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Boomerang kids move home, boomers' health and wallets suffer

To prevent grown offspring from moving back to the nest, some parents are buying their children real estate.

An adult child, returning home to live, rings his parents’ doorbell
An adult child, returning home to live, rings his parents’ doorbellRead moreADAM HERNANDEZ/Tribune News Service

"Boomerang" kids returning home? Get ready for stress and dissatisfaction.

Adult children moving back with their parents is so common a phenomenon that it's inspired Hollywood movies (witness Failure to Launch with Matthew McConaughey). Credit the financial crisis and the slow economic recovery that has followed.

One in nine parents surveyed by Fidelity and Stanford University's Center on Longevity said their offspring had returned "to the nest" in the last year. Sixty-eight percent of those parents reported they were more stressed, and more than half said they were less happy (53 percent), less satisfied (54 percent), and had less leisure time (53 percent). Nor did parents report those housemates coming cheap: Seventy-six percent of respondents said they faced higher expenses.

Health impacts were significant for women, with 46 percent reporting sleeping worse and 40 percent reporting gaining weight.

Fidelity and the Stanford Center surveyed more than 9,000 retirement-plan participants still employed full time to understand how major life events affected a person's health and wealth, and overall happiness. The results were released in May.

"This research reinforces that a key component of living long and living well is about navigating life events that can impact a person's finances, health, career, overall happiness and ultimately their overall well-being, conclusions supported by the Stanford Center on Longevity's own Sightlines Project," said Tamara Sims, director of the Sightlines Project.

Adult children moving home can range in age from Generation X to younger millennials. But the latest data show that more 18- to 34-year-olds live with a parent than with a spouse, according to an April report from the U.S. Census Bureau.

That report, "The Changing Economics and Demographics of Young Adulthood: 1975–2016," found that boomeranging adult children represented a major shift from the 1970s, when young people were more than twice as likely to live with spouses.

Most of those who live at home today, but neither work nor study, have high school diplomas or less, and about one-fifth have children. Half are white, and the majority are male. About a quarter have disabilities, the data show.

"Almost nine in 10 young people who were living in their parents' home a year ago are still living there today, making it the most stable living arrangement for young adults," the report said. "In 2005, the majority of young people lived independently in their own household (either alone, with a spouse, or an unmarried partner), which was the predominant living arrangement in 35 states. By 2015 — just a decade later — only six states had a majority of young people living independently."

Brooke Willmes, a lawyer and real estate agent with Space & Co, observed: "There's growing pains, especially when you have two generations of adults with their own ways of doing things."

"When kids move into the parents' house, the parents still rule. That can be really challenging when you have children," said Willmes, who helped a couple relocate to the suburbs in May to live with the mother of one of them.

To prevent their adult children from moving home, some boomers are buying them real estate outright. Brokers and agents in the Philadelphia region say they're seeing parents with significant financial assets purchasing properties – often paying cash – as an alternative to the stock market.

Elizabeth Convery, of Very Real Estate in Old City, recently completed a deal in which parents bought a large house near a college campus for their son, who is in medical school.

"The parents are able to collect rent from his roommate friends, pay off the mortgage, and use it as a place to have their money work for them that's different than the stock market," Convery said.

She's seeing similar transactions in the Graduate Hospital neighborhood and near the University of Pennsylvania, Drexel, and Temple campuses, she added, with the price point tending to stay below $400,000. "But they can control the rent, make sure their adult children are safe."

Another couple bought a condo for their daughter who had just graduated – and the parents had only seen the property online, Convery said. (They were retired and living in Hawaii.) "We did a lot of touring on FaceTime, but the daughter and her friend picked it. The parents flew in for the home inspection and wrote the check."

Ultimately, boomer parent-buyers might move into the properties they buy for their kids.

"When they're ready," she said, "the plan is they'll sell their big suburban home when the adult child is more financial stable and can buy on their own, then move into the city and use the property as their own."