Perhaps you are living on a fixed income and need some extra money to pay the bills. Maybe you need some help with daily chores. Or perhaps you simply yearn for companionship.
If any of those scenarios seems to fit, it might be time to consider a roommate: someone with whom to share your house -- and perhaps your life.
House-sharing among empty nesters, retirees and other aging adults certainly isn’t a new phenomenon. But with something like 10,000 people a day turning 65, it is definitely on the rise, says Wendi Burkhardt. She’s the co-founder and CEO of Silvernest, a Boulder, Colorado-based online matching service that helps seniors find compatible housemates.
Proof: In the 12 months since Silvernest’s launch, the service has signed up 10,000 clients, the majority of whom are 50 to 75 years old. The client list includes would-be landlords, who pay $29.99 to use the site for three months, as well as wannabe roomies, who pay the same amount to cover their application fee and the cost of various background checks.
People considering a roommate can use a matching service like Silvernest, or they can save a few bucks by going it alone. But be forewarned: Choosing someone to share your house with is much harder than picking out a ripe melon or the proper exterior paint.
Here are a few tips:
-- First, let your inner circle know about your roommate search. Even if you’re still pretty independent and your mental facilities are intact, it’s easy to be taken advantage of during this process.
”Make sure you tell others what you are doing,” advises Burkhardt. ”Vet your plan with your family, and trusted advisers, such as your attorney or accountant.”
-- Limit your search for a roommate to known sources, such as your circle of friends, your garden club or your church. The wider you cast your net, the more vulnerable you become to someone who might try to fleece you out of your money -- or maybe even your house.
-- Never, ever agree to interview a potential housemate alone or in your home. Bring along a family member or friend, and meet in a public place such as a coffee house.
-- Be picky. “You are going to share not just your space, but perhaps your life, so it’s important to find someone who is compatible,” says Burkhardt. “Be specific about what you’re looking for. If you are retired, you may want someone who works during the day and isn’t around all the time. Or it may be important that they’re tidy, share similar hobbies or keep the same hours as you.”
-- At the same time, keep an open mind. For example, multigenerational living situations have been shown to be highly successful. Don’t write off someone just because they are not what you initially had in mind.
-- Once you’ve settled on someone, run several background checks. Ask your favorite real estate agent to pull a credit report, which will tell you how this person handles their finances. And spend the money to search criminal records: You need to make sure you are not considering a sex offender or swindler.
-- If the person passes muster, it’s time to draw up a lease. Before you ask: “Yes, you positively, absolutely have to have a lease,” says Burkhardt. Even if your new roommate has been your dear friend for 30 years, or has been recommended by one of your children, you need a lease.
”Everyone who opens up their home to someone else needs to have legal protection.” she warns. “People are people. You never know what’s going to happen.”
What you put in the lease is up to you. You can start with a lease template from a stationery store and customize it to your heart’s content. Generally, though, it should contain a clause that outlines, in as much detail as possible, what you and your tenant expect from one another.
Rather than entering into a one-year lease right from the get-go, Burkhardt suggests starting with a three-month trial period. That way, you can get to know your housemate and determine if you really are compatible. If things turn out as you hoped, you can always extend the lease for a longer term.
As for a security deposit, some people ask for them, while others don’t. Again, it’s a personal preference. But Burkhardt thinks it’s always wise to obtain one. That way, you’re covered if your roomie causes any damage to your property.
-- If there is any rent involved, set up an automatic payment system in which the money is transferred into your account on the same day every month. Money is a messy thing, anyway, so a recurring system removes the hassle of collecting rent, and ensures you are paid in a timely manner.
-- Finally, make it easy to terminate the lease. Remember, life happens. Things don’t always work out as planned. Maybe you prove to be mismatched after all, or perhaps one or both of your situations change. Allow each party the option to end the relationship after a 30-day notice.
Above all, don’t allow a bad situation to fester until it becomes a full-blown legal dispute. If you decide to part ways, both sides should document the situation, have it reviewed by a legal professional and keep the signed agreement on file.