When Chris Muldoon and husband, John, downsized 14 years ago, they had her rheumatoid arthritis in mind when they chose a very small house in West Babylon. But several years later, with health issues mounting, they decided they wanted to live closer to their daughter and her family -- so close that the two families could help each other out. So the Muldoons extended their house, giving themselves one side and their daughter, son-in-law and two children the other side.
"The choices for parents as they age are -- move into an apartment, where you don't have to take care of the landscaping, go into a nursing home or live with the children," says Chris Muldoon. "If you can accommodate both families with enough space, it's a benefit. It's much better than in the old days with Grandma living in the back room."
Real estate agents have noticed a growing trend of families looking for similar setups, and they are noting this in ads touting, "Room for Mom," "Special Home Built With Family in Mind," and "Large Master Suite Fully Designed for Mom."
"Many people just don't have the money to put their parents into assisted living," says Francesca Morrocu Blass, an associate broker with Daniel Gale Sotheby's International Realty of Port Washington. "Not only that, but they want them to be with the grandkids, and they feel that having them nearby is a better environment for the parents."
But buyers must be careful that houses come with all necessary permits and certificates of occupancy.
Janet Rinker, supervisor for Code Enforcement in the Town of Huntington, suggests buyers ask if sellers have legal permits for a second kitchen or a finished basement. But, she stresses, every town on Long Island has its own rules on additions and home improvements, and buyers should check with the town. Some towns, though not Huntington, have special permits for mother-daughter arrangements.
Many seek multilevel homes with space for the parents on the ground floor. High-ranches work best because you have the downstairs with a walkout basement, says Millie Thomas of Landmark Realty of Long Island in Wading River.
For the Muldoons, the combined living arrangement has worked out well. Now they are selling the house.
"Having someone in the house to help with doctor visits and trips to the emergency room is comforting," Chris Muldoon says. "And the grandparents can help with the grandchildren, too."
The best feature about her house is that it's on one floor, Muldoon says. The Muldoons would like a living area that's a little smaller, now that they are spending winters in Florida.
"We have two laundry rooms and two kitchens, which is very important for two women," she says, "and a nice, strong door in between the two sections."
Port Washington, $779,000
IT'S GOOD FOR THE FOLKS The ground-floor master-bedroom suite with bathroom and den has its own entrance from the outside. "There is a certain amount of privacy because of the separate entrance and a separateness from the rest of the family if you want it," says owner Nina Cohen.
OTHER AMENITIES There are four bedrooms upstairs, including another master suite. The house is close to transportation and to downtown Port Washington. The garage is currently set up as a professional office but could easily convert back to a garage.
LISTING AGENT Francesca Morrocu Blass, Daniel Gale Sotheby's International Realty, 516-883-2900
Bay Shore, $499,000
WHY IT'S GOOD FOR THE FOLKS The lower level of this split-level has a bedroom, large living room, full bathroom and separate entrance through the garage. It is separated from the main living quarters upstairs. "The parent can have their own space but come upstairs and have dinner with the family every day," says Rosemary Keenan-Zulli, a real estate agent with Eric G. Ramsay Jr. Associates of Bay Shore.
OTHER AMENITIES The house has a Florida room, and is two houses away from the private Southward Ho Country Club.
LISTING AGENT Rosemary Keenan Zulli, 631-665-1500
Wading River, $699,000
WHY IT'S GOOD FOR THE FOLKS The kids live in the main house while the parents set up house in the attached, two-story, 1,200-square-foot cottage with two bedrooms, two bathrooms, a living room and kitchen.
OTHER AMENITIES The 1.7 landscaped acres have a wisteria-covered trellis, two ponds with waterfalls and a saltwater swimming pool. The main house has a finished basement. "We've had a party with over 60 people in the house, and it didn't feel crowded," said owner Jim Costanzo.
LISTING AGENT Kelly Kirkpatrick, Landmark Realty of Long Island Inc.
West Babylon, $484,500
WHY IT'S GOOD FOR THE FOLKS This house with attached legal auxiliary apartment is like two houses joined together. One side has three bedrooms and a living area, while the parents live in the attached apartment with two bedrooms and its own laundry area and kitchen.
OTHER AMENITIES "Each residence has a separate entrance with its own sliding-glass door to the yard," says Mary Faulkner of Prudential Douglas Elliman Real Estate in Merrick. The backyard is next to vacant state-owned land.
LISTING AGENT Mary Faulkner, Prudential Douglas Elliman Real Estate, 516-623-4500
WHY IT'S GOOD FOR THE FOLKS A legal accessory apartment upstairs has a bedroom, small kitchen and bathroom and is accessible via its own entrance with two fire exits. The permit for the apartment is transferable to the new buyer, says Ingrid Arvelo, a licensed associate broker with LI Community Realty of Brentwood.
OTHER AMENITIES The house has central gas heat and air-conditioning.
LISTING AGENTS Carlos and Ingrid Arvelo, LI Community Realty, 631-273-8500
Renovation is another option
For many, buying a new home to accommodate parents is too costly and the thought of moving overwhelming.
Another option is to retrofit an existing home.
"Seniors on Long Island were like pioneers when they came here 50, 60 years ago," says Sandi Gerson, an associate broker and seniors real estate specialist with Century 21 American Homes in Franklin Square. "Many are attached to their neighborhoods and don't want to leave their churches, temples, doctors or shopping they are familiar with."
The cost of making changes can start as low as several thousand dollars and climb into the tens of thousands.
"Usually, the tub is the big issue," says Tom Schreck, a general contractor in Huntington Station. "We'll replace it with a 5-foot-wide shower with a built-in seat. Most houses aren't wheelchair accessible, so we widen doors to 42 inches for a parent who uses a wheelchair."
Clients often ask contractors to remove doorway thresholds, add grab bars, install safety glass on showers and put in controls that are easy to turn, says Tom Farrell, president of A-Fab Building Corp. in Hicksville.
To make a bathroom large enough to fit a wheelchair, he will sometimes steal space from an adjacent closet or bedroom. "A direct replacement bathroom could cost $15,000, but eliminating a tub, making a larger shower, putting in floor drains and moving major plumbing around -- that can reach about $40,000."
There's always the option of building an extension onto the house for Mom and Dad. "If you're putting in a bigger room with its own private bedroom with kitchen and bathroom, that could range from $75,000 to $150,000," he says.
"We, as contractors, supply an architectural plan that gets submitted to the building department," says Farrell. "After that gets approved, construction could take three to four months."