More adults buying their parents' homes Roots: Grown-ups can strike a good deal by purchasing the houses they were raised in. They also acquire countless memories in the bargain.

December 21, 1997|By Suzanne Loudermilk | Suzanne Loudermilk,SUN STAFF

Who says you can't go home again?

Not Chris Culotta. Two years ago, he and his wife bought the Towson-area house where he was raised and moved in with their three sons. The house where, as a child, he had painted Charlie Brown, Linus and Snoopy characters on his bedroom wall; where he had eaten popcorn and sundaes while watching television in the club basement.

In Towson and Timonium, Cub Hill and Stoneleigh, such second-generation homes are becoming more common as grown children seek houses and neighborhoods loaded with memories. And Baltimore County, with its high percentage of seniors and its move to revive older suburbs, is a prime location for such deals.

In some cases, baby boomers are buying the houses from elderly parents seeking a smaller residence. Others just want to return to the old neighborhood.

Buying a childhood home can save time and money. For parents, it offers a quicker, easier sale. For the children, it often cuts out the commissions to real estate agents.

As houses are sold from one generation to the next, families are able to pass on cherished traditions, especially around the holidays. Yet such houses sometimes come laden with emotional weight. Even redecorating can bring pangs of guilt.

"Is it going to be something you can call your own, or is it always going to be Mom and Dad's house?" wondered Jim Westervelt, who lives with his wife in the house where he grew up. "Sleeping in their bedroom, that's weird. Eating at the same table you did for years."

Such memories linger like a familiar creaky floorboard. For the most part, the adult children have become caretakers of family lore and traditions.

"When we bought the house, we bought the [Christmas] holiday," said Culotta, 36. "We're the permanent holiday household."

This Christmas, as they have for the past 28 years, the Culottas -- grandparents, in-laws, aunts, uncles, brothers, sisters and scads of children -- will feast on lasagna and sausage in the Hart Road home. Then they'll enjoy an annual Nativity pageant put on by the cousins, ending with cannoli.

For Sharon Culotta, 37, living in her husband's childhood home and accepting his family traditions have been easy.

"We've done this for so many years," she said. "I began dating Chris when I was 16."

Still, the Culottas wanted to make the holiday their own. They cautiously focused on decorations, picking red and green instead of the gold and silver colors favored by Mr. Culotta's mother, Jane Culotta.

His parents haven't protested, Chris Culotta said. "They always say, 'It's your house.' I think Sharon and I will always feel a bit awkward about it."

Jane Culotta takes the change in stride. "I'm very comfortable with it," she said. "We like the fact that the house is staying in the family."

She and her husband, Sam, raised five children in the two-story, white-and-gray house built around a laundry chute, still a family joke. The houses in the neighborhood sell on average for $245,000. Even though the Culottas moved into a Timonium condominium, they're no strangers to their old house. Neither is the rest of the family.

"Everyone still has keys," said Sharon Culotta.

When Jim and Charlene Westervelt decided to buy his family home in Coventry near Cub Hill, they wanted to make sure it was the right move.

Jim Westervelt's father had died and his mother wanted to sell the house, which was new when the family moved there from New York in 1950. "There were too many memories here to let it go," said Jim Westervelt, a Towson firefighter.

For the past seven years, the Westervelts, who have two adult children, have personalized the quaint gray Cape Cod in the neighborhood, where houses sell in the low $100,000s, by remodeling, room by room.

This holiday season, Charlene Westervelt and her mother-in-law, Eileen Westervelt, re-established a cookie-baking tradition that began 30 years ago -- but was interrupted when Eileen Westervelt's husband, Charles, died in 1989.

"This year, she said, 'I wish we could do what we used to,' " said Charlene Westervelt, who joined her mother-in-law in the kitchen Tuesday to bake chocolate-chip and spritz cookies. "It's always been a thing that she and I baked cookies."

Maria and Mark Meyers came back to her old neighborhood to strengthen family ties. They had moved to New Freedom, Pa., after marrying, but once son Timmy was born 8 1/2 years ago, she wanted to be closer to family.

After a long search, the Meyers family found a stone rancher cater-corner to the two-story brick home on Timonium's Aylesbury Road where Mrs. Meyers grew up. Then, in 1993, the Meyers family switched houses with her parents, Bill and Clara Dachille.

"It was crazy," recalled Mrs. Meyers, 34. "The day we moved I wore out a pair of shoes walking back and forth across the street."

But the Meyers family gained more house and yard for their growing family, which includes Lisa, 6 1/2 , and Becca, 3. Her parents gained the one-level living arrangement they needed.

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