Nearly 17 percent of Americans pack up their households and move each year. The U.S. Census Bureau estimates 13 million children are among those moving.
Whether you’re headed down the block or across the country, moves are stressful. Including your children in your home search may help alleviate some anxiety, but you need to enter into the process with a plan. For example, you’ll want to narrow down some of your options – online or in person – instead of dragging the kids to all 83 properties for sale in your price range.
These tips can help make your house hunt an enjoyable family task:
1. Make safety a priority
Most tweens and teens can make their way through the house hunting process without risk of physical harm, but toddlers and young children are another story.
“Parents need to know their kids and how they’ll behave in unfamiliar surroundings,” says Leslie Ebersole, a real estate agent in Chicago’s western suburbs. “No one wants a child to get hurt. If your children are explorers who can’t stop themselves from opening doors or drawers, it might be best to leave them with grandparents or a sitter. You just never know when there might be a dog behind the laundry room door, or stairs without a handrail, or a bathroom with a sunken tub they could fall into.”
2. Think beyond the house
For children, moving can be an especially anxious time. They’re being asked to leave their friends, their school and their extracurricular activities.
Work with your real estate agent to ensure your house hunt includes stops at area parks, schools, churches, dance studios and sports fields, or plan side trips that allow your children to see their new community.
“Uprooting kids is never easy, especially when you’re talking about teenagers,” says Ebersole. “Parents should let their agent know what matters most to their kids. More than a few times, I’ve driven teens to the mall to ensure them that their new town has an H&M, Dick’s Sporting Goods, California Pizza Kitchen … whatever it is that’s important to them.”
3. Know your child’s limits
While age plays an important role in determining how long a child will be able to stay focused on a house hunting trip, kids are, well, kids. Some children will be able to hang in there for a full day of showings, while others will melt down after just one or two.
If you know your child is going to need breaks along the way, plan for them. Tell your agent you can see two houses then you’ll need a 15-minute break to play in a park. See another house or two, then stop for snacks or lunch.
“Snacks – even a cooler in the car – may help your child endure a longer day of showings,” says Ebersole. “A good agent will also know where you can stop to take potty breaks along the way. Hungry, fussy, tired kids can get a house hunting trip off track faster than almost anything.”
If you’re in more of a rush, consider hiring a babysitter on open house days or asking family to help.
4. Give your child a job
You may be able to alleviate some of the stress about leaving your old home by getting your children to focus on what lies ahead.
Older kids can do Internet research about the town you’re moving to. Who founded it? How many people live there? What’s the town slogan? Younger children can cut photos from old magazines to create collages of things they’d like to see in their new home or new bedroom.
As you’re actually touring homes, ask your children to take photos or, perhaps, they could keep a checklist noting the best features of each house you visit. These simple tasks will help children feel more connected to the process.
5. Don’t let your child think he’s in charge
As important as it is to include your kids in the moving and house hunting process, it’s also crucial to let them know that adults will be making the final decision.
“I’ve seen families where a 13- or 14-year-old hates every single house he sees,” says Ebersole. “In reality that has very little to do with the houses and much more to do with the fact that he’s being uprooted in the middle of eighth grade.
“Change is hard, and it’s very important to acknowledge what’s important to your children. But, in the end, most purchasing decisions are made by parents. Let your kids know you care what they think, but their opinions are just one part of the house hunting puzzle.”
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