Wendy C. Kasten
Many recall the popular sitcom that ran for many seasons called the “Golden Girls” featuring Blanche, a Florida homeowner, who had three roommates – Dorothy, Rose, and Sophia. These four women, co-habitants of her home, also became friends, offered each other support, and staved off loneliness. The idea of seniors sharing a home has merit. Fictional character Blanche was left with an ample home to finance after being widowed. Many people live in homes with extra space. Having a guest room occupied may solve more than one problem for a homeowner: additional income, offer a feeling of security, and companionship. And, for the roommate, it can be an affordable place to live with the potential for companionship.
I interviewed a local woman who created a model for home sharing in which roommates occupy several rooms in her large older home. Having done this for more than 20 years, she found a successful way of making this work for her. Her roommates live their own lives but supply her with supplemental income. She has rented to both men and women of all ages who stayed from 1-5 years.
What’s the formula for success, I asked our interviewee, who prefers to remain anonymous?
“Finding the right people” was her first and foremost response. She’s come to think of it like a job interview. The conversation needs to be comprehensive, honest, and sufficient to create a realistic picture of what it may be like having that individual as a roommate. She advertises on Craig’s List now, whereas years ago she wrote newspaper ads. And of course, sometimes word-of-mouth is the best advertisement of all.
“Do you put things in writing?” No, she replied. She explained that there’s one basic rule. When you cook in the kitchen, you clean up. After that, there’s the practical matter that roommates take turns cleaning the bathroom and hallway they share. She added that with the right people, rules aren’t needed, because individuals are responsible adults. Common sense and common courtesy generally prevail. She holds to a verbal policy that either party can end with a 30 day notice.
Have you ever had a roommate not work out? Only twice in 20 years has that happened, and in both cases, she felt she did not sufficiently screen those people. However, as she learned over the years, now it has been a long time since that was a problem.
Are rooms furnished? Her response was “never.” That would somewhat complicate things; if, for example, you felt roommates were not taking care of your furnishings.
What about money? How does it work?” She charges the same fee for each room. That fee is higher if a rental begins in summer (to make sure it’s not a vacationer looking for a good deal). She sets a fair price for each room. I asked if she does any trading. For example, if someone is willing to mow the lawn, would she deduct that from their rent?
“No,” she was clear. It’s important to keep that separate. If someone has skills, and she wants to hire them, then she pays them just as she would anyone she might hire, such as a lawn care person, handyman, or painter.
To ensure everyone’s safety, our interviewee has equipped each room with a Class A fire extinguisher, a fire alarm, and regular smoke detectors.
Finally, our interviewee made it clear that each person is a roommate and not a renter. After all, she feels they share common living spaces, such as the kitchen, the living room, and dining room. All in all, the arrangement has been highly successful and pleasurable. “It may not be for everyone,” she cautions. It’s important that you like having people around. Anyone considering this needs to think through whether this is a viable idea for them personally.
Looking for a Roommate? Looking for a Room? Here are some things to consider (for both parties):
• First, consider whether you enjoy having people around. If you rent a room rather than an apartment, you’ll have others sharing your space.
• What are your thoughts about the following: Smoking? Pets? Overnight guests? Noise? Loud music? A musician who needs to practice? A person of a different background or persuasion? Someone who is much older or much younger?
• Find out about prices in your area. If you have a college nearby, you can inquire as to the going rate for a room and shared bath, or check listings of others advertising.
• Have a first meeting in a public place, such as a coffee shop. Ask lots of questions. Write down things you want to remember to ask.
• Do not accept someone you have not met in person.
• Homeowners may be concerned about the potential roommate’s ability to pay on time. Inquire about how long they lived elsewhere. Ask about their job or income source. Consider asking for references. Follow up with references or go online if additional information is needed.
• Consider a second interview at your home or apartment. Do not proceed if you sense any red flags or feel uncomfortable. This would be true for both parties.
If you have room in your home to share, or you are looking for a place to live, consider posting an ad in Village-Wise, although we are not a matching service. AWWC has no liability for the choices you make as a result of using this site. Proceed carefully and responsibly.
Homeowners: Write an ad for what you have to offer. Describe the room, its size, whether or not it is unfurnished, bathroom facilities, parking, laundry, kitchen privileges. etc. Describe the location without giving an address, such as “an old Victorian home downtown” or a “suburban home in a subdivision”. Consider including whether roommates can have a pet, the distance to town services, a college campus, and any other interesting features (such as having a view, being an exceptionally quiet location, having a private entrance, etc.) Of course, list your price. And, do not hesitate to write an agreement with those who rent from you.
Potential Roommates: Write a profile of yourself. Include your approximate age range, “young professional” or mature retired woman. Acknowledge whether or not you smoke, play a musical instrument, have a pet hamster, whether or not you can manage stairs, or have any other disability issues. Consider mentioning how others describe you, such as long-term friends, co-workers. Indicate if you need a place to park, have your own furnishings, how you feel about animals (in case the homeowner has pets). Share several things about yourself, such as professional background, hobbies, interests, memberships (such as being active in your church, being a volunteer for a charity, etc.). Note other items a homeowner might appreciate knowing, such as having a demanding work schedule, allergies, or that you enjoy cooking or entertaining, etc. More information will help make a better match.
Most of all, proceed cautiously. Here’s hoping for a pleasant outcome, just like “The Golden Girls.”
Wendy C. Kasten