Jim and M.J. Berrien's gracious Cape Cod-style house rests on six acres, set back from a country road in Middlebury, Vt.
Black locust trees frame the entrance. In the back, a spacious sun porch with a cathedral ceiling opens to a mahogany deck where the Berriens entertain. Inside, blue-tinted glasses etched with a Middlebury College logo sit on the bar, and a newspaper clipping headlined "Reid It and Weep" is posted on the refrigerator door.
The Berriens' daughter Reid, shown wielding her lacrosse stick in the clipping's photo, has been a prominent athlete at Middlebury. Her parents barely missed a minute of the action. They didn't have to: Their second home, purchased from the college's former president, is just over two miles from campus.
"Just what every kid wants their parent moves in, right?" said M.J. Berrien, who, with her husband, the president and publisher of the Forbes Magazine Group, keeps a main residence in Westport, Conn. "But we've always been very active in her sports life, and we wanted to be there for her games. That was the whole idea."
The Berriens were there for four years of field hockey and lacrosse, attending virtually every game and regularly hosting parties, tailgates and team sleepovers. Their daughter didn't mind. In fact, she said, she appreciated having the parents' home nearby for a home-cooked meal or a quiet night's sleep away from her dorm room.
The four-bedroom house has an oversized fireplace, a table tennis table, a pool table and a big-screen television. Those amenities will still come in handy even though Reid Berrien, 22, graduated in May: She is a new assistant coach of Middlebury's field hockey team.
Real estate professionals were the first to figure out that parental purchases of "kiddie condos" for college students, in lieu of paying for dorms, made sound economic sense. That practice is now common.
But some parents are investing in college towns in an unexpected new way: They're
following their kids to college. They are buying second homes for themselves near campuses where their children are enrolled. Many, like the Berriens, want front-row seats to watch their family athletes perform. Some seek a gathering place for football games or family holidays. Others long for a retreat that is also a possible place to retire with the amenities of a college town and why not the one where they have children attending?
Coldwell Banker has been tracking the phenomenon informally in its annual College Home Price Comparison Index, which ranks average home prices in more than 300 college towns across the nation.
"Our brokers told us story after story about this happening," said David Siroty, a corporate spokesman for Coldwell Banker Real Estate. "Parents buy a place to visit when their son or daughter is in school, and then they become a part of the town, they have friends there, they love the vibe of a college town the culture, arts, sports."
Parents are more likely to buy in towns where hotel rooms are hard to come by, or where rates are sky-high on big weekends, Realtors said. Small college towns like Middlebury, Williamstown, Mass., and Hanover, N.H., are appealing but offer little more for accommodations than small inns or an inconvenient motel miles away. In big college football towns like South Bend, Ind., even large hotels fill up fast and rates can top $400 a night.
Paula Olsiewski and John Healey of New York City had already played musical hotel rooms in South Bend when their older daughter, Georgia, was at Notre Dame. By the time her sister Vivian, 19, decided to go there, they didn't want to be frustrated again.
"I said to my husband, 'Let's just buy a place out there,"' Olsiewski, a program director of the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation in New York, recalled.
She and her husband, who is chief of orthopedics at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, decided to build instead and selected a lot with a view of the famed Notre Dame dome. Their four-bedroom, three-bathroom ranch was completed in August 2006, the summer before Vivian's freshman year.
It is open and modern, completely different from the family's classic six-room apartment on Manhattan's Upper East Side. They paid $306,000 for the house, more than they had planned, but it was worth it to them.
The couple flies to South Bend about once a month and celebrates Thanksgiving there, always including friends of Vivian's who can't get home for the holiday.
Vivian Healey was skeptical about her parents' planting themselves in her backyard.
"This seemed like the ultimate hovering," she said, alluding to this college generation's nickname for overinvolved parents: "hovercraft" parents. "I fought it. But my mom has done a really good job of making her own friends and doing her own things when she is out here."
Her mother, meanwhile, wanted to make one thing perfectly clear: "This is my home it's not a dorm."
DenYelle Kenyon, an assistant scientist at Sanford Research at the University of South Dakota who wrote her dissertation on the parent-student relationship during the transition to college, said that such boundary-setting is important.
"Research has found that the parent-child relationship grows better once the child has left the house," she said. "Parents should be careful not to interrupt that process."
Vanessa Newman of Chevy Chase, Md., admitted that her first reaction when her mother, Carol Kramer LeBlanc, divulged her plans to buy a home 15 minutes from Colorado Springs, where Newman attends school at Colorado College, was: "Are you kidding me? You're following me across the country?"
LeBlanc first saw the funky, artsy town of Manitou Springs at the base of the Rockies when Vanessa, a talented soccer player, was at school for a week of preseason practice before her freshman year. With time on her hands, LeBlanc explored the community, once known for its sulfuric hot springs but now more likely to draw visitors to crystal healing shops and coffee bars. She headed home smitten by the lack of congestion and the laid-back way of life.
"I started looking online, telling myself, 'This might be interesting for the future,"' she said. "Of course, once you start looking. ... "
By the end of September, LeBlanc and her husband, Michael, were looking and bidding. They bought a four-bedroom, four-bathroom, 3,500-square-foot house built in the early 1900s. It includes two master bedrooms, each with its own fireplace. It cost in the $600,000s.
The LeBlancs, who both work for the federal government in Washington, visit four or five times a year on long weekends and in the summer. Their blended family of five children and two grandchildren have on occasion all gathered at the house. Newman, who is 20 and the youngest child in the family, studied there twice a week to survive organic chemistry but typically visits once every few weeks.
"I found myself not doing my laundry until my mom was in town, so I could hang out with her at the house while I did it," she said.
Despite glowing descriptions of family get-togethers, sideline support and easygoing drop-ins from a child, some experts voiced concern about parents who stay in such close proximity to their kids.
"We've heard about boomerang kids who return home after college, but this is kind of like boomerang parents," said Alan Reifman, a professor of human development and family studies at Texas Tech University and an expert in the field of emerging adulthood. "There is a potential for intrusiveness."
Helen E. Johnson, a consultant to colleges on parent relations and author of "Don't Tell Me What to Do, Just Send Money: The Essential Parenting Guide to the College Years," said that parents should make sure they're buying a home for the right reasons. To do that, she said, they need to ask themselves: "Would I like to be in this town even if my child wasn't here?" and "Does this have more to do with my need than theirs?"
"You might be making your child more fragile, not less," she added.