are so many grown children returning to the nest? There are many reasons.

Some have gone away to college to live on their own -- perhaps in a dormitory, apartment or rented room.

During college, they accepted their parents' subsidies gratefully, the assumption that, upon graduation, they'd become financially independent. But the jobs they found didn't match up with the costs of covering apartment rent, a car payment and other basics.

"With the recession, the jobs they're getting out of school are basically the summer jobs they got before graduating," says Sally Bielaski, sales manager at the Ellicott City office of Coldwell Banker, the real estate chain.

Such young people may try living on their own for a time. But then, somewhere in their 20s, they decide the struggle isn't worth it.

"They find out the world out there isn't as wonderful as they thought it was going to be. Maybe they get in debt or behind on their bills. Or maybe they just miss mom's home cooking," says Ms. Sadler, the Pasadena sales manager.

Some housing experts claim that today's young people are more insistent on obtaining material goods than prior generations were.

"Young people have been raised in the greedy '80s. These kids get out of high school or college and want the same standard of living they grew up with. And probably that took two breadwinners to provide," says Linda Bowker, executive director the Shared Housing Resource Center, a Philadelphia nonprofit group.

Other grown children boomerang after a bad marriage. A grown daughter or son may arrive home with a child or two in tow and a pressing need for financial assistance -- not to mention day care. They also may need emotional support.

Unlike the average boomeranger -- who stays just a few months until he can get his bearings or a better job -- the grown child who returns home after a marital failure may stay indefinitely, Ms. Bowker cautions.

For those parents facing the return of a grown child, housing specialists offer these pointers:

* Try to negotiate the terms of your child's return before it occurs.

Don't make the mistake of believing your child suddenly will change his habits. He'll probably expect the same liberties he enjoyed when he was on his own. But when he comes back, should he still have the right to play his stereo loud, leave dirty dishes in the kitchen sink and invite a girlfriend to stay overnight? Will he pay his parents rent -- and how much?

Such touchy issues and other practical concerns should be addressed before any home-sharing arrangement begins, says Ms. Bowker.

"You are far better off negotiating in the beginning -- rather than after all hell breaks loose."

* Try to postpone your own housing move until your boomeranger has left home again -- assuming you anticipate that he'll be living with you temporarily.

"Unless I was in dire straits and had to sell, I'd wait until I knew exactly what the child was going to do before I sold," advises Mr. Rouda, the National Association of Realtors' president.

"The more people you have in the home, the more difficult it is to sell. That's because there's more confusion and more mess," he adds.

* Move your offspring's excess belongings into storage if you must sell.

"Chances are that your children will bring with them everything from clothes to stereo sets and lacrosse sticks. Maybe they'll even bring a lot of furniture. All this can create clutter, which makes it hard to sell a home," says Ms. Saddler of Prudential Preferred Properties.

pTC Cluttered rooms seem smaller and less appealing to a would-be buyer. Renting a mini-storage facility for your child's belongings may seem like a needless expenditure. But if it makes your home more salable, it could well be worth it, Ms. Saddler says.

* To nudge a boomeranger who proves overly dependent your support, consider moving.

Sometimes, when a child lingers at home longer than is truly necessary, parents may want to accelerate their planned move to smaller quarters, says Robert Irwin, who writes books on real ++ estate.

The realities of today's economy may be harsh, but that's all the more reason to encourage your children to learn to cope rather than retreat, Mr. Irwin argues. And the parents' move from a large, comfortable home to one with just enough space for the parents could be just the nudge needed.

"After all, what kid wants to move with his folks to a one-bedroom condo?" Mr. Irwin says. "If your child really needs a push, moving might be just the way to do it."

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