Sharing Your Home: It’s the Golden Girls for Real
BY LORI BITTER
It seems that every depiction of life after 50 is of couples – smiling families, on cruise ships, walking hand in hand on a beach. That’s just the reality of about a third of people. Whether widowed, divorced, or never married, many baby boomers will find themselves on their own as they age. Fully one-third of boomers will face old age on their own. There are several reasons for this. Women, in particular, are likely to be single as a result of outliving their spouse, with the average being at least five years longer than men. Seventy-two percent of women are single, versus 45% of men. And while the overall divorce rate in the country went down during the recession, the rate of divorce among couples over 50 has actually doubled.
While singlehood creates many issues as people age, two of the biggest are social isolation and the need for care. The National Center for Family & Marriage reports that adult children are often far away from their aging parents. How and where to live is often a bigger issue for single adults than couples. With 90% of Americans over 50 expressing the desire to age in their own home, relatively few will be moving to senior communities or continuing care retirement communities (CCRCs) though those types of communities offer great options for people aging on their own. Cost is likely the determinant, and it shows a huge gender bias: single men on average have twice the median income of single women.
One solution that is on the rise – especially with women is the decision to live with a roommate – often described as, “the Golden Girls effect.” The boom in this living style is largely influenced by older women. Four million women over the age of 50 are currently living in a household of at least two women in that age cohort. And that number is growing.
Many people believe they are too set in their ways to consider living with another unrelated adult – isn’t that something young people do? In fact, it is an important niche in the $10 billion sharing economy. Now, nonprofits, cities, and start-ups are focusing on shared housing for middle-aged and senior adults. Many communities are now offering workshops on the topic. (See the sidebar for asking the right questions before making the move.)
A Colorado-based start-up, Silvernest is leading the online movement for locating the right roommate. “At Silvernest, we’re offering a clear solution to help Baby Boomers and empty nesters safely and seamlessly establish homesharing arrangements,” said Wendi Burkhardt, co-founder and CEO of Silvernest. “Silvernest set out to develop new tools that provide an aging-in-place alternative, boldly breaking the rules of aging so more people can live in their homes on their own terms. We’re eager to create the next generation of roommates.”
Call out: Many people believe they are too set in their ways to consider living with another unrelated adult – isn’t that something young people do?
Silvernest offers end-to-end home sharing services for homeowners that includes home listing, roommate matching, background screening, lease origination, and payment processing via a simple and secure online portal. These services take many of the worries and objections out of the home sharing decision.
Most of the women who decide to share a home initially do so to better manage their expenses. But they continue to do so because of the friendships and support from a peer. They discover that the initial awkwardness if offset by the benefits. The key is finding the best match and carefully covering the details at the outset. The issues most cited as problems include having friends over, pets, and overnight guests. Sites like Silvernest help uncover these issues upfront so that misunderstandings are as limited as possible.
For additional resources on the home sharing trend, look at these books
Sharing Housing: A Guidebook for Finding and Keeping Good Housemates, Annamarie Pluhar
My House, Our House: Living Far Better for Far Less in a Cooperative Household, Karen M. Bush, Jean McQuillin, Louise S. Machinist
Before you enter a home sharing arrangements, consider these tips from experts.
- Begin with the end in mind; plan for the end of the arrangement by spelling out the details.
- Background checks are important in understanding financial stability, criminal history, and rental experience. Also, have you:
- Checked their social media profiles?
- Asked for rental references? Asked specific questions about strengths and weaknesses?
- What is your need in having a roommate? Someone different from you or more like you? Do you have an expectation of the roommate situation? For example, if you are home working during the day, would you prefer someone who leaves for work?
- Everyone in the house should meet the potential roommate and roommates should meet everyone in the house – at least once. Try an initial interview and then perhaps a more social get together.
- Think about the shared, common spaces of the home – what will you be sharing, what is off-limits? Who is responsible for cleaning? How about kitchen sharing and cooking?
- Identify your non-starters: Smoking? Pets? Messiness? Sleep-over friends? Grandchildren visits?
- Be financially astute. Before you share keys, Wi-Fi codes, and alarm information, get all of your deposits paid in full.
- Check in regularly. Sit down after the first week and discuss how it is going and any changes you haven’t already discussed. Then continue doing that for the first few months so that issues don’t fester.
- Lean into the experience. The women who have the best experiences with roommates have enthusiasm for idea regardless of why they need to share.
Why shared housing?
According to the National Home Sharing Resource Center, home sharing is a simple idea: a homeowner offers accommodation to a home sharer in exchange for an agreed level of support in the form of financial exchange, assistance with household tasks, or both.
The community is also a beneficiary of Home Sharing. Shared living makes efficient use of existing housing stock, helps preserve the fabric of the neighborhood and, in certain cases, helps to lessen the need for costly chore/care services and long-term institutional care.
Featured Image: Bottom row L-R – Rue McClanahan as Blanche, Betty White as Rose, Top row L-R Beatrice Arthur as Dorothy, Estelle Getty as Sophia,
About the Author – Lori Bitter
President, The Business of Aging
Lori Bitter serves as publisher of GRAND. Her book, “The Grandparent Economy” was published in 2015. Her consulting company, The Business of Aging provides strategic consulting, research and product development for companies seeking to engage with mature consumers. Her favorite title is “Gigi” for grandsons Gabriel (on right) and Henry (on left).