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Live Comfortably - December 6, 2019

Roommate Wanted: Web-based Services Help Older Adults Build Community at Home

By Kristine Jepsen

Do you have fond memories of your college roommates or military bunkmates? Strong social connections aren’t just important for younger adults; they can also enhance your health and well-being as you age. Nearly one in three older Americans lives alone, and that number jumps to one in two for those beyond age 85, according to the current Merck Manual. Fortunately, Internet “matching” services are helping older adults stay in their homes, earn extra income and sometimes build intergenerational friendships.

How It Works

Homeowners who want to find roommates can apply to become hosts through websites that match people. These services pair homeowners with prospective renters, similar to a dating service. Examples include Silvernest.com (roommates age 50+), SeniorHomeshares.com (also specifically for older adults) and Nesterly.io (multi-generational home-sharing). 

To become a host, you’ll need to: 

  • Create an account online (if you need assistance, ask a librarian or a tech-savvy family member).
  • Describe the spaces available in your home. Is it a spare bedroom? A whole floor? Which living areas are shared, and which are private?
  • Determine how much to charge for rent and if you’re open to discounting that amount in exchange for help with chores such as yard work, cooking or cleaning.
  • In accordance with local laws, set parameters for the types of roommates you’ll consider—some people prefer a housemate of the same gender, for example.

While some matching sites are free, others charge a nominal monthly fee to maintain your listing and help you manage the rental relationship. Income calculators built into the process gauge the relative value of your rental offering in relation to its amenities and location. If you wish to compare several programs and incentives, review the resources at NationalSharedHousing.org.

Safety Is Key

New hosts often mention safety as a primary concern. Understandably, you want to be sure the person you’re welcoming into your home is someone you can trust Roommate-matching services offer background checks and verification of financial solvency to ensure prospective renters can pay on time, often as an automatic deposit. Other aspects that provide peace of mind may include home visits to help organize and photograph your space, as well as guidance in the pairing process.

SeniorHomeshares.com recommends that hosts:

  • Limit initial contact with prospective roommates to the service’s communication tools to protect your privacy.
  • Avoid sharing your home address too early.
  • Meet “matches” in a public place first and take a friend or family member with you, both for safety and for a second opinion.
  • Put agreements in writing, when the time comes. Your terms may include cost, services such as cleaning or shopping in exchange for reduced rent, and termination conditions.

Working Out the Details

Once you find a good match, the next step is to draw up a rental agreement. You can use templates and factor in legal advice provided by your service. Contracts may be month-to-month or for a longer period depending on your preference. 

Keep in mind that home-sharing often involves an older host welcoming a peer or younger person, but this isn’t always the case. Many young professionals, especially parents, welcome intergenerational, role-model roommates who can help with childcare, home upkeep and community engagement, according to Silvernest.com. The average age of Silvernest homeowners is 62, while renters are typically around 40. Whether you have spare rooms to fill or you’re open to moving in with others, “matching” services ensure you’ll be in good company.

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Kristine Jepsen is a writer and editor for literary journals online and in print, as well as a professional business counselor, Pilates and Oula! dance instructor, grant-writer, and brand content developer. Her work with Goodwin Living at Home centers on health and wellness along the aging continuum, covering topics as diverse as dating apps and financial scams. She lives on a farm in the Midwest with her horse-loving tween daughter and many four-legged friends, large and small.

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