Thursday, June 13, 2013

Sharing a Home In Retirement-Is It Right for You

My downsizing decision has been a long journey, with lots of decisions to make.  Many of those decisions were shared on this blog, as readers know.  When I still had my house and was tying to decide which steps to take, I got many recommendations and suggestions from my readers.  Two of the most common suggestions were to move to a 55 plus community, or to take in a renter roommate.  I dismissed both of those choices out of hand (regularly and often), probably to the dismay of some readers.

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.
Home sharing is certainly not purview of singles. Many retired couples rent rooms or share housing for the same reasons  (note that I am not talking about adult kids or mother in law's per se here). It's certainly an option for many people, with more joining in the shared housing movement all the time. In this case, I believe I have found the perfect situation, and perfect person for me.  Without that person, I would be making a different choice however-one equally valuable.

Do you know people who share housing? Is it something you have considered or ever would consider??

22 comments:

  1. I don't know of anyone sharing housing other than eldery parents moving in. I know it wouldn't work for me, heck sometimes I don't like sharing the house with hubby! Ha Good luck in your adventure

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    1. As I said, I probably would not share a house with anyone but my sister, but we have similar tastes and wants-and we are not both kitchen queens-that would be me.

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  2. After my MIL died my FIL hated living alone. He solved the problem by asking his same age aunt if she would like to share his house. They have lived together for 5 years now and although there have been rocky times as they are both strong personalities, their shared lifetime of family ties has seen them through it. The benefits are many - lower costs for her, cooking for him, companionship and assistance when illness or surgery rears its head. Good luck in finding the place that works for the two of you.

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    1. I agree that there are many benefits to house sharing, dependent on the personalities.

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  3. Barb, this is an excellent discussion of the options you had and the choice you made. I had thought about what I might do if I were single, and this will be helpful. Hopefully it will be a while.

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    1. we all have to look at all the options, it has taken me awhile to come to this one...

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  4. We have recently brought my husband's sister into our home to live, and because we went through many of the steps you've outlined prior to her arrival, all has gone very well since.

    We were providing financial support for her as a result of some mental and physical limitations she has, so dropping the rent on her prior apartment was clearly going to be a financial win for us. Also a win was having a permanent housesitter for the times we were gone. The biggest issue was how I would deal/feel about sharing my home with someone other than my husband after enjoying being empty nesters for ten years. My biggest concern was to not be placed into a position of being responsible for someone again, including meal and entertainment responsibilities.

    Our solution was to carve out a suite of rooms at the back of the house, which my sister in law enjoys in between forays to the kitchen to prepare her meals. She has a space to work on her computer and to watch TV, her primary in-home activities. Her limitations result in her strictly adhering to the same schedule every day, so once I got used to knowing when she'd be in the kitchen preparing meals, I adjusted and worked around it. This allows her to continue to feel that she is on her own without oversight, and for me to feel that I still have the run of my kitchen, and the downstairs of our home. She has her own space in the refrigerator and in the pantry, where she keeps her own food, similar to a roommate situation, and continues to do her own grocery shopping.

    Going forward, should she outlive my husband, I can see the comfort having another person in the home will provide. So, truthfully, what was initially I move I was dreading has turned out to be a really wonderful situation for all involved.

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    1. Yes, I remember you had spoken about this situation and it seems to be working well for you. Has she adjusted in terms of making friends, or is she content to be alone when you are gone?

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    2. We have slowly worked to create a schedule where she is out of the house doing something almost every day, which includes interacting with other people, so while she does miss us, she's not entirely alone when we are away. Plus, we have lovely, lovely neighbors that she can visit and talk with.

      Her limitations are more along the lines of critical thinking skills. We've explained she needs to run anything out of the ordinary by my husband before she does it, so we can make sure it is on the up and up. Her physical limitations are more easily identifiable, but we now have her walking all over town to do her errands and attend senior exercise classes, so she's developed terrific cardio stamina since she's moved in. (She doesn't drive.)

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    3. It sounds like she is adjusting well and it iw a win, win for everyone.

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  5. My grandmother house shared for 15 years. It worked well until they hit mid 70's. It got messy.
    My husband's grandparents shared a house with his younger sister. They fought like cats and dogs- but all died in their mid 80's within days of each other.
    I cannot see me living with my sibs- but my roommates from college....maybe :)

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    1. I think it depends on ou and eeryone has different requirements. Some folks would live with someone they knew less well. I can say that I cold not live with any of my other siblings..

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  6. My daughter just moved in with us (my significant other & I) -- with her Aussie. She & I have lived together before when she was an adult, so the biggest adjustment so far is having one Australian Shepherd adjust to two Chi-weenies (chihuahua/dachshund mixes) & vice versa. The other issue has been stuff; both she & I have stuff; we are not quite packrats (& nowhere near hoarders) but still downsizing is in our future. We are looking at 3-5 years for her to be here; don't know if it will be longer than that.

    I think it will be good for all of us; fortunately (unlike some folks I know) I have a wonderful significant other who is fine with one of my children moving in. If he were not, that could be an issue.

    Thanks for bringing this up; it was perfectly timed for me!

    pam

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    1. It sounds like you are working towards your situation. I agree that all the parties need to agree. I know my husband and I talked about house sharing when he was living andour choices may have been different. I think when we finally find a house, we may have some stuff probelms as well. but in terms of furniture I am more than willing to let a couple things go........

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  7. Great post about an important and relevant issue. As you and others have pointed out, it's a good idea in theory, but you have to be very careful about who you share with. Of course, there are always the mothers who move in with a son or daughter. But aside from that, I know one man and woman who share a house, and it's working out real well ... but they're "sharing" other things as well. I also know two guys (old friends from high school) who decided to share a house. They lasted three years, then got sick of each other. It wasn't ugly or anything; they just decided they'd rather be on their own.

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    1. Yes, and we've figured that into the mix as well....what if one of us wants to move? then the other will need to get a roomate!

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  8. I'm a retired woman (61). Eight years ago my slightly older brother moved in with me and our mother into my small paid-for house. He was unemployed, big, and loud, and at first I thought I was going to lose my mind. We had never been close, but Mother wanted him here. I actually kicked him out once for several weeks and he seemed to have learned a lot while living in a motel.

    Gradually, we became friends - he tells people I'm his best friend- and now I would be so sad if he decided to move out. (Mother has been gone for several years.) We are more like the ships in the night that you mentioned, but there's a very comfortable understanding between us. We share a bathroom which has never been a problem since he showers in less than 3 minutes. We share one television which I rarely watch and he only watches late at night, and even share a computer which has also never been a problem. Neither of us has people over. He's more sociable than I am, but goes out to be with people. He pays a small rent every week which he himself set. We eat completely separately with him eating a lot of quick processed foods and me cooking vegetarian from scratch, on a completely different timetable. We never argue at all. I sometimes wish my marriage had been as amiable. We probably talk to one another about 10 minutes a day.

    For now, it's just about perfect. I hope the situation with your sister goes as well.

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  9. Great post! Looks like you have looked at all of the ins and outs of sharing a home with someone else and have come up with a sound conclusion. Good luck on your new home search!

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  10. My two elderly aunties live together in two bedroom units.Both are flambyant and healthy for their age.
    They never learned to cook and mostly go to The local Pub to eat and listen to live music on daily basic.
    They do not go to the Senior centre since they hate old people.
    One still drive,while the other one lost licence(drinking)
    We are in Winter now in Australia,it gets cold and they are gone to Queensland.
    They do that every year and stay in the same furnished unit,while the
    we have the cold here.
    They are not rich far from it,just old people pension and some small investments and together they can manage to live and not to miss anything.
    There was some problem in the past ,few times they nearly went separate,
    but they sorted out.
    Sometime they go Fiji or Bali for a few weeks when is cheap.

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  11. I have never given this area much thought. I think that if something ever happens to Hubby I may just consider doing something like this.

    God bless.

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  12. The AARP newsletter had a good article on this very subject. A book on the subject is mentioned as well.

    If anyone is interested go to the AARP site and search for sharing a home.

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  13. really nice discussion!!!! thanks for share with us.

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