Why some homes draw a teen crowd

08/14/2014 4:33 PM

08/14/2014 5:41 PM

Start with amenities like a monster TV or fire pit, add a never-ending supply of munchies and a relaxed attitude toward your kids bringing home a friend – or five – and you may just find that your place has become THE place where teens want to be.

A hangout house is often the first spot kids think to gather to work on a school project or binge on the latest Xbox game or silly YouTube videos.

“There are some houses that are sort of magnetic,” says Dana Points, editor-in-chief of Parents magazine. “A hangout house is well-stocked, welcoming, casually decorated and not too fussy, and where there’s an adult present, but on the periphery.”

Sure, with more kids around you can count on some extra cleanup or home repairs, a louder-than-usual roar, and the expense of keeping kids in chips, cookies and (maybe) baby carrots.

But parents who open their doors to the masses say the plus sides are being able to keep tabs on their kids, getting to know their friends well and gaining a peek into their worlds.

“I have girls, so it’s very important to have them here,” said Tammy Smith, 48. “I felt safer with them being here.”

Seven years ago, she and her husband built an 8,000-square-foot home on nearly 13 acres in Trussville, Alabama, so they would have room for a heated pool and hot tub. After Friday night high school football games, her daughters would often pile in with eight or nine girls (plus boys who were eventually sent home) for a swim or sleepover. Besides swimming, the kids could play pool or video games.

Two years ago, the Smiths added a $115,000 open-air pool house, decked out with fireplace, large TV, refrigerator, two grills and couches, to make the pool area attractive year-round.

“It’s nice to know they’re safe because they’re outside with music on, plenty of food and drink versus a movie theater parking lot,” Smith said, adding that now, at 19 and 24, her daughters still invite friends over.

Another hangout-house parent, Jeff Kasky, says it’s not necessarily what’s in his five-bedroom home that makes it a draw; it’s his relaxed yet not overly permissive approach.

A father of boys ages 12, 13 and 16, Kasky resides on a kid-filled cul-de-sac in a gated community in Delray Beach, Florida, with his fiancee, who has a 7-year-old daughter. The four kids enjoy having friends over, especially the two older boys.

Kids play games or watch football on the 120-inch TV with surround sound, enjoy the fire pit, practice musical instruments and “just lie all over the place” on couches and recliners.

“They know when they come over to our house, there’s no pretense,” Kasky says. “They can just have a good time. It’s good, clean fun.”

Samantha Leggat describes her home in Livermore, Calif., as a playground, with lots of activities for kids, like skateboarding or playing Xbox or Wii. Sometimes, when it’s just her boys, ages 12 and 14, they can’t figure out what to do – until a friend comes over. That’s how Leggat, 48, prefers it, so she knows they’re not making bad choices or in an unsupervised home.

Smith felt the same way, though her husband was a little less tolerant of the late-night laughter. “I always thought it was a pleasant feeling, lying in bed and you heard all the giggling,” Smith said.

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