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Multigenerational living

Woodside family remodels to make property work for everyone

After living in Woodside for close to 35 years, Betsy Hobson is thrilled to share a new routine with her next-door neighbor, her 2 1/2-year-old granddaughter. "Every morning Emma goes out to get the newspaper, brings it to me, and I give her breakfast."

That's just one of the many perks Hobson, 67, enjoys after moving out of the house she raised her kids in so that her daughter, Jenny Hayden, could afford to come back to Woodside with her own family.

The Haydens remodeled the house to their liking, and Hobson built a matching new guest cottage for herself just across the lawn. They now co-own the property, an arrangement Hobson said is working for "a lot of human reasons as well as financial reasons."

A couple of years ago Jenny and her husband, Brian, were in their mid-30s and renting a small apartment in Santa Monica with their three small children. They searched to buy a place near Brian's work, a private equity firm in Los Angeles, but during the house-hunting process they realized they wanted to return to the Bay Area.

Brian's mother lives in Monterey. He spent most of his holidays visiting relatives in Northern California and lived in the area after college.

Jenny's parents were divorced. Her father, Gary Garratt, died in 2011, but she and her mother were close. Every month, Hobson would go visit the Haydens for a week at a time.

Hobson liked her lifestyle, playing golf and bridge with friends, serving on the Woodside Planning Commission and working part time for Garratt-Callahan, a water treatment company. She wanted to stay in Woodside but "I was one person rattling around the house."

After a lot of discussion, she made a "deal" to share her property with the Haydens, formalizing the agreement in 2013. "We worked it out with lawyers and accountants where I'm the majority owner," she said.

There are tax advantages, but "it's complicated," she explained. For example, they divvy up the utility bills based on square footage.

Public records show Hobson and her former husband bought the 0.97-acre lot on Romero Road in 1978 for $147,500.

In 1981, using modified plans they bought from Better Homes and Gardens magazine, they built — with their own two hands — a "Tahoe-looking redwood siding" home. It occupied approximately 3,200 square feet, and had four bedrooms and three baths. They also built a separate studio apartment above a workshop/garage and rented it out.

In early 2014, Hobson started downsizing, hiring a consultant to help sort through decades of accumulation, and yet she still ended up putting most of her furniture in storage for $4,000 a month.

She then moved into the rental unit on the property so the Haydens could revamp the main house to suit their young family.

They hired Adam Bittle with Allure Architecture in San Francisco to design a four-bedroom, three-and-a-half-bath modern farmhouse with a more open floor plan.

Updating the home required some foundation work, moving a few walls, adding a 4-foot-by-8-foot space and stripping the first floor down to the studs. The second floor changes were more cosmetic: creating a dormer above the attached garage, selecting new carpeting and painting throughout.

The end result is a fresh looking interior filled with almost all new furnishings in a pale palette. The Haydens were keen to move beyond IKEA and held a moving sale to offload their old furniture before heading north.

The dark exterior of the house is completely transformed with off-white James Hardie board and batten siding, a new standing seam metal roof, new wooden stairs and decks, and a patio space.

The contractor, Eric Hughes Construction of Novato, completed the project in August 2014.

Hobson hired her own contractor, Allwood Construction of San Carlos, to replace her rental unit with a new 1,498-square-foot, two-bedroom/two-bath guest cottage.

When demolition and construction started in September 2014, Hobson moved back into the main house to the guest room that doubles as Brian's office.

This past May Hobson moved for the third time in two years and since then has been busy settling into the cottage and continuing to get rid of more "stuff."

Jenny said the original construction estimates were $200,000 on the main house and $250,000 on the cottage. Both projects ran over budget but were completed on time.

Looking back, the one thing the Haydens and Hobson regret is that they took out separate permits to construct each building. At times that caused some confusion and became "a little cumbersome," Hobson said.

This summer, staff from Del Conte's Landscaping of Fremont planted the yard, put in raised bed gardens, and installed decomposed granite pathways to interconnect the buildings.

The driveway has been reconfigured into one for each home.

Now that everything is done Hobson said, "It was a long haul. ... It took a lot of resolve and commitment from all of us ... but I think the benefits outweigh the difficulties."

She feels comforted knowing there's "someone to take care of me" with her son and family living in Menlo Park and the Haydens so nearby.

In some ways, Hobson has replicated her own childhood. She grew up in Cincinnati with her grandparents on a 150-acre family compound that "was idyllic with horses."

Having a grandmother so ready to babysit "is really handy," Jenny said.

Sometimes Hobson picks up the grandchildren at Woodside Elementary School, where her own children attended and she served on the governing board.

Brian admits living so close "is not for everyone." From his point of view though, the cottage "is still pretty far, and we have our own space and property."

While they are still defining their personal boundaries, Hobson said. "I really enjoy the closeness with my grandchildren. I get to read books to them at night and help get them to bed."

Brian added, "My mother is jealous!"


This article appeared in print in the Fall Real Estate 2015 publication.


Kate Daly is a freelance writer with Embarcadero Media.

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17 people like this
Posted by Bob McGrew
a resident of Menlo Park
on Oct 21, 2015 at 12:08 pm

This is a wonderful story that shows how families can make space for each other in their lives.

This kind of option is going to be increasingly relevant as Boomers continue to retire - there's just not a lot of options for smaller units in this area for seniors who want to downsize, and there's not a lot of reasonable options for family homes for younger couples that want to raise children. Sharing a lot like this makes a lot of sense.

30 people like this
Posted by Love the Idea
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 21, 2015 at 1:21 pm

We would LOVE to build a granny unit on our lot and then give the big house to our son and his family, while we move into the granny unit. The. We would always be available for child care.

But the city will not give us a permit to build a 1bdrm 1ba cottage because they say our lot is too small. Nor will they allow us to add another bedroom and bathroom to the house for the same reason ( even though the bedroom and bath would be upstairs--it is a two-story house already).

So we are stuck here because of the capital gains tax added on in 1996, as well as the increase in property taxes if we move--even if we downsize

This situation is creating a LOT of miserable people over the age of 55.

2 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 21, 2015 at 5:43 pm

I'm just wondering what will happen when the grandparents need to move to a care facility or similar. Will these units then be available for non family renters? What does this sort of thing mean for the future when the home is eventually sold?

8 people like this
Posted by anneke
a resident of Professorville
on Oct 22, 2015 at 10:06 am

It takes a village for children to grow into good human beings, and that includes loving grandparents.

There is something very special and magic for a child to have wonderful grandparents who live close by and whom they can visit with frequently.

Kudos to the family in this story. You are a great example for many families.

8 people like this
Posted by MidtownMom
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 22, 2015 at 10:31 am

The multi-generational living is very common in Asia due to multiple reasons - family obligations, cost of living etc. It has its own advantages and can work out very well once the boundaries are established and the generations respect the boundaries.

The grand children help grandparents remain "young" at heart, the grandparents have responsibilities that they thrive on ..

3 people like this
Posted by Todd
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 22, 2015 at 1:43 pm

Why should this be encouraged? Will more people living in existing homes not exacerbate traffic and parking issues, as well as drain resources such as water?

4 people like this
Posted by Godspower Amraibure
a resident of Woodside
on Feb 7, 2016 at 8:10 pm

I am interested

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