The 2-year-old girl came along on her parents' search for a new home in the Annapolis area. She tore through each house, pulling out toys and knocking over knickknacks. The frazzled parents chased her through each home and finally, out the driveway into the street.
"It was a disaster," recalls Patricia Sauter of Prudential Preferred Properties, whom the couple hired to help find a new house. "The parents were exhausted. I was exhausted. And it took us twice as long to find the right home because they insisted on bringing the little girl with them."
Taking little children on a house hunt doesn't only aggravate the realty agent. It also reduces the parents' ability to concentrate on the serious task before them. "This is the purchase of your life, so why not get a baby-sitter?" asks Ms. Sauter, sales manager at Prudential's Annapolis/Eastport office.
Realty experts say that dragging young offspring along on a house hunt is one of the five most common errors involving children that home buyers commit. Here are the others:
* Letting children in on the home buying decision at an early stage.
Little children can be a nuisance or distraction. But young school-age children and teen-agers, who have definite opinions, can undermine parents' decision-making process.
"A lot of times mom and dad can't even agree. And then if you bring in the kids, it's going to be war. The kids start taking sides and then, . . . they try to divide and conquer," says Dorcas Helfant, president of the National Association of Realtors.
Child psychologists say parents should encourage children to share their feelings throughout the moving process. Because they're part of the family, children need to know, at least broadly, about their parents' plans. They also should be invited to offer their views when the matter comes up for discussion.
Still, psychologists and real estate specialists caution against taking school-age offspring along during the early stages of a home search -- when parents are still grappling with their own housing preferences and must consider everything from finances to commuting.
Too often, children are taken by superficial aspects of a property. "Teen-agers, for instance, are status conscious. They're going to react to what impresses them -- the pool, the glitz, to what they can show off to their friends," Ms. Helfant says.
Even if the children don't try to press their parents to make a particular choice, the parents are bound to be influenced.
Parents have a lot better chance of making a dispassionate decision if they aren't being lobbied for the yellow house with the pool, Ms. Helfant says.
* Failing to bring children in on the process soon after the parents select the right home or narrow their choices to two or three properties.
By then, the parents should have a grasp of what they're doing. They should agree on priorities and be able to handle the children's input. If they've located two or three homes that all seem acceptable, they also may consider their youngsters' preferences.
"It's important that children feel understood and valued and that parents believe their feelings are important," says Bruce Narramore, a practicing psychologist and author of "Help! I'm A Parent," published by Zondervan Publishing House.
By the time you've reached the point of debating between a three-bedroom split level and a three-bedroom colonial with a slightly bigger yard, your 11-year-old's preference could tip the scales. But the key is to avoid placing the responsibility for the decision on the child, Dr. Narramore says.
"There's a big difference between a child expressing his feelings and desires and having responsibility for selecting the house. It's too much pressure on the child to feel they have to make the right or wrong decision -- especially if the decision turns out wrong for the family," he says.
* Failing to take into account the opinions of teen-agers who will soon leave the household for college or work or have already done so.
Your nearly grown offspring, who seem so independent, still may want the comfort of participating in the family's move and the knowledge that their input counts.
* Failing to realize that the move from the old house may cause a grief reaction in children of any age.
Leaving a place where you've lived for years can give you a feeling of loss. It's important to acknowledge the children's feelings and to encourage their expression, Dr. Narramore contends.