In these days of individualism, a concept like homesharing seems to fall into the “Not for me!” category. Many people feel they could never allow a stranger to live within the walls of their own home, watching TV with them in the living room and sharing cabinet and refrigerator space in the kitchen.
Looking back, people were less worried about sharing space. In frontier days traveling strangers were welcome bearers of companionship and news. They were often offered meals, a place to bed down, and water and feed for their horses. Renting rooms or turning one’s home into a boarding house was a respectable profession for a widow in the Civil War era. People staying in roadside inns and hotels in town during the 18th and 19th Centuries often had to share a room—and sometimes even a bed—with members of the same sex. No doubt there were abuses of this kind of hospitality, but in those less comfortable days, survival itself often depended on the kindness (and closeness) of strangers.
In modern times we have the examples of the sitcoms, “The Golden Girls” and “Hot in Cleveland” both with Betty White as one of the “girls,” which have homeshare as their basis. A homeshare is any household or residence in which non-family members live together. Usually expenses are shared on an equitable basis. In some cases, one tenant exchanges services for lower expenses.
Complementary abilities can make for an excellent match of roommates for “aging in place”—for example, a college student matched with an ailing senior can ease the financial burdens of both and perhaps provide services like lawn care or driving in exchange for a break on utility payments or other bills.
There are pros and cons to the idea of homesharing, as the following show:
- Easing financial burdens
- Security in knowing one isn’t alone in case of medical emergency or burglary
- Complementary abilities—one may drive and help in that manner while the other pays a bit more of the bills
- Peace of mind for adult children who live far away
- The comfort and ease of being able to stay in one’s own home or in a comfortable setting indefinitely
- Shared household and yard upkeep responsibilities
- Different noise level thresholds
- Different standards of cleanliness
- Too many guests invited by one of the occupants
- Financial irresponsibility or instability of one occupant, affecting all occupants
- Incompatible pets
- One person dominating a shared area—always in front of the TV, cooking more elaborate meals than others and taking too much time in the kitchen, etc.
Some cons can be taken care of by diligent pre-screening. Letting a stranger—or even a friend—into one’s home, or moving in with someone else, should not be undertaken lightly. The seniors should connect via a reliable network connecting homesharers or roommates, if they do not already know each other. The network may do some screening for them. They should also do a background check and find all available social media information about the person. The person should be interviewed to see if the two are a “match.” References (two or three) should be asked for and checked. Another way to keep things peaceable and avoid misunderstandings is for the parties to sign a detailed agreement with specifics about the respective responsibilities and privileges.
It appears that there are more women roommates or house sharers available than men. AARP notes that homesharing—even buying a house together with the purpose of sharing it—is a trend among boomer women. Author Sally Abrahms, writing for AARP, notes that the majority of clients on existing homeshare websites are boomer women. Divorce is part of the reason for this, as is death because most women outlive their spouses.
Some people love homesharing and consider it a very happy arrangement. They are or become friends with their homesharing partners and enjoy their lives together very much. Others have less than stellar experiences because of the other homesharer’s financial, emotional or other instability resulting in lack of consideration for the other person’s rights.
Homesharing between the right people— who could be strangers instead of existing friends—can be a positive arrangement that helps people age in place longer. As long as the negative aspects are carefully accounted for, homesharing may be a positive new lifestyle that allows people to stay in their communities indefinitely as they grow older.
Abrahm, Sally. (May 31, 2013). House Sharing for Boomer Women Who Would rather Not Live Alone. Your Home. Home and Family. AARP. Available online at http://www.aarp.org/home-family/your-home/info-05-2013/older-women-roommates-house-sharing.html.
National Shared Housing Organization. Home-sharing Lets Seniors Save Rent and Gain a Helping Hand. Available online at http://nationalsharedhousing.org/home-sharing-lets-seniors-save-rent-and-gain-a-helping-hand/.