Shared Housing

by Willma Gore

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In these days of ever-rising housing costs and diminishing returns for the dollar, we mid-life retirees on fixed incomes need to be more alert than ever for ways to reduce outlay for rent, mortgage payments, food and utilities.

A few years ago, after owning several homes, occasionally renting an apartment, managing an apartment building, living in a retirement complex, and spending a year house-sitting, I moved from a small single apartment into the "spare upstairs room" of my friend of more than 25 years.

This arrangement was designed to be economical for both of us, offer companionship and support. We were both retired from the workplace but were still active with hobbies and friends. We agreed to test whether such an arrangement would strain or enhance our long and loving friendship.

More experienced than she in moving from place to place, I eyed this arrangement with both optimism and caution. I had encountered a number of shared housing arrangements. Not all turned out completely satisfactory.

Take Betty and Gladys, for instance. They had been friends for fifteen years, belonged to the same book club and church. When Gladys' husband died, she first moved into an apartment in a retirement home where she ate her meals with all the residents. She missed having her own kitchen. Betty lived alone in a lovely three-bedroom home. When she offered to rent Gladys a room and kitchen privileges, Gladys quickly took her up on the offer. Kind and generous as Betty was, Gladys somehow felt it necessary to ask each time to use the laundry and the kitchen. She worried that she was using too much space in the fridge. They shared Betty's TV but discovered they did not like the same programs nor want to watch at the same time. After six months, Gladys moved back to the retirement home.

George was retired and lived in a small rural apartment with his little dog, his only companion. His employed, single daughter, Marian, also a dog-lover and concerned for his welfare, invited him to move in with her. Although Dad at a distance was proud of Marian and her accomplishments, living with her proved to be different. Her hours and companions were not to George's liking and his little Jack Russell terrier was jealous of any attention paid to Marian's two standard poodles. The shared housing lasted less than a year.

Here are important considerations:

  1. Even if the two of you have been compatible over lunch, golfing, or weekly bridge for the past ten years, can you enjoy sharing the same kitchen, laundry, meals and each other's company for the waking hours of every day?
  2. If two people are going together into a rental that neither has occupied before, all costs and responsibilities are divided equally. But if you are moving into his or her home or apartment where you will be essentially a tenant, there are additional vital concerns. Establish the amount of rent you will pay for space that is exclusively yours and for shared spaces such as kitchen and laundry. Who is responsible for cleaning? Plan to review costs at least every six months to make sure you are adequately compensating the home-owner friend. Be prepared for ever-rising costs in all areas. If any of these elements place a strain on your pocketbook or that of the owner, it is guaranteed they will also strain the relationship.
  3. If you or the house-partner require time alone, being with other friends, or enjoy different pursuits, make sure these preferences are discussed.
  4. If the householder has pets, is this acceptable to the renter and vice versa?
  5. What are the rules about smoking, alcohol, TV volume, TV program preferences if one TV is to be shared? What are telephone priorities? It is far better for the tenant to install his or her own TV and phone. Yes, it's costly, but it's also a major saving in emotional stress.
  6. Is public transportation available in the event only one (or neither) drives?
  7. Consider what you will do if either person suffers an accident or severe illness. No matter how willing you are to help a friend in his or her infirmity, you may not be able to do so either physically or financially. Make sure both tenant and host know whom to contact in case of emergency for either.

I am happy to say that sharing space with, and renting from, my friend lasted most happily for three years, and we miss each other greatly. However, an arthritis problem for me a year ago required that I change climates and go to a ground-floor apartment where daily use of stairs is not required.

Take the Next Step

  • Make sure you're not overpaying on your mortgage. If you haven't looked for a lower mortgage rate in the past year, use our simple tool that compares different lenders to see what your monthly mortgage payment could be. It's private, only takes a minute and could show you how to save thousands!

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