What comes to mind when you hear the term 'homesharing'?
Do you think of hosting a foreign exchange student? Two couples buying a home in a pricey urban setting that they could only afford by pooling their resources? Going in on a vacation home with friends? Maybe your own Airbnb arrangement? Perhaps a way for aging homeowners to hang onto their independence while also earning some money?
These kinds of homesharing is fast becoming a communal housing trend that presents opportunity for would-be landlords as well as those seeking affordable housing.
Aging baby boomers, today's mobile world and a competitive rental market have converged to form the perfect setting for a resurgence of homesharing, a practice which got its start in the U.S. in the 1970s.
The latest region to revive the trend, Napa Valley, is even capitalizing on modern tenant screening services to make sure homesharing roommates are compatible. Think 'Match.com' for prospective homeshare roommates.
How is it different from just leasing out a room?
Part of it may be renting out home space to someone who probably couldn't afford a place of their own – but with much more than rent, deposit and fees changing hands.
Homesharing agreements typically require tenants to pay rent but also participate as part of the household. Beyond money, homesharers are expected to contribute some household chores, run errands, perhaps even help care for children. Agreements outline which of those activities subsidize partial rent payments. That's why programs often appeal to aging homeowners who want to continue to live in their homes but can't quite manage without help from younger adults. In those situations, the typical tenant is a working professional or college/graduate student, or perhaps a young family.
Unlike Airbnb rentals that are typically sought by vacationers, homesharing is for longer terms, possibly for years. The homeowner is part host and part roommate and sometimes older, although some of the aforementioned boomers aren't waiting until they need a roommate to help with chores. Many homeowners who are single or divorced are embracing homesharing as a perfect arrangement because they want companionship as they age, beyond the extra money. Or maybe they just hate doing dishes.
But homesharing is not only older homeowners seeking help from younger tenants. Among Americans of all ages, there is a growing trend of semi-communal living, where several couples join forces to afford a larger home in a better neighborhood and school district. Nor do the advantages stop with money; they share chores and childrearing responsibilities, reduce the number of cars needed and otherwise live a higher quality of life than they could afford on their own. In the best such cases, participants are close friends who don’t have to go far when they want to have a wine tasting, and don’t need to scramble last minute for a babysitter when a couple wants to step out for a date.
It's also increasingly common for large families or groups of friends to buy a vacation home as their own private timeshare. Perhaps usage rotates, or for part of the year the owners may decide to use it as a vacation rental property to cover some of the expenses.
Where do I connect with a homeshare roommate?
According to the UK-based Homeshare International, homesharing usually comes together in one of three ways:
- A counseling service coordinates the match and supplies ongoing support for the pairing.
- A referral service brings a pair together but has no role in setting up the arrangement.
- Participants find one another on their own and work out homesharing terms with no outside help.
Each of the few dozen registered homesharing programs in the US operates a little differently.
Through the new Home Sharing Match-Up Program in Napa Valley, a homeowner and home seeker are paired after a comprehensive evaluation. Each must fill out extensive questionnaires that probe their commitment and needs in a homesharing arrangement. Services that will be part of a homeowner's compensation are clearly detailed.
Alternatively, Homeshare Vermont is more hands-off. That service is only for providers looking for tenants who will pay rent and aren't expected to do specific chores. The program restricts how much homeowners can charge tenants. “Our program allows you to charge up to $400/month, but the less it is the more potential candidates we’ll have for you,” Homeshare Vermont notes.
For senior homeowners who could be vulnerable to an unscrupulous tenant, a program like the Napa Valley Match-Up is ideal. Hosts get to conduct their own interview with their potential new roommate, but Match-Up does criminal and credit background checks as well as probes personal references.
For the more independent boomers, the National Shared Housing Resource Center could be a great place to start. The information clearinghouse doesn't supervise pairings, but lists dozens of homesharing programs across the country.
Some homesharing services are run by non-profit agencies and are offered for free. Others charge a fee, like the aptly-named Golden Girls Network based in Bowie, Md., which charges $39 for a six-month membership.
If you track down your own home provider or home seeker, first make sure your community's zoning laws permit homeowners to rent rooms to unrelated persons.
What are my responsibilities?
The best homesharing agreements clearly explain each participant's role. Compromise is important, but no party should feel as if they are being taken advantage of. The aim is to enrich life for all participants.
Of course, like every other rental agreement, plenty can go wrong. Homeowners must protect themselves with a comprehensive lease agreement and must be prepared to take steps to evict a tenant who violates terms of that lease.
That's why rules on everything from overnight guests, to pets, smoking, and who gets to park in the garage and who will park in the driveway must be agreed upon and written into the lease agreement.
If you're the tenant, you'll pay rent and probably help with some household duties, even if it's just cleaning up after yourself in a communal areas like the kitchen, living room and laundry room. Homesharing leases frequently spell out how each room in a home will be shared (or not shared), so read every word before you sign.
If you're the homeowner, you're not off the hook with chores. In fact, you could be expected to commit to doing them on a regular, rotating basis with your new roommate. Prepare for less privacy than you have living alone, but don't hesitate to note in your lease which areas of your home – such as your bedroom – are off limits to your tenant.
Finally, connect with other homesharers to swap tips on maximizing the arrangement. You may find you have a lot of good things to say. According to Homeshare International, the practice builds the self-esteem of elderly homeowners by showing them they still have an important role in their community. And their more youthful tenants gain from the wisdom and experience of their senior roommates, and a more affordable place to live.