Compatibility is important, but it’s not everything. Even if you’re friends with your soon-to-be roomie, follow these tips to ensure a happy home.
Although it has been decades since The Golden Girls went off the air, the interest in older adults becoming roommates is on the rise. The number of older adults sharing their homes with unrelated roommates grew by 88 percent from 2006 to 2016, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
Online roommate finder and apartment search platform Diggz — which operates in 25 cities across the U.S. and Canada — reports significant growth in adults over the age of 60 looking to live with others, according to the site’s founder and CEO, Rany Burstein. In cities like Phoenix, Denver, Atlanta, and New York City, as well as southern Florida, he says about 20 percent of Diggz users are over age 40 — and half of those are over 60.
Two benefits to having a roommate as an older adult, Burstein says, are cost savings and connections.
“Many older adults own their home, or rent larger apartments than they actually need, and have vacant rooms they could rent out to help reduce expenses,” Burstein says.
Not only does that help to lower your overall cost of living, but it can also give you meaningful daily social interactions — which, in turn, can be a boon for your health and happiness. The National Institute on Aging reports that social isolation and loneliness are connected to increased health risks for older adults, including cardiovascular disease, cognitive decline, and depression.
But how do you make sure you won’t be getting on each other’s nerves? Friendly compatibility goes a long way, but so does planning, well-articulated expectations, and the right documentation. Here are three strategies to consider.
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Tip #1: Have a Lease and Roommate Agreement
If you’re moving in together to an apartment or house that has a landlord, you’ll usually already have a lease to review. But if someone is moving into your home or you’re moving into theirs, it’s important to create a lease — even if you’re good friends, Burstein says. A lease outlines legal terms that make your arrangement clear.
In addition to having a legally binding lease, Burstein also recommends writing up a roommate agreement. This informal document sets up household rules you both agree to follow.
“For example, in this agreement, you can list which expenses each of the roommates will cover, when they will be paid, and how,” he says.
According to Collen Clark, attorney at Schmidt & Clark, LLP in Washington, D.C., other aspects of a roommate agreement can include:
- Daily and weekly chore responsibilities
- Quiet hours
- What happens if one of you becomes ill or disabled
- How utilities will be split
- Food sharing and grocery shopping expectations
- Use of common space
- Whether pets are allowed and what kind
- Guest policy
- Temperature expectations (this might seem minor, but it can be the source of major fights)
“With a roommate agreement, you’ll be able to avoid issues, or at the very least, resolve them more amicably,” Burstein adds.
If you’re not sure how to draft a lease or roommate agreement, Clark suggests getting a local lawyer familiar with landlord and tenant laws to help. You will have to pay an upfront cost, but it’s worth it to get clarity about your situation, Clark says.
Tip #2: Widen Your Age Range
Although you might prefer to be roommates with someone your own age, that doesn’t always have to be the case, Burstein says. In fact, about 60 million Americans currently live with adults of a different generation, according to the Pew Research Center. That’s a number that has quadrupled in the last 50 years, Pew reports.
Burstein has seen this trend in some of the recent pairings on Diggz. He says some older adults offer reduced rent to younger roommates who are willing to take on a heavier share of the yardwork, cleaning, or home maintenance duties.
Keep in mind these are roommates — not home health aides or personal assistants, he adds. So it’s not ideal to hand them a list of chores on move-in day. “Talk in advance about what type of tasks would be helpful, so everyone’s clear about the expectations ahead of time.”
Tip #3: Do a Background and Credit Check
If you’re moving in with a friend, it’s likely you have a grasp of their lifestyle, spending habits, and past challenges. However, with acquaintances or strangers, do a background and credit check before you sign a lease, says realtor Bill Bassett, founder of Maximum Real Estate Exposure in Massachusetts.
He also suggests asking for references that you can call, preferably from previous landlords or roommates, and proof of income so you know that they’ll be able to pay their rent and expenses.
There are online services that provide background checks, usually for a fee. With a little legwork, you can do background checks on your own. For example, ask them to pull their free credit report and provide a copy to you. The Chamber of Commerce has useful advice on conducting background checks on your own.
“You can never be too careful when you are sharing a space with someone you don’t know all that well,” he says. “The last thing you want is to be on the hook for all the bills if they disappear on you, for example.”
In general, the more work you can do before becoming roommates, the smoother the relationship will go. Set expectations, get to know the person first if they’re not already a friend, and remain open to different roommate options. These tips will help you reap the benefits of the arrangement, while keeping the drawbacks to a minimum.
Where to Start a Roommate Search
In addition to Diggz, other places older adults can go to for help finding roommates include:
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