Dear Savvy Senior,
What can you tell me about senior home-sharing programs? Since my father passed away last year, my mom, who's 70, is interested in renting out a room in her house for some extra income and for the companionship. Is this a wise idea?
It could be a great idea if your mom has the space and can find the right housemate/renter.
Shared housing among older adults has gotten a lot of attention lately as more and more people are recognizing that they can use their home to get help with a variety of needs, such as generating income, getting help with household chores, and even finding some much needed companionship.
But home sharing isn't for everyone. Your mom needs to carefully consider the pros and cons of renting out a room in her house, and make a list of what she wants (and doesn't want) in a housemate/renter.
To help her sort this out, the National Shared Housing Resource Center offers a 16-page "Consumers Guide to Home Sharing" that provides a self-questionnaire to those considering renting their home, along with a list of renter's questions and important points to discuss, and a sample home-sharing lease agreement that lays out the details in writing. This guide costs $10 and can be ordered at nationalsharedhousing.org.
Finding a Renter
After going through the guide, if your mom wants to proceed in finding a renter, a good first step is to contact a home-sharing program in her area that matches adults who are looking for shared housing with older adults who are looking to rent.
These programs handle background checks and other screenings, and consider lifestyle criteria when making matches. They can also help her with the leasing agreement that the renter would sign that covers issues like smoking, pets, chores, overnight guests, use of common rooms, etc.
Most home-sharing programs are free to use or request a small donation. Others, however, may charge the homeowner and potential renter a fee for this service.
There are dozens of home-sharing programs throughout the U.S. You can find a list of at the National Shared Housing Resource Center website at nationalsharedhousing.org.
If you don't find a program that serves your area, you can also search for housemates through national resources like Let's Share Housing (letssharehousing.com), the Golden Girls Network (goldengirlsnetwork.com) and Roommates 4 Boomers (roommates4boomers.com). All of these programs offer national Web-based matching programs and charge membership fees that run anywhere between $30 and $39.
If you don't have any luck with the home-sharing programs, put a call in to your Area Agency on Aging (call the Eldercare Locator at 800-677-1116 for contact information) who may be able to offer assistance or refer you to local agencies or nonprofit organizations that offer shared housing help.
You can also check with the local senior or community center, church or temple that your mom attends to see if you can post an ad on their bulletin board or in their newsletter. Or, you can advertise in your local newspaper or online at roommates.com or craigslist.org.
If your mom finds someone on her own that she's interested in renting to, ask the prospective renter to fill out a "rental application" (see rentalleaseagreement.org to download and print one for free) and run a full tenant background check, and then call their references. Background checks can be ordered online through companies like starpointtenantscreening.com and screeningworks.com for a small fee.
Send your senior questions to: Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or visit SavvySenior.org. Jim Miller is a contributor to the NBC Today show and author of "The Savvy Senior" book.