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.