I am now in discussions to rent or purchase a house with my sister, and we have slowly begun the search. We've each figured out how much we can afford in housing, and what are basic requirements are (since she still works and commutes, hers are a bit more specific than mine). At first glance this might seem like I ignored my own guidelines. Perhaps. However, I can say with a fair amount of certainty that I would probably not have chosen to do this with someone who was not a family member, and not without moving to a third (neutral if you will) location. Even if that meant leaving a home I had owned longer that the one I just sold.
Shared housing is not uncommon in retirement, and for good reason. A 2006 Census Bureau found that 7.4 million women aged 65 and older live alone, compared with 2.7 million men. Many of these singles choose a shared housing option for financial reasons, some for friendship and companionship. Many find one after the other.
Some might call it the "Golden Girl" syndrome, but in fact sharing housing expenses can improve the quality of life for single retirees-as well as increase friendships. In my case, as readers may remember, I was looking at a two bedroom condo with patio and no yard. I had planned to downsize-and I'll say here that I would have been happy and comfortable in that situation (although dog care may have required some logistics).
The chance to share a home with my sister increases my quality of life on various levels. My housing costs will certainly be lowered even further. That is not the only advantage, however. My sister has gotten the green thumb of twenty people-so a yard that was a burden to me will be a joy to her. Where I would have paid for mowing and landscaping, she will consider it a joy (and has already made it clear that there will be a fenced garden and a run for the dogs and never the two shall meet). On the other hand, I am retired and when I am not traveling make meals from scratch every night. My sister still works by choice, and no longer needs to grab something on the way home from work. The financial benefits go on.
Home sharing also has the advantage of friendship and companionship. This is certainly true in our case-and I say that as a woman who is comfortable in her single hood. Sharing meals on the patio, going to the movies together-little things can mean a lot. Certainly for me, that kind of companionship is much more comfortable, and easier, because of a lifetime of shared experiences.
There are certainly a variety of home sharing options for those who are interested, and many areas have home sharing organizations that assist people. For many retirees (single or couple)they are well worth looking into.
Often a home owner rents out a room or rooms. In this case the situation is done primarily for income and there is a landlord/roommate type situation-one person has all the power and all the rules. This is what was suggested to me most often. Room rentals are often short term however, and I was unwilling to have a new person in my home every semester. And of course my dogs probably would have developed some kind of psychosis with the revolving door!
Sometimes a single person takes on a roommate in the truest sense-sharing all parts of the house and all expenses. I believe that this situation works well for many-as long as the person who already owned the home treats the situation as one of sharing. When I was looking on craigslist for a smaller house (when I thought I was staying in Dallas), I had many offers of this kind. In each case, the requirements of the homeowner kept me from pursuing this option-and I am extremely laid back when it comes to needs and requirements. That said, I would probably have been equally difficult had it been my home where the sharing would take place.
A third option is to buy or rent a home with the purpose of choosing to live together. This is the option I chose, and it is the one I would advise to others from my limited experience. This option puts everyone on an equal footing, and allows individuals to start fresh. I realize that on occasion there is a home attachment that may seem to require a different choice-however for me at least the "starting in a new house" that will probably be my "forever house" was the best option.
Admittedly this third option requires alot of leg work and discussions on both sides. We each made up a budget, decided how much we could afford on housing overall, and what our maximum share of the mortgage or rent would be, just as an example. It was worth taking these steps in the short term, to ensure longer term success. While we both made adjustments, things were made easier by knowledge of each other (and by the fact that I had stayed in my sister's home and observed her lifestyle each and every time I traveled to Denver for many years.
As I said before, in my case I chose the home sharing option because my new roommate would be a known family member. Others may choose, or explore, different options we are all different. That said, when looking at a joint housing situation, these are some of the things I would certainly take into consideration:
- Assuming this is a true sharing situation, make sure both parties are aware of all the costs. This may seem obvious. Our budget includes what we can both afford a house payment-but it also includes all utilities and a rough estimate of housing maintenance and costs-both irregular and regular. If it's a renter situation, be crystal clear-will you charge your tenant based on house percentage (one room out of four?). Will tenant utilities be a flat fee, or will they be adjusted each time you get your bill.
- Be completely honest about lifestyle choices. I am a night owl who walks out to the kitchen on occasion and spends an hour in bed after waking up. My sister arises early even on the weekends. She watches TV alot in the winter and works outside in the warm weather. I need more quiet than she does. I am on a diet, meaning that although we share meals we have two cream cheese options, two salad dressing options and like in the fridge. She is less social, where as I have a dinner group and host a quilting small group each month. In our case, these reveals allowed us not just to think about lifestyle choices, but to think about our housing needs. We don't need two living spaces for example-but we do need bedrooms large enough for chairs and "space". And of course she needs a sun room and I need a quilting studio.
- What will you do together and what will you do separately (again, if this is a sharing situation). Will you be offended if your roommate takes his or her dinner to the bedroom to eat and watch TV? Will you cook together and or eat together? Will you be two separate ships passing in the night each in your own room doing your own thing? (not for me but it may work for some)
- Do you have something in writing if things do not work out? Will you then get another roommate or roommates? What are the financial obligations in this case? How will you deal emotionally, especially if you are friends or family.
- Finally, do what you can at all times to make this "our house" rather than "my house" no matter who the owner is and what the living situation. The room rental situation may be the one exception here. However, I'll say that in every situation I know of where house sharing has not worked (and there have been a few), the primary cause was that the "renter/roommate" never felt comfortable because it always felt like the other person's home-with the roommate a short term visitor.
Do you know people who share housing? Is it something you have considered or ever would consider??