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housemates

“Have you missed a mortgage payment yet?”  “How much do you spend on cable and internet service?”  “Do you have any additional sources of income?”

Through my job, I’ve had the opportunity to listen to many recordings of HUD-certified foreclosure-prevention counseling sessions.  The counselors have been trained to explore every possible method that a client could use to avoid foreclosure.   That final question, “Do you have any additional sources of income?” stands out to me.  It’s always interesting, the ingenuity that people in difficult circumstances use to keep themselves afloat.  In the last counseling session I monitored, the client, a woman in her sixties who had been out of work for ten years, was supplementing her income by bringing on a tenant.

Getting a housemate, at times referred to as home sharing and in some instances co-housing, is often perceived as a crutch for the young who haven’t yet established themselves.  However, many older people are beginning to share their homes, taking on the roles of landlords, tenants, and housemate-equals as a means to create a lifestyle that is financially sustainable and emotionally fulfilling.

Becoming a landlord in a shared-home relationship can be quite attractive.  In the counseling session I previously mentioned, the counselor discovered that while the client didn’t currently qualify for a loan modification, she likely would if she brought on a second tenant.  The automatic cash flow generated by taking a tenant into her home was an extremely attractive proposition to the client, as it is for many older homeowners.

Older adults are also desirable tenants in shared-home situations.  According to stereotypes, older people are quieter and more dependable than others in the population.  Older tenants can use this to their advantage when negotiating rent.  One of my friends, the working mom of a toddler, was introduced to an older lady who was looking for a place to stay.  They came to a mutually beneficial agreement in which childcare services were provided in exchange for rent in a shared home. The perceived reliability of older tenants makes them prime candidates for these types of cost-saving arrangements.

Of course, some older people are simply averse to living alone.  Getting housemates for them is a natural lifestyle choice. Older women with housemates tend to outnumber older men simply because of longer life expectancies.  And much like the situation depicted in the sitcom “The Golden Girls” more and older women are making the decision to enter a shared-home relationship as equal partners in order to create community and reduce expenses.

For some people, sharing their home may not be the right fit.  But for others, it offers a real opportunity to improve their lifestyles and financial situations as they age.  For these people, the only question left to answer is, “Who does the dishes?”

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