When David Leibstein’s parents began spending more and more time in their Florida vacation home, they thought of moving there to keep them, but they didn’t want to give up their Oceanside condo. Meanwhile, David and his wife Mira, who they lived with while starting their careers, were shopping themselves for a home.
The Eureka moment came when my mother and father offered to let them buy the condo they had owned for 40 years. The two refinanced and purchased it in 2000. After that, David’s parents moved to Florida and reserved a room for them to visit in Oceanside.
“It was such a generous thing for them,” he says. “And the fact that we didn’t have to look for a home and deal with the entire mortgage, we avoided a lot of trouble.”
Finding a home in today’s market is hard. For the lucky few, family is the answer.
“Homes are hard to come by these days, so we took advantage of the opportunity,” says Casey Ahern, who with husband Joseph bought her grandparents’ house in Centerport last March. “Keeping her in the family meant a lot to me.”
Few statistics are available on how many parents or grandparents sell their homes to their children in the first place since this data is collected by mortgage agents who are usually circumvented through the procedure. But it may become more common as baby boomers settle into retirement and their offspring face stiff competition in the home buying market.
For one thing, the kids are already there. A 2020 Pew Research Center analysis of census data revealed that 52% of 18- to 29-year-olds live with their parents. Perhaps this is a reflection that home ownership is financially out of reach for many young people. It also increases the chance of buying the home or inheriting it from sympathetic parents.
Leaving home can be an opportunity to break free, an opportunity to grow as an individual and question accepted perceptions. But for others, staying in place is fine.
Lipstein, 56, an optometrist with offices in Rockville Center and across the island, agrees because of his carefree childhood. “We went to the beach a lot,” he says. “We had our own little boat. Growing up here was a great experience. I wouldn’t share it with anyone.”
The good atmosphere was enhanced by the fact that the house was close to work and good schools. It also allowed him to keep in touch with his brothers and cousins who live in the area.
Decide what you want to upgrade
Over the years, the Leibsteins have made renovations including upgrading windows, remodeling the kitchen, and putting in new facets and landscaping the grounds, says Mira, 53, a pharmacy tech for a veterinary company.
“The thing I’m happy to see is the pink pigeon,” she says.
Is it weird to reoccupy a home you know so well?
Kind of, according to Casey Ahern, who lives on Cape Extended in Centerport that was built in the 1950s by her plumber grandfather and his contractor friends.
“It was a little weird at first,” says the 29-year-old nurse. “But it feels good. I think my grandparents will be happy because they’re still in the family.”
She and her husband, Joseph, 37, a physical education teacher, assumed that one of her four grandparents’ offspring would buy the house after their mother’s death in 2019, but neither showed any interest. She and her husband, who lived in an apartment in Huntington, bought it in March for $500,000. The two have a half-year-old son and plan to have more children.
“I was thrilled to be able to raise my family where my mother grew up and where I feel like I grew up too,” she says.
They’ve also upgraded, but not all. For example, they keep the dining room with its huge table as is. This is where the clan gathered for festive meals. They also keep the fireplace where 10 stockings are hung by the chimney every birthday for the grandkids. “He was always loud and lively on the holidays,” Ahern says.
Summer fun was on at Reinstein’s nest home in Seville, where he grew up with four brothers and three stepbrothers. Lots of it happened around the backyard pool.
“It was a bad little pool with a giant deck, but we really enjoyed it,” says Reinstein, a realtor with Realty Connect USA in Patchogue.
The tiny house wasn’t in great shape either, but it remained a holiday gathering site for joint families. Reinstein was 12 years old when he and his brothers left Myanmar to join their divorced mother, who moved to Queens years earlier to find work. This was where she met and married his stepfather, who was also divorced and had three of his children.
His parents bought the Sayville house in 2003 for $250,000. The boys stayed together in the small bedrooms and downstairs. They’re still close, says Reinstein.
Experiences like this explain why, after his parents decided to move to Virginia, they all had a heartache when the house was put up for sale.
“He’s not feeling well,” Reinstein says. “It was so touching to me and my parents that I ended up buying it.”
He bought the home for $325,000 in 2018. Since then, he’s fulfilled his father’s dream of renovating the dwelling inside and out, including expanding the basic bedroom, replacing a dilapidated pool and adding an outdoor kitchen and dining area. He lives there with his wife, Thierry O, 28, an accountant, and their 18-month-old daughter Emma.
Occasionally, he gets a strange sense of deja vu when he wakes up in the same house, but it’s been renovated, he says. However, turning back was a nostalgic kick.
“I love my neighbors,” he says. “They literally saw me growing up. So, it feels really warm to be back here with them.”
The cherished past is also the main reason why 69-year-old Jennis Sisty decided to return to her childhood home, also in Centreport.
“I couldn’t bear to leave the memories,” she says. “It was too precious to let anyone else live here.”
The house was built in 1952 by her father, who owned a construction company and made several residences in the tight-knit community. She retired as the company’s construction manager and inherited the residence after her mother’s death in 2003. Sisti hopes one day one of her sons will take over.
“When the time comes, I know they will figure out how to keep it in the family,” she says.
Traces of the hands of her father and one of her sons in the concrete corridor. So many relatives lived nearby that she was able to stop at seven houses on the way home from school, she said.
“You can’t get away with anything, because someone was always there to catch you.”
This kind of reverence is one of the reasons why she tries to keep the house as it was in her childhood days. This includes keeping—and adding to—the ’50s-style furniture throughout the home. Recently, she did some construction in the laundry room and found three different types of wallpaper that have been put in over the years. I kept a piece of plasterboard with samples on it.
“I couldn’t get rid of it,” she says. “It was very cool.”
Yes, living there seems unusual at times.
“Every now and then I wonder what my mom and dad would think about what I’m doing here,” she says. “I mean, I sleep in their bedroom. It was weird at first. But I think my parents would be happy that I honored their home.”
Respecting the past is one of the reasons David and Mira Lipstein built a new walkway around a Buckeyes maple planted by his mother 30 years ago. David says she never had a green thumb. However, the tree has suffered from Storm Sandy and other attacks. They weren’t about to cut it now.
“It’s the little things that remind you of the history of the house,” Mira says.
Advance with caution
So you are looking for a home on Long Island. Branches are few and prices are horrible. But didn’t your parents talk about moving into a nursing home? Maybe you could buy their place and go back to your childhood dorm? Winning, right?
Certainly, with some caveats.
“It’s a great opportunity,” says Kevin Loyacono, broker at BrookHampton Realty. “And for first-time homeowners in this market, this may be the only opportunity.”
The pluses are plentiful. First, people may give you a competitive price as a gesture of love. You can save big bucks by avoiding broker commissions and lower closing costs, or the bank may let you take on a mortgage. Also, since you know the condition of the home, you can also eliminate costly emergencies such as a home inspection.
Loiacono, president of the Long Island Board of Realtors, says you should consider bringing in a realtor or real estate attorney just to sort out the paperwork and make sure both sides know what to expect. After all, things can go wrong.
Parents, for example, may later feel the seller’s remorse and feel that they sold their house too low and now need the money. Children who bought during a housing boom followed by an economic crash may be irritated to find that their investment is less than expected.
Mom and Dad also need to accept boundaries and realize that they can’t fall at any time as if it were their place. They may not be pleased to discover the kids have renovated some of their cherished additions, like the homemade basement bar. Siblings may feel bitter that they were not given the same opportunity to buy the house, possibly because they did not have the financial resources themselves.
The point is, says Loiacono, be careful.
“When you talk about a house you grew up in, you are talking about something personal.”
– James Kendall