By Lois Bell
Sheridan Senior Center
SHERIDAN — The statistics have been around for years: women outlive men. With the children gone and the possibility of finding yourself living alone, downsizing to manageable living space is a reality. But the prospect of living alone — particularly if you have spent years with a flurry of activity around you — may not be very appealing. Why not consider buying a house with friends and moving in together?
According to an article in the June 2013 AARP Bulletin, Boston-based reporter Sally Abrahms reports the trend that female boomers and older women, both best friends and strangers, are moving in together as a way to save money and form a community. A website that facilitates connecting homeowners who are interested in such arrangements reports that 80 percent of their clientele are women. Another such website reports that 55 percent of its visitors are women over the age of 50.
“This is a timely topic,” Sheridan Planning and Development Director Robert Briggs said. “Sheridan’s population continues to age, making the need to consider alternative arrangements a growing reality.”
Benefits of living with new or old friends
Buying a house and living together helps to manage the cost of the mortgage payment, utility bills, maintenance and property taxes. Aside from economics, there are the benefits of companionship and social engagement. Household chores can be shared and homeowners feel safer with people around.
Customizing your arrangements
There is no universal pattern that fits for everyone. If you consider buying a house with friends or potential housemates, talk about the needs of each in advance of entering such an arrangement. Critical discussions should include visitors, room assignments, shared living expenses, shared refrigerator space and laundry “rules.”
Discussions need to include how much and when each resident pays into a joint account to cover the cost of maintenance, property taxes and utilities. Will everyone be responsible for their own groceries with maybe an arrangement for shared food or meals? How often do roommates want to dine together and what are the arrangements for sharing dining space? What are the rules for pets? Another important discussion to have is private space.
Although the pre-arrangements can seem overwhelming, the preparation time can also be a time of excitement building up to the actual purchase and move in to the shared house.
How does it work?
Enter buying a house together as a business partnership. Discuss your intentions with an attorney, an accountant and a financial planner before moving in together. And do not enter into such an arrangement without a written agreement. (See Do’s and Don’ts on this page).
Another important thing to consider is local zoning and residential occupancy laws. A call to your city hall or county commissioner’s office is essential on what housing regulations allow.
“Sheridan city code is pretty friendly to alternative living arrangements,” Briggs said. “Our zoning regulations allow for up to four unrelated people to live together in a single-family home or dwelling unit.”
Let’s be realistic. We all develop our routines and preferences over time. Entering into such an agreement will involve becoming accustomed to other’s habits and rituals. You will have to be patient and learn to compromise.
And, you need to develop an exit strategy if the arrangements aren’t working out.
“Experts say problems usually occur when areas of conflict — household chores, communal property, pets, cleanliness, temperature of the house, noise and guests — haven’t been addressed…” Abrahms said. The advice: be sure to address these issues before signing paperwork and moving in together.
Abrahms shares the story of Zoe Morrison who runs the house-sharing service Let’s Share Housing in Portland, Ore. Morrison moved out of one arrangement when a roommate’s lover moved in unannounced and another time when bills were higher than what she had been told they would be.
Another realistic preparation: what to do if and when health issues arise. If such considerations arise, then you need plans to move into arrangements that are suited for your support.
These plans should also be shared with your co-owners.
Do’s and Don’ts of considering a housemate
Before moving in, or accepting a housemate, consider the following:
• Make sure everyone in the house meets the prospective housemate before giving the go-ahead. Meet on Skype if long distance. Good chemistry is key!
• Decide how commons rooms will be used and cleaned, what possessions are shared or off-limits, and how chores will get done.
• In writing, spell out rules on smoking, overnight/day guests, how and when to pay bills and what happens if the home share fails. All should sign.
• Before house keys are distributed, make sure all money is paid (i.e. first month and last month, security deposit).
• Don’t pay, or accept, a security deposit in installments.
• Any pet peeves? Discuss!
• Share a meal after a week to see how the arrangement is working.
• Have an exit strategy, just in case.