Here is an innovative idea. Invest in shared housing. This is what Jude and her husband have done. They created a shared house with six bedrooms that they rent out as a house share. They do not live in the house. This can be a brilliant way to reap the benefits of shared housing, even though you know yourself and it’s not for you personally.
How It Started
It all started when Jude and her husband bought a house from family members. They renovated it and sold it and then needed to buy a similar property so as not to have to pay capital gains tax. This was done through an IRS code 1031. Though they weren’t interested in a new project they found a house that just spoke to them. They loved the layout.
It’s a six-bedroom ranch house with three bedrooms upstairs and three bedrooms downstairs. It has a ramp to the front door. There are three bathrooms, two kitchens, and two laundry rooms all on one floor, with a full basement with egress windows (large enough to use to leave the building in case of a fire). They considered setting it up as an assisted-living house and looked into what it would take in terms of renovation and what the regulations are. Deciding that the regs were more than they wanted to manage, they decided to create a home share house for five women ages fifty-five plus. The sixth bedroom is the guest room. There is a city ordinance that limits the number of unrelated people living in one house. They did renovate a bathroom to create a walk-in shower and put grab bars in the bathrooms.
Two women have been in the house since they started. Others have come and gone.
When A Vacancy Occurs
When a vacancy occurs, Jude advertises on craigslist, Silvernest, roommates.com and the local list serve, NextDoor. Of all of them, craigslist has been the most successful. She says, “It’s the go-to location.” She usually puts the phrase, “Women 55+” in the subject line of the advertisement. Because they are offering senior housing and there are shared bathrooms, it is legal to advertise for women specifically and doesn’t run into conflict with the Fair Housing anti-discrimination laws.
Jude receives the inquiries and talks to candidates on the telephone. She also meets with them in person somewhere public to assess the person. If she thinks the candidate might be a good match, she asks her to fill out a questionnaire she has devised. The questionnaire asks why the person wants to live in co-housing, what her personal schedules are like, what her pet peeves are, hobbies, and seeks to find out what she is like prior to the interview. The profile questionnaires of all the tenants and potential housemates are shared with the other residents before the interview takes place. That way, everyone can formulate good questions for the interview and get a feel for the person they’ll be living with.
She also runs a criminal and financial background check. “I’ve never had to turn anyone down because of a criminal record or credit issue. I do talk to them if the rent I’m asking is more than 30% of their income.” She has rejected candidates because it was clear that they wouldn’t fit in the house. There was one person who didn’t like to clean up after she ate and wanted a housemate to clean up after her if they traded for another chore. As Jude says, “That set-up was just not going to be good from the get-go. Some people just don’t read the ad well enough, like they have a pet and it clearly states that no pets are allowed.” It’s only after she has determined that the candidate can go forward that the candidate learns where the house is. This is a prudent security measure.
She also says, “My husband and I have installed keyless entry locks on all exterior doors. This is so that whenever someone moves out, we can change all the entry codes without expensive re-keying. The garage door code is also changed. By the way, all bedroom doors also have a keyed lock. Although not everyone locks her bedroom door when she leaves, this option is much appreciated.”
The Residents Decide
Jude has the residents interview the candidate and decide whether to offer her a place in the house. Jude is never present for this interview and thinks there’s an advantage for all if they manage the interview process on their own. She says, “I want them to make the decisions. I don’t want them to feel pressure at all. I want them to be happy and long-term.” If everyone agrees that the candidate is a yes, the new tenant is offered a six-month lease. This time period provides an out in case the arrangement isn’t working. At the fifth month, Jude inquires of all the residents if it is okay to renew the lease for the new person. She requires unanimous agreement to continue. There have been two occasions where she has not renewed a lease. But if the renter is okay, she will be offered a six or twelve month lease depending on what the renter wants.
The original household agreement was developed by Jude. She says, “I hand it off to them to let it work for them. It’s a dynamic document and I expect that it will change. The tenants have also initiated a ‘Good Things to Know ‘ sheet that includes the location of the fuse boxes, reminders of trash/recycle/compost pick-up days, location of fire extinguishers, main water shutoff, how to turn off the fire alarms, etc. These are documents that are revisited from time to time and I encourage the tenants to improve them.”
The residents are required to take care of the lawn, gardens and shovel the snow. Not all the women are physically able to do all these chores. As a result, there is more sharing, breaking down the tasks into more manageable pieces, and trade offs. Jude supplies the lawnmower, hedge trimmer, grass trimmer, sprinklers, hoses, shovels, rakes and other items needed to take care of the exterior of the house. She also requires that everyone have emergency contact information for each other.
The rent ranges from $640 to $815 and it includes $100 per resident to cover all utilities. If it ends up that utilities cost more than $500, Jude will let the residents know. Each resident pays a damage deposit equivalent to a months rent. Jude says, “I had to raise the rents this year as the leases expire: $15 to cover the 25% increase in property taxes and additional increases in utilities. Since I pay all the utilities, TV and internet, there’s not an interruption issue when tenants move out of who was paying which bill.”
Asked about managing furniture and such Jude says, “One of the surprises has been how little furniture some of the women have had. There is a large storage room which all the women share and there’s quite a bit of empty space. My husband and I were initially worried about what the tenants would do if 3 or 4 of them had dining sets. As it has consistently turned out, all but one has had to buy bedroom furniture and they have had to acquire most other furnishings as well. Lee and I happened to have had an extra patio set and a few other random pieces that the ladies are now using.”
Helping One Another
Jude has seen that the house has not evolved into the sort of relationships that some desire as depicted in the sitcom The Golden Girls. The current residents don’t eat together very often and have independent lives. However, they do support each other. For instance, when one had to be taken to the emergency room, her home-mate took her there and waited with her.
A Real Win/Win
When asked if the setup is working for them as an investment, Jude says, “Yes. It’s a real win-win. They have rent cheaper than they could get anywhere else. Its a super niche. Boomers are in need of housing that is affordable, nice and safe.”
This is such a smart idea and there are several elements that are worth emphasizing.
First, Jude takes responsibility for all the initial screening. In this way she makes sure that she is comfortable with who moves in, and it takes this piece of work away from those living in the house. But once the candidate passes the basic screening, she leaves the actual interviewing for household fit to those who live in the home. It is in these conversations that the groundwork is established for living together. This is really important. The group then takes responsibility for its own life together and making it work.
Second, the initial lease is only six months. This is both long enough to get past the honeymoon phase and short enough to remove someone who turns out to be an undesirable home-mate.
Third, Jude has created an initial interviewing guide with some twenty-five questions to aid in talking about the important aspects of sharing housing. She gives them guidance but lets them do it themselves.
Finally, there is the household agreement that is a dynamic document and maintained by everyone in the house.
All in all, the idea of investing in shared housing could be copied by others. Jude, in fact, is working on a book about her experience. Stay tuned, I’m sure we’ll have links to it when its done.
What do you think? Do you like this idea? What do you think would make it work or not work?
Learn more about the practical side of shared housing, and how to save money: Why the Rent Hike? , Lease or No Lease?
I have been doing the room mate/ renting rooms (4) + my room, since 2008. Each room has a lock. Shared bath with 1 other person. I don’t do women only. 10 years is a long time doing this. It’s not all smooth easy living as the story mentioned above. TV shows like the Golden Girls or Friends is very miss leading. Most folks just lock up in their rooms, and make a bee line to the front door. NO ONE makes a mess. So no one CLEANS. I have the house fully furnished. Kitchen is fully stocked. It’s stressing how things like kitchen towels or bath room rugs never get washed. I have in10 years become the maid/servant. Doing all the basic cleaning or it becomes so stained and destroyed. I have even LOWERED the RENT in agreement of doing just 1 thing per a week to help keep the house clean. One of them mentioned making a chart. The chart had only about 8 things on it. This FAILED the very first week with 3 of them. The 4th person comes to me on the 7th day around 8 PM and asked ” how do I wipe down the kitchen counters? ” If you allow smoking of any kind be ready for the burn holes and RISK of FIRES. I always had smoking outside still all the table cloths have burn holes, the out door carpet have burn holes. Someone dumped the ash tray right after putting out a smoke. This caught the trash can on fire. This is outside on the back deck. Or the drunk person who falls down the basement stairs. Or the person who attempted suicide by cutting his wrist. Again this is 10 yrs. I do back ground and credit checks. I talk before entering any agreement. You still NEVER KNOW really who is moving in. I have had people , GOOD PEOPLE stay here, the most common stay for folks is about a year to 2 years. It’s those lemons who wear you down. The LEGAL SYSTEM has not caught up to this room mate situations with the high cost of rentals and lack of housing. It’s takes around 6 weeks remove someone from the property. UNTIL they are out – that 1 person can make the whole house live in a NIGHTMARE. I’m 58 yrs old, a woman. Doing the up keep on the house and yard is getting harder. So I have been looking for solutions to my situation. My mortgage is lower than most 1 bed room apartments. I’m better off staying here. As the landlord/owner – I am really a NO BODY to everyone who lives here. I JOKE about dying in my bed room and no one would notice or care until it was time to pay rent OR a problem came up. On a web site Silvernest it mentioned community living. This is how I found this site. I’m searching on the HOW to make ” community living “? Where people CARE about each other. I take an interest in all the room mates. I catch them in passing, check in with how things are going for them. Even their health issues. Asking if they are happy here? Anything I can do better? This same interest isn’t a 2 way. Sharing meals, well as long as I’m cooking and doing the supplying, they come out of the wood work to eat. One room mate even invited his co-worker to join the dinner. These meals get costly. Most folks don’t make the same offer. To sit in the main room and watch cable/dish TV. Not a chance everyone want access to this in their bed rooms. This locking up in the rooms is not very welcoming to COMMUNITY house hold. Or they just want hulu and such on their laptops and computers. I’ll just need to keep search and learning. In hopes to make a community here at the house. I live with 4 people 24/7 365 days a year and it’s lonely.
I hope you’ll take our webinar. It sounds like you could use some help in learning HOW to interview people and select them. That’s what we are all about. As you say a bad housemate is a nightmare. There are lots of good people around – you have to learn how to find them.
I am so sorry you’re experiencing this! It’s not a positive atmosphere and home should be your sanctuary. I would love to live in your home and we’d probably become fast friends! I’m going to watch the webinar Annamarie suggests before I start my roommate search!
Best of luck and sending positive vibes your way,
This is such a great idea as an innovative property investment. Addressing the housing needs of women (and men) especially over the age of 55 is a growing phenomenon being met in so many different ways. What a great way to support a worthy cause, earn a reasonable income and be part of a growing social/economic movement.
Thank you for sharing this. Jude serves a very vulnerable population. Unless older women can move into designated senior housing, they are at the mercy of landlords who do not “root” for them. The women describd in the article are still active and basically independent. I like to see this concept merge with the French BABAYAGA house. There they really call the shots, and they commit to living in community into their old old age. All kinds of versions can be created…..
Muito intessante, tenho acompanhado o assunto sempre que vejo alguma noticia, e tambem feito algumas pesaquisas, tenho total interesse. Obrigado por compartilhar a sua experinecia, seus comentarios e muito bem vindo, para que possamos ter respostas para muitas perguntas sobre o tema. Bom final de semana. Roberto Sanchez / São Paulo / Brasil
Well thought out & a wonderful idea. Thanks for
Showing this to us. Looking forward to her book:
Maybe start of a small trend. I guess the location is in
A moderate climate……ie the low utility cost.
Jude must have good judgement & interview skills.
I am not surprised at the low intensity of ‘group