Some seniors have nice homes, but not a lot of ready cash. Others are renters, and not particularly comfortable with that regular money drain. And there are a few of us still living with the kids to get over a bad patch, without intending to make the arrangement permanent; they’ve got their lives to live, after all. Most of us left the idea of roommates behind when we left college – but now it has its attractions.

Rewards – and risks

For a homeowner, a roommate can help with finances in a couple of ways: the arrangement can provide extra income, and it can allow you to “barter” for services that you would have to pay for otherwise.  Services like a ride to the doctor now and then, and having someone to help with the shopping or the yard work. In effect, the roommate option lets seniors monetize what is probably their biggest asset – their home – without more drastic solutions involving a reverse mortgage or a home-equity line of credit.

The value of having a friendly soul in the house instead of an extra empty bedroom is very real, but hard to quantify; the alternative – paying someone to live with you as a companion – can prove very expensive, and oftentimes amount to very much the same thing. Of course, since few potential roommates will be trained caregivers, the roommate option works best for seniors who are still in reasonably good health. And we can’t ignore the risks inherent in having a stranger in the house – at our age the dangers could involve more than loud parties or dirty dishes in the sink.

Resources

There are several online services, some of which cater specifically to seniors, that can help evaluate prospective roommates. Even more interesting, however, is the “homesharing” concept. (No, not “Home Sharing.” That’s an iTunes app that lets you access content from several computers in the same house. Hasn’t penetrated into senior households much as yet, but give it time.)

Homesharing is designed for homeowners with a spare bedroom who are looking for help and companionship. The potential roommate brings time, energy, and perhaps cash to the transaction. Although in most cases the homeowner need not be a senior, many are, and the programs are administered by a variety of nonprofit organizations across the United States. Other countries aren’t as well served by administering agencies, but Homeshare International has programs in eight countries, including Canada, Australia and France.

Making it work

The nonprofit administrators are the key to the success of homesharing programs. They meet with participants, check references, and visit the home. They also help create a written contract that covers the transaction, and mediate if necessary. Setting up a relationship that can survive on its own involves some serious initial discussions with the participants. The homeowner must realize that since some of their important needs are being met they’re best off ignoring petty annoyances involved with housekeeping and personal habits. And the housemate must understand that no matter what, they’re a guest in someone else’s house and have agreed to a set of rules up front. Things work out best when both participants are willing to overlook small annoyances and work on effective communication.

Getting it in writing

A written contract or agreement is at the core of any successful homeshare. Nolo, the consumer-oriented legal firm known for its Nolo Press publications, says the document should spell out “all obligations, such as rent amount and due date, and hours and types of services to be provided. It also lists any restrictions, such as what hours guests are welcome, and whether smoking or pets are allowed. Every agreement should also spell out how much notice a participant should give before withdrawing from the program (30 days is typical). And it should include acceptable reasons for terminating the homeshare immediately, such as nonpayment of rent or failure to perform agreed-upon services.”

Regardless of our financial situations, seniors appreciate companionship and someone to share life’s daily tasks. Setting up a successful homeshare can be a win-win for everyone involved.