Is house-sharing the answer to fit, healthy seniors
(empty-nesters, singles, widows, widowers, married couples)
searching for the optimal living solution?
Do you remember Blanche, Dorothy, Rose and Sophia? We used to laugh our heads off at the antics and the adventures of The Golden Girls, the characters from the hugely popular hit TV comedy. I, for one, always said that when I “grew up”, I wanted to be a Golden Girl with my three bffs (best female friends). Well, perhaps that time draws nigh. With so many challenges like the cost of living soaring, inflation going through the roof and our retirement funds and pensions looking ever-more dismal, could a Golden Girl/Guy scenario/co-sharing/retired roomies be an answer for older women and men?
Senior house sharing is on the rise worldwide. It’s not actually a new concept to baby boomers, who are the generation who pioneered house-sharing when we were in our 20s when there was a vogue for communal living coupled with a desire for personal freedom and the need to break with convention! Remember the hippie commune, the “mess” in the then-Rhodesia!
Jenny is 63, and found herself alone after a very sad divorce later in life. She had the family home, but she had nowhere to go if she were to downsize her property. Other accommodation options were just too expensive. With the cost of living rising and rising, she was stuck between a rock and a hard place. Finding out that other single seniors were in the same position, she opened up her home to several seniors who also had limited financial resources for housing. Today, Jenny has a very successful house-sharing situation.
Research in the United States conducted by the Joint Centre for Housing Studies, shows that the number of 75 plussers living alone is set to double to 13.4 million in 2035. Women will make up nearly 75% of this group. If research were to be done in South Africa, it is likely that the results would be similar. Lesser in number, but similar.
What are the benefits to house-sharing?
Saving money all-round
Saving money on shared living expenses is a huge upside in senior house-sharing. Sharing will decrease your cost of living with savings on the rent/mortgage, groceries, utilities, transport and general living expenses. Your pension will go further. It is likely that house-sharing will give you access to a property and lifestyle that you might not otherwise be able to afford.
Loneliness, isolation and loss are side effects of ageing that can negatively impact seniors and can have physical, psychological, social, health and financial consequences. House-sharing provides one with companionship, friendship and emotional support. House-sharing can range from housemates who become friends and socialize regularly to house-sharing that is more of a landlord-tenant relationship. Even the latter will probably result in housemates getting together for a potluck meal relatively regularly. It’s comforting and just nice to know that someone else is in the house – someone has your back.
Health and Safety
Health and safety issues are mitigated. Your children and grandchildren will have peace of mind and be relieved that there will always be someone to hand if an accident happens or you fall or have a medical crisis. Not only can housemates help you through crises, they are around to notice possibly small physical, mental or emotional changes in their roomie. House-sharing is not necessarily an arrangement that can cope with significant illness or high care needs – this is a situation that needs to be discussed upfront as to how to deal with it, should it arise.
House-sharing means that roommates can share the errands, and team up when going to a show/movie/meal – think of the petrol that you could save! Having roommates makes independent living much more feasible and eliminates the hazards of living alone.
What makes a good senior housemate?
The most successful senior housemate is one who is flexible and willing to compromise. One needs to be able to stop issues in their tracks, insist on good communication, keep a positive attitude and commence house-sharing with a “this is going to work” mindset. Let’s face it – not everyone is easy to live with, and if you identify this trait within yourself, perhaps you should not consider this route at all. You don’t want to be asked to move out.
How to make it work
Each individual has their own bedroom. The communal areas are the lounge, the kitchen, the dining room, garden and patio. The owner of the property and the potential housemates need to agree on how they will live together and clarify their expectations with regard to kitchen use, meals, household duties, television/radio/internet use, privacy, guests, parking/garage space and utility payments and other expenses.
There are several things that an owner of a house needs to consider, before considering potential housemates. It is essential that a formal Homeshare Agreement be set up with rules being set in stone from the outset. A Homeshare Agreement will spell out all obligations, such as rent amount, due date and what type of services will be provided, whether pets are allowed etc. Don’t forget to check out the Ts and Cs of your Home Insurance Policy. A Home Sharing Do’s and Don’ts needs to be compiled – after all, this is your home. Contractual arrangements need to have an escape clause, in case things don’t work out. Every potential housemate needs to be evaluated, and background checks and credit checks done, especially as you have a long-term living arrangement in mind. And most importantly, don’t forget the common sense procedures that need to be adhered to when interviewing strangers as potential housemates (similar to online dating “rules”). When housemates are on board, it’s a good idea to schedule regular house meetings sweetened by coffee and cake!
House-sharing could well be the answer to fit, healthy, active and independent seniors who are battling on a fixed income and who are looking for safe, affordable housing and companionship. Seniors who are empty-nesters, single, widows or widowers could well find the optimal living solution.
Another alternative is co-living. Co-living has become the buzz word in Europe. The founders of places like “The Collective” are saying that these places not just for millennials – they are very suitable for the baby boomer generation, and could be used to house the growing population of senior citizens who just cannot afford the alternatives. An interesting thought is that co-living complexes, where residents share facilities, are an excellent idea in terms of dismantling social segregation, will make a huge difference in combatting the loneliness that seniors often experience and will start a whole new attitude with regard to ageing. Co-living means that the residents have small, serviced dormitory-style rooms, with an access to a wide range of communal facilities, and are safe and secure.