Home Sharing: An Affordable Housing Solution for All Ages
by Marc Linn | March 10, 2019
A great affordable housing option for some people is home sharing. Home sharing can reduce housing costs, help with the work involved in maintaining a household, and lead to important connections and even lifelong friendships.
In this article, I’ll explain who might benefit from home sharing, how the advantages can work, and some of the tradeoffs involved and difficulties that can arise. I’ll also give you some suggestions about how to find your own home sharing situation.
Perhaps most importantly, I finish with a few suggestions for making the most of your home sharing experience: ways to find a really great home share partner/roommate (spoiler alert: the key is to be a great housemate!), how to keep your home share relationship working as well as possible, and some things to try when problems arise.
- What is Home Sharing?
- The “Home Provider”
- The “Home Seeker”
- Other Alternatives
- Benefits of home sharing?
- Benefits: Home Provider
- Benefits: Home Seeker
- Benefits: Home Provider and Home Seeker
- Keeping Your Home Share Working Well
- Beyond the Basics: Dealing with the “Wildcards”
- How to Find a Great Roommate
- How to Find a Home Share
- Happy Home Sharing!
The standard definition for “home sharing” is a living arrangement where two or more unrelated people share a home or apartment. In return for the living space, the home provider will receive rent, help around the house, or some combination of both from the home seeker. While this is certainly accurate, an understanding of how this kind of arrangement typically is created will also be useful as it highlights the differences in the roles the participants play.
The “Home Provider”
Home providers can be either home owners or renters who have one or more additional bedrooms available in their residence. A home provider is frequently an older person who decides to rent out an extra room in their home. You’ll find that “senior home share” is a popular search term to describe this situation.
Most of the time what the home provider will ask for in return from the home seeker will be rent, some help around the house, or some combination of both.
The terminology here may be somewhat misleading. The home provider may be “renting out an extra room,” but the goal of home sharing is usually just that — sharing the home. Every situation is different, but what seems to work well in most cases is for common areas in the home to be shared, with mutually agreed-upon private spaces for both parties.
This can be a terrific benefit for the home provider. Assuming they are able to find a compatible roommate (“Home Seeker”) and maintain a workable relationship, they are getting income and/or some assistance in return for sharing a portion of their home.
The “Home Seeker”
The person looking for a place to live is generally known as the “Home Seeker.” It is usually just one person, although I have heard of home shares in which a couple was able to move in.
There are generally no age restrictions on the home seeker, although some home sharing agencies will specialize, for example, in “senior home shares,” which tend to match seniors with each other. Sometimes two or three single moms will join forces and rent or even buy a place together.
Home sharing can work especially well when the home seeker is a college student. For the serious student, a place to live in a quiet home can be an excellent study environment.
Let’s compare this kind of arrangement with some of the other ways in which people wind up living together. The most obvious scenario, of course, is the family. A couple gets married, buys a home, and raises a family.
Another popular way in which people come to live together occurs when friends decide to become roommates. Sometimes one or more friends will move in with another; in other cases, the friends will look for a place and move in together.
The big difference with these more traditional shared housing arrangements compared to home sharing is the fact that these people — the family, the friends — knew each other before they decided to live together. While this by no means guarantees peace and harmony in the resulting living environment, the simple fact is that in most home sharing situations someone is inviting a stranger to move in and live with them.
Another important distinction between the home provider and the home seeker is the difference in urgency in their respective situations.
The home provider might be in a hurry to get some additional income or help with household chores. This help with chores can sometimes allow an older person to continue living in their home. But the point is this person already has a place to live. Most of the time, the decision to home share or not is at least relatively optional for the home provider.
But for the other half of the picture, the home seeker, it is a very different situation. This person needs a place to live. Maybe their present situation is stable for the time being, but it’s also possible that they are living in a motel, staying temporarily with friends, or even sleeping in their car.
Of the two, the home provider and the home seeker, it is safe to say that in most cases the home seeker is in a more urgent situation.
So what other alternatives do home providers and home seekers have?
It’s helpful to consider the alternatives available to the individuals who can be part of a home share. Due to their different situations, each party has significantly different options.
The home provider, usually a homeowner although occasionally a renter, has a place to live and has some extra space available. There may be financial circumstances, health issues, or other factors that create some urgency, but in terms of a place to live, the home provider is all set.
Someone in this situation has the choice of doing nothing, in which case they would forgo the potential income and/or assistance they could get by inviting someone to share their home. Alternatively, they can embark on the adventure known as home sharing and hopefully wind up with these additional benefits.
It is a different story entirely for the home seeker. This person is looking for a place to live. Depending on their present living situation, they may be in a hurry to find something. They have the same choices that most of us have when it comes to finding a place to live. Depending on their financial situation, they could buy a home, rent a house or apartment, or possibly live for a while in a motel or hotel room.
Most of the traditional choices available will involve setting up a new household, with all the expenses and logistics that this entails. The option of home sharing — moving into an existing home with the homeowner — is considerably simpler, at least as far as the mechanics are concerned.
What are the benefits of home sharing?
The benefits from home sharing can be significant, and they vary depending on whether you are the home provider or the home seeker. Financial benefits are generally the first thing people think of, but they are by no means the only thing a good home sharing situation has to offer. I’ll discuss the benefits as they are likely to apply to the home provider, the home seeker, and those that can apply equally to both.
Benefits: Home Provider
Every home share is unique: home providers decide whether they want cash payment, services, or a combination of the two in return for the space they provide a home seeker. The compensation they receive can be considered their benefit for sharing their home.
In the case of a provider that prefers a purely financial arrangement, meaning a rent payment with no services or help around the house required, an obvious question arises: how much?
In general, home sharing agencies encourage home providers to keep their rental requirements somewhat below comparable market rates.
Assuming the home provider is willing to be reasonable in their expectations, the resulting benefit to the home seeker can give the home provider some bargaining power in insisting on consistently fair treatment from the home seeker. I’ll cover the importance of home sharers getting along in more detail shortly.
Benefits: Home Seeker
Financial benefits – saving money – are high on the list of advantages for the home seeker as well. The cash outlay required of the home seeker will frequently be reduced in situations where the home provider will accept help around the house as partial compensation.
Even in cases where the rent is entirely monetary, the amounts charged by home providers have traditionally been significantly lower than comparable market prices. As I mentioned earlier, some home providers have become entranced by rising rents in their area, while home share agency personnel encourage them to remain as reasonable as possible.
Home sharing just might be one of those “well-kept secrets” for those needing to find affordable housing in one of our outrageously expensive big cities.
In addition to reduced monthly rent, another big advantage to the home seeker is the tradition of little or no security deposit required, at least in many home share situations. This is not a guarantee, as every situation is open to negotiation.
However, in situations where negotiation is allowed, this is an advantage compared to, for example, renting from a large apartment complex. Negotiation is generally just not part of the picture when dealing with corporations as opposed to individuals.
Since many home providers own their homes — in many cases homes they have lived in for many years — a home seeker moving into one of these homes has a good chance of winding up in a nice and quiet neighborhood. Home seekers sometimes end up living in an area they couldn’t afford otherwise might not be able to otherwise.
This can be especially helpful to the serious student. Chances are very good that the study environment in a quiet home will be more conducive to serious study than in, say, a noisy dorm room.
The “home sharing community” generally advises against making home sharing decisions under pressure or in a big hurry. “Haste makes waste” applies here, and many of the difficulties that have arisen have been the result of rushing the decision process.
But it’s also true that sometimes a person is under time pressure to move into a new location, such as someone accepting a new job. The home share has an advantage here for the home seeker when compared to moving into an apartment.
The home is well-established, utilities are in place, everything is ready to go. The home seeker may need to provide for Internet access or some kind of additional utility, but this is generally a minor task.
What about furniture? This can go either way. Often, a home share will be furnished, another time and money saving advantage for the home seeker.
However, for the home seeker who has their own furniture — and the home provider doesn’t have room for it or simply doesn’t want it brought into the home — this can present a bit of difficulty for the seeker who must either sell or store their extra furniture.
Benefits for Both the Home Provider and the Home Seeker
One important thing the home provider and home seeker have in common is possibly one of the biggest benefits of all: the opportunity to form a real connection and maybe even a genuine friendship with another person. This is something that people routinely say is an added benefit to home sharing. Many of these stories are documented online with new ones added on a regular basis.
For a wonderful compilation of about 20 home shares that have resulted in real connections between the people involved, take a look at this online magazine posted by a French agency. (Fortunately, it has been translated into English.)
There are many similar stories from home shares in the United States, but it seems that home sharing has become more widely accepted in other parts of the world, possibly due to the greater need to economize. I suspect that the same forces will create a similar result in the U.S. as affordable housing becomes harder to find.
The home sharing examples in the publication are all “multigenerational.” While not a requirement, this is a popular pattern for many home shares: an older person with space in their home shares the home with a younger person, frequently a student.
In a case like this, one possible benefit to the student would be potential connections made through the connection with the home provider. Admittedly, this would be somewhat of a special case, requiring similarity between the older person’s life experience and the younger person’s plans. Maybe if home sharing really becomes popular, this kind of thing could be part of the application process and could even be arranged intentionally in some cases.
These stories, and many others like them, demonstrate a vitally important aspect of home sharing, something that can help the relationship adapt to a variety of challenges and keep the partnership working: goodwill.
Mutual goodwill provides the best chance of creating the almost magical kind of relationship that lets people get along consistently while living together. Since this is the goal of home sharing, the next section will explore how goodwill can help deal with the inevitable challenges people face when they share a home.
Making It Work: Things You Can Do to Give Your Home Share the Best Chance of Success
The first things people usually ask when thinking about home sharing are, “What about my privacy?” and “What if we don’t get along?”
These are important concerns for both the home provider and the home seeker, although much of the time the home provider has the option of simply not home sharing. For home sharing to achieve its potential, it is important for all concerned to realize that home sharing can work, people’s privacy can be maintained, and the participants can get along so that everybody comes out ahead.
The first challenge is to “suspend disbelief” and recognize that even in our highly contentious world, in which it seems people look for ways to distrust and fear each other, home sharing can and does work quite well for many.
The question is not, “Does home sharing work?” The question is “Can home sharing work for you?” Many of the agencies throughout the country that match home providers with home seekers have learned quite a bit over the years about how to increase the likelihood of a match working out.
Here are a few of the basic principles they have discovered, in addition to a bit of my own hard-won understanding about dealing with the biggest “wildcard” of all — human nature in all its unpredictability.
Here are three things home share agencies recommend everyone do when looking for a home share partner:
- Take your time. The worst thing you can do is rush into an arrangement without taking enough time to make a good decision.
- Set up a trial, a short (probably no more than 30 days) time to test the arrangement. The person moving in (the home seeker) is advised to bring as little as possible, preferably a single suitcase, during this test session.
- Create a written agreement. After discussing everything that could possibly affect your ability to live together harmoniously — privacy, personal habits, and visitors just to name a few — both of you sign the agreement. This can be a great reference to use when disagreements and misunderstandings arise. Naturally this document can be modified from time to time when both parties agree.
Beyond the Basics: Dealing with the “Wildcards”
These are some of the main strategies home share agencies have worked out over the years. In most cases, when the people involved follow the recommendations, the resulting home shares tend to work out pretty well.
Do they work out 100% of the time? That would be nice, but unfortunately this is not the case. The “wildcard” here is the unfortunate fact that some people, while they may agree with everything in the written agreement and in fact have good intentions about following through, simply will not do so consistently.
I can’t prove it, but my guess is this uncertainty and the fact that some home sharing arrangements can work out badly is the reason many individuals — including many potential home providers — avoid home sharing even when they could genuinely benefit.
Some of life’s greatest joys come from our relationships with others. But it is also unfortunately true that others can bring unwanted turmoil into our lives as well. It’s easy to understand why some will choose to play it safe.
I don’t have a prescription for guaranteed harmony in a home share or any other kind of human relationship, and I would recommend staying far away from anyone who says they do. But I do have some suggestions that I think can increase your chances of making this kind of arrangement work.
The key is goodwill on both sides of the relationship. When both parties are genuinely committed to the well-being of each other as well as themselves, they are more likely to be willing to cooperate and work things out as well as possible.
This is not just a case of people being “nice,” either. People who are sharing the expenses, the work, and the benefits of a home — while keeping their housing as affordable as possible — are vital to each other’s well-being.
Good old self-interest can provide plenty of motivation to keep a situation like this working well.
But what about the “wildcards”? What about those individuals who sometimes will go against their own self-interest by harming a relationship that was in fact an essential part of their well-being? What can be done to avoid being caught up in this kind of drama?
To find a great roommate, you need to be a great roommate!
It isn’t always what people want to hear, but the secret is simple: to find a great roommate, you need to be a great roommate. You can’t control anyone’s behavior but your own, so why not start there?
If you are willing to really go out of your way to become a consistently fair, considerate, and communicative roommate, your chances of having a successful home share will increase significantly. Here are some of the reasons why:
- Like attracts like: When you are determined to be a great choice for someone to live with, others with similar attitudes will be drawn to you. Likewise, you will be better equipped to recognize these characteristics in others. We know quite a bit about each other before anyone says a word, demonstrated, for example, by that “gut feeling” we frequently have when we meet someone who we just know will end up being a lifelong friend or partner.
- You have excellent bargaining power when it comes to insisting on this kind of treatment in return. Everybody wants a great roommate.
- You become a rare breed! This kind of self-analysis and the objectivity it requires is somewhat unusual in our culture, since many of us prefer to avoid any kind of criticism. But objectivity, and the willingness to admit to sometimes being mistaken, are exactly the characteristics that can go a long way toward maintaining a peaceful household.
How to Find a Home Share
If you would like to try home sharing, all you have to do is figure out the best way to find the “other side” of your situation.
If you are a home provider, someone with a home and extra living space available, you need a home seeker. Conversely, a home seeker needs a home provider. Fortunately, there are several ways home providers and home seekers can find each other.
- The time-honored method of “asking around.” Everybody knows somebody, so you can start by simply asking people you know if they are aware of someone looking to share a home. An excellent way to increase the likelihood of this yielding results is to ask others in an organization you belong to: where you work, your church, or any other club or social group.
- Advertise. A classic example of this in the Internet era is to place a personal ad on Craigslist. Apparently, this works well for some people, although as we all know there is an element of risk so it’s always a good idea to be cautious.
- Home sharing agencies. Many cities and counties throughout the country provide some kind of home sharing services. Some are government-sponsored agencies, while others are non-profit and private agencies. The services they offer vary considerably.
In many cases they include interviewing, matching with potential home sharing partners, and providing help with the mechanics of setting everything up for your home share. In some cases, a fee is required although these are generally fairly reasonable.
To find out if there’s a home share agency in your area, check out the directory at the National Shared Housing Resource Center.
- Online home sharing services. Here are several websites that provide home sharing services, primarily consisting of the matching of home providers with home seekers. There are many more online, with new ones added frequently. I have not dealt with any of these; this is just a representative listing, not an endorsement.
Senior Homeshares: An online matching service specifically for older adults.
Roommates With Kids: An online roommate finder for single parents.
CoAbode: Home sharing for single mothers.
Silvernest: Service for matching empty nesters and baby boomers.
Conclusion: Happy Home Sharing!
If you try home sharing, I hope it works out well for you. It seems the financial benefits are usually what motivates newcomers — but many wind up finding the connections, the friendships to be the biggest benefit of all.
This was expressed perfectly in the below quote by one of the founders of Milagro, another shared housing format called “cohousing,” in which an entire community consists of private and common areas. (I think of this as “home sharing’s big brother,” a possible next step for those who really enjoy home sharing).
“Patricia DeWitt, the retired Realtor, explains it this way: ‘I have a pilot’s license. I’ve climbed Mount Kilimanjaro. I’ve parachuted. Living here has been the hardest thing to do—to learn to get along with people—and the most rewarding. If I was told I had to give up all but one of these experiences, I’d choose to keep Milagro.’”
— From “Rethinking the Commune,” by Barry Yeoman, AARP online
Many home sharers have expressed similar sentiments. If you try it, I hope you feel the same!
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