Seniors share homes to make ends meet
It can be tough for divorced and widowed seniors to afford and maintain their own places. Real-life 'Golden Girls' scenarios are playing out all across the country.
More than one-third of baby boomers are unmarried and most of those single folks are female. Make all the "Golden Girls" jokes you want, but the fact is that having your own place can be expensive, hard to keep up and, well, lonely.
Barb, who blogs at Living Richly in Retirement, recently moved from Texas to Colorado. She'd planned to buy a condo but her sister suggested they split the purchase of a larger place. The decision, Barb says, "increases my quality of life on various levels."
For starters, she'll pay a lot less for housing. An early retiree with a home-based business, Barb likes to cook from scratch so her still-working sib will no longer rely on takeout. Her sister loves to garden whereas Barb would have hired someone to landscape. Companionship is a plus, too: "Sharing meals on the patio, going to the movies together -- little things can mean a lot."
While Barb chose to share with her sister, not everyone has family -- and not everyone wants to live with a sibling, anyway.
Roommates can be a great solution. Bonnie Moore, who shares her Maryland home with three other women, says the setup is "a little bit like family, a little bit like roommates, a little bit like a sorority house."
An attorney in her 60s, Moore needed help paying for her five-bedroom home after a divorce. She told National Public Radio that she chose chose women who are compatible but not super-needy: "We do our own separate things, but we'll meet up in the kitchen and chitchat. And then we'll all go our different ways, which makes it nice."
Although single men do room together the shared-housing trend is generally female, experts say. According to the AARP, 4 million women over the age of 50 live in households with two or more women in the same age group.
The divorce rate for the over-50 crowd has doubled since 1990. Many single boomer women aren't financially prepared to hire the help they might need if they don't have family -- and an estimated 20% to 25% of boomers don't have children.
Not that having kids is a guarantee of elder care, or that all older people want to live with or even near their kids. Moore's son has tried to get her to move to where he lives in Utah, but she's not interested.
Issues to address
How to find the right housemates? The National Shared Housing Resource Center has a state-by-state list of groups that help roomies meet up, plus information on how to get programs going in your community.
While rooming with close friends is a good bet, many successful cooperative households are made up of strangers who became friends. You could also advertise -- Moore used Craigslist -- or put the word out informally.
But compatibility is only part of the equation. Home-sharers have to decide whether to buy a place together or have one person buy and the others pay rent. Many smaller decisions need to be made, too. Who will keep common areas clean? Are overnight guests allowed? Does each person get her own shelf in the fridge? What if one person wants a cat and someone else is allergic? Will home repairs be split or is the owner solely responsible?
Costs vary, depending on the amenities. Marianne Kilkenny, who runs a homeshare coaching business, pays $900 for the mother-in-law unit of a home in Asheville, N.C.; three roommates pay between $550 and $650. (According to the National Shared Housing Resource Center, the average home-sharing room rent is $500.)
"It's in a lovely part of town that I probably couldn't afford to live in, nor could any of the rest of us. But when we pool our money together and pay our rent, we can live in a great place -- which is a huge piece of the whole shared-housing story," she told Bankrate.com.
Accessibility is another crucial issue. The stairs that seem ordinary at 55 may be a serious obstacle in your 70s, especially if you're facing health issues like arthritis or pulmonary disease.
Roommates are a tremendous asset if you're ill. Although it's not reasonable to expect full-time care, it's nice to have someone heat up a can of soup when you've got the flu.
Home-sharers also report plenty of bartering, "If you'll walk my dog when I have to work late I'll wash your car over the weekend." Sharing resources is another plus: Four or five roommates can use up a Costco-sized box of tomatoes before they spoil.
As with any shared housing situation, you can have privacy when you need it and a little companionship when you want it. Or, as Moore puts it, "to come home and have someone say, 'Hi, how was your day?' . . . That's really nice sometimes."
Readers: Would you consider shared housing as you age?
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