House Hunting with Kids in Tow

Homebuying with kidsAfter reviewing ground rules like “no touching other people’s stuff,” Greg and Khristie Kaplan took their three kids on spring house-hunting expeditions of 40 homes in Hawthorn Woods. Their 14-year-old daughter helped corral her 4-year-old sister and 7-year-old brother.
“I’m glad we took them,” Greg said. “It helped the younger kids understand the move. And it helped our daughter, who had to start high school in a new town, get used to it.” By the time they moved into their new house in June, the kids “were looking forward to having their new, bigger house,” he said.
Home shopping with young children can be a challenge. Sometimes, they can be a distraction for parents and real estate agents, which can throw a wrench in the decision-making process. To survive a house hunt, consider these tips.
Pre-shop from home. Review listings online before a family tour. Since so many buyers shop online first, a lot of real estate offices have eliminated kiddie corners, where children play while adults review listings. Some agents move directly to the house-hunting stage, save for a coffeehouse stop for lattes.
Consider a baby sitter. “You’re buying the house for the kids, not with the kids,” said Matt Farrell, president of the Chicago Association of Realtors and managing partner of Urban Real Estate in Chicago. “You don’t take your kids with you when you meet with your banker or your financial adviser. Buying a house is a big investment too, and needs your full attention.”
If you are new to the area, ask your agent for sitters’ names, said Lori Wyatt, managing broker of Chicagoland Realty Services in Chicago. “In a pinch, I’ve even called my own nanny,” she said.
If using a sitter is out of the question, find an agent who enjoys working with families. Not everyone tolerates crying babies and opinionated teenagers.
For Judy Gibbons of Jameson Sotheby’s International Realty in Chicago, working with the Kaplans included hip-hop dancing with their son and listening to their younger daughter’s views.
“Those are the times that give parents a few minutes to talk alone,” she said.
Babies may be content with sitters, but some teens want to tag along.
“They want to know where they’ll go to school, play the sports they’re into and see music festivals,” Wyatt said. “Girls ask where to shop.”
Get the children involved. “One mom had her son take pictures,” Wyatt said. “We saw about 20 houses in two days, so that was really helpful. She couldn’t remember which house had a certain laundry room she liked, and he had it on his iPod.”
Timing is everything. Avoid the 5 to 7 p.m. period when kids are feeling tired and hungry. Schedule a sit-down lunch break. Be sure to bring snacks and wipes.
Bring games and toys to entertain kids between stops. Use your own car (it’s already equipped) instead of the agent’s.
Invaluable in the suburbs, your stroller does no good in the city. “You can’t get it through revolving doors,” Wyatt said.
Review the ground rules. “No commenting about a house while you’re there because you might insult the homeowner,” Wyatt said she tells youngsters. “If the house smells like dirty litter boxes, it’s our little secret until we’re gone. We may have to take off our shoes, so wear slip-ons. Don’t use the homeowner’s bathroom. Mom and dad can open cabinet and closet doors, but kids can’t.”
Farrell said parents should look at the home-shopping scenario from the listing agent’s point of view. Agents are “responsible for the homeowners’ stuff,” he said. “If they have to watch your kids, they can’t do their job.”
At a high-rise, be kind to the doorman, who is the keeper of more than security.
“If you want to know if the building is family-friendly, he’s your barometer,” Wyatt said. “And he knows everyone. He not only can tell you if the building has lots of kids, but where the other fourth-graders live.”
Be realistic. As you and your partner struggle to find a common ground on a specific home, “don’t let the kids get their hopes up about a house you can’t buy,” Farrell said. “I’ve heard parents tell their child, ‘This is your bedroom, Billy,’ then not have the winning bid. Then Billy’s confused.”
For toddlers, fiction and nonfiction blur: Is mom talking about the house we saw or the one on TV? After you buy the home, explain to your little one that this is her new home — for real.
This post was originally published by the Chicago Tribune on Oct. 25, 2013.