After living and working in an adorable Midwestern college town for more than 30 years, my wife and I faced a dilemma. We were approaching retirement and trying to decide where to live once we were no longer working. The quality of life in our city was great and we could stay there near friends and familiar places. But years earlier, both our children had moved after college to Los Angeles to begin what would become successful careers in the entertainment industry. The draw to be closer to them was strong — not to mention the chance to enjoy California winters — so we started looking for a place in the Golden State to enjoy our golden years.
We spent a couple of years looking for a home and eventually bought one in 2019. We worked for two more years, using the California place as a getaway spot for vacations, long weekends, and a pandemic escape. In the fall of 2021, we retired and made our way west. What we learned about looking for a home, owning it remotely, and eventually living there full-time taught us a lot about the best way to make a success of living near your children in retirement.
1. Start Planning Early
This is good advice for anyone thinking about retirement, but it worked out especially well for us as we look at homes in four counties spanning more than 100 miles across. As early as four years before we retired. We started looking at communities within a couple of hours’ drive from downtown Los Angeles. Our children live in Los Feliz and Echo Park, two parts of the city we decided were a little too pricey and a little too congested for us.
So we fanned out from there, looking as far north as Santa Clarita, as far south as Oceanside, and as far east as Palm Springs and surrounding communities in the Coachella Valley. We visited neighborhoods, went to open houses, and got a real feel for each of the communities we were considering. As we went, we slowly eliminated the ones to which we were fairly cool, shrinking our list of possibilities. This was also a great time to get a sense from our children how long they were planning to stay in the area. Both said they were staying put, leaving us confident we could buy a new home nearby and they wouldn’t then up and leave.
2. Decide How Close is Too Close
As we narrowed our list of possible new communities, we talked with our children about how close they wanted us to be. There’s a certain appeal of being just 10 or 15 minutes away from each other, making it easy to get together at a moment’s notice. However, adult children want to keep their independence, too, so having us just around the corner may have made them feel they were practically living at home again.
We ended up settling on finding a place one to two hours away, visiting something special, but not something that would take significant travel. I’m sure our final decision on that front partially involved the fact we don’t have grandchildren. A need for frequent babysitting services might have changed our children’s minds about how close they wanted us to be.
3. Involve Your Children In The Search
Since we were still living in Missouri when we started looking for homes in California, our physical search was limited to vacation time we could take out west. But we deputized our children to help us search and that proved to be a decision that landed us the house we eventually bought. On many of our early house-hunting trips, one or both kids would come with us. They got a sense of what we were looking for in terms of size, style, amenities, and location. Then one day, while we were back home after completing a trip to California, the price of a home we liked, but considered too expensive to go see, dropped precipitously. Now in our price range, we have been stuck 1,600 miles away with no chance to see the house in person before someone snatched it up.
I called the kids and they were both free to head over to La Quinta the next day for an open house. They made the trip and called us from the property, telling us it was the one we should buy. Their photos and videos of the place helped us make up our minds and we put an offer on the place by phone that night. Not only did the kids find us the house we live in now, but they were in on picking this house from the start, giving them a special attachment to it.
4. Get Enough Room For Everyone
With just the two of us moving out of the big house in which we raised our family, we were tempted to downsize drastically to save money, cleaning time, and just make a smaller footprint overall. Our longtime Midwestern house was a four-bedroom, two-story model. So our initial thought on a California house was to cut that in half — going for a two-bedroom place on one story with about half the square footage of our old place. There were plenty of options along those lines as we started to look, but we soon concluded there could be some turf wars if we didn’t have enough space for both of the kids and their significant others to visit at the same time.
So while we did find a one-story house to our liking, we decided to go with three bedrooms at about 75 percent of the size of our old house. The third bedroom converts between a den (we call it the “casita”) and a bedroom when needed. That has been one of the smartest decisions we made buying the house. Both couples have their own rooms and privacy when visiting. The extra square footage also gives everyone a little more elbow room and, with California’s welcoming climate offering outdoor living nearly year-round, our square footage once we add in our spacious patio space rivals what we had back in Missouri. That has meant comfort and a lack of strife when everyone is in town.
5. Make It Their Home, Too
We ended up buying our place furnished, which allowed us to start using it right away for some holiday get-togethers, as well as a couple of extended stays during pandemic lockdowns. We decided not to bring a lot of furniture with us from Missouri when we moved, opting instead to replace some of the furniture and other fixtures that came with the place with some new items that expressed both the modern California desert motif and our style.
Just like the search for the house, we tried to involve the kids in some of those purchases, too, asking their opinions about what colors we should get, what styles would work best, and what they thought we should add to the house. Now, more than three years after we bought it, we have replaced much of the outdated furniture and appliances that came with the place with new items that truly represent the style of the entire family.
6. Plan More Frequent, Shorter Trips
After the kids moved to California and we were still living in Missouri, a trip for us to go see them was a big deal. We could only do it once or twice a year due to the expense and the time it took. When trips are that infrequent, the pressure is on to make the most of the time together. Our visits to California then proved to be exhausting for everyone and not as much fun as we would have liked. Now, with the kids two hours away, we can plan to go over to Los Angeles for the day to go shopping, get lunch at a new place, or just hang out for a bit. While we sometimes spend a night when we make the trip (usually after late-night events like a concert at the Hollywood Bowl), most of the time we keep our visits to hours, not days, allowing us to have many more visits for a year.
7. Take The Pressure Off The Holidays
Our house in La Quinta has been the gathering point for the family for the last four Christmases. The kids like to get over to the Coachella Valley for what is generally better weather than they’ll have in Los Angeles in late December and we like playing host to everyone at once (a perfect time for that third bedroom to come in handy). But we don’t put a lot of pressure on Christmas and other holidays for everyone to get together. Because we’re able to see each other so frequently now, it’s not a priority for everyone to line up their schedules in perfect sync.
Last Christmas proved to be a great example of this as a case of COVID one of our children was battling meant it didn’t make good sense to have everyone at the house at once. We ended up doing Christmas twice — once on the actual day with our older child and then a few days later with the younger one after she was no longer contagious. If we weren’t living so close and seeing each other so often, a Christmas COVID case would have been a real disaster. But we took it in stride and chalked up the lack of crisis as just another of the many benefits we’ve found from moving near our children in retirement.
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