Is a Roommate the Answer to Your Retirement? Think Golden Girls

Category: Home and Garden

October 3, 2017 — A whole lot of Americans are about to face a crisis as they enter retirement. Three quarters of Americans between 55 and 64 have less than $30,000 saved, according to the AARP. About half of baby boomers are looking at a retirement that is powered only by their Social Security checks. Since Social Security was designed as a safety net, not a luxury retirement, those checks will not be not enough for a comfortable retirement. In past articles we talked about different ways to cope with a retirement income shortfall. In this installment we explore an option that might be your salvation, if you find yourself in a budget-challenged retirement.

Get a Housemate or Roommate!
About one third of baby boomers are single, which certainly makes it easier to think about having a roommate. Couples can usually make a shared living arrangement work too. Millennials and GenX types are blazing new roommate trails as they start their working careers, so there is no reason why boomers can’t do the same in their retirements.

On the plus side
Here are some of the advantages and disadvantages of having a housemate. Obviously even the best of situations requires that everyone work together to build harmony and reduce discord and misunderstandings.

– Shared expense. The big driver is of course saving money from sharing the rent and other housing costs. Your single biggest expense is housing. So why should you pay taxes, heat, cool, maintain, and handle all the other costs related to your home all by yourself. Sharing it two, three, or even more ways could have a huge impact on your ability to maintain a comfortable lifestyle.
– Share the work. Cleaning, cooking, shopping, and maintaining a home represent a major commitment in time and energy. So why not share that “cost” as well?

– Share the fun. People are normally social creatures. We like to be around others to share life, fun, and our troubles. With a third of us single, having a roommate around can be a comfort.
– Share security. As we age more bad things can happen. Think falling on the floor and not being able to get up. Or having some type of attack and there is no one around to check on you. Beyond social and economic benefits, roommates provide safety and security as well.

Of course there are negatives
– Privacy. With a shared home you now have someone else around you, possibly 24/7. Unless your home is very big you might find yourself watching TV and cooking and sharing your meals with someone who you might not know all that well.
– Annoyance. Unless you choose carefully you might find yourself as a housemate with someone you don’t like so well after a time. You might get on their nerves, and vice versa.
– Crimping your style. Perhaps you find a new romantic or platonic interest. A roommate can get in the way and reduce your flexibility, like if you want to entertain friends but not necessarily your housemate. Changed circumstances might mean you have to unwind your existing housing partnership.

Lori Martinek wrote an interesting article for nextavenue.or, “Retirement Roommates: Were the Right“. She has some good advice for being a roommate, such as remembering cooperation and respecting boundaries. She counsels that “Roommates are not surrogate spouses or friends. They are not caregivers, chauffeurs or home health providers. They are your partners in a living arrangement. Perspective is key.”

So how can you find a roommate/housemate
Fortunately this is a lot easier than it used to be, now that we have the Internet. There are all kinds of websites and services that can help with this. But before you go there, the old-fashioned way might be better.

Like the old days
– The devil you know. Pardon the expression, but the ideal roommate is usually someone you already know and like. A brother or sister that you know you get along with is ideal. Perhaps an old friend, or friend of a friend. Starting out with someone you are sympatico with is a huge plus. You might even end up much happier living with someone like that than living on your own. Finding a roommate with complementary skills is a plus.

– Online service for roommates. We have a single friend that used one of these services to find a place in Florida for the winter. It worked out great for him, he experienced a warm winter at a fraction of what his own place would have cost. Sites like,,, have easy to use interfaces that can help you find a suitable housemate. Of course, since you are going out on the world wide web, you do need to be careful.

– Your place or theirs? A lot depends on where you start out. If you are single and live in a place big enough to share, that might be ideal. You can expect a monthly check to reduce your cost of living, plus all the other advantages we mentioned. But if you are looking for housing, someone else’s home might be the place. A third option is to find your housemates, then go looking for a suitable home, ideally one that is set up for group living. Finally, you might choose some type of co-housing community where a lot of people live in individual small homes but share common facilities. Many of these have themes (see “Start Your Own Cohousing Community”).

– Even more adventurous. If you have a home and it is legal in your area you could make a living using services like to fill up your spare room. For some people having a steady parade of strangers in your house would be far from ideal. But for others the money and the social connections that come with this arrangement might be very positive.

When you live with another person caution is in order. You need to meet and be sure that you are comfortable with them. You should have references, a credit check, and possibly a background check. Obviously, you do not want to share a home with someone with a drug, alcohol, or gambling problem

Other tips
You should have an agreed upon set of rules and/or guidelines for how the arrangement will work. What will happen if either party decides to terminate the arrangement. These things should be thought out in advance.

Comments? Have you thought about sharing your retirement home with someone else? Please share your thoughts and experiences in the Comments section below.

For further reading:
Cohousing Communities Listed on Topretirements
Retirement Your Way: Cohousing Might Be Your AnswerSeven Out of the Box Ideas for Surviving a Retirement Income Shortfall

Posted by Admin on October 2nd, 2017


  1. Another good site is the National Shared Housing Resource Center:

    From their site:

    “Home Sharing is a simple idea: a homeowner offers accommodation to a homesharer in exchange for an agreed level of support in the form of financial exchange, assistance with household tasks, or both.

    The community is also a beneficiary of Home Sharing. Shared living makes efficient use of existing housing stock, helps preserve the fabric of the neighborhood and, in certain cases, helps to lessen the need for costly chore/care services and long term institutional care.

    A home sharer might be a senior citizen, a person with disabilities, a working professional, someone at-risk of homelessness, a single parent, or simply a person wishing to share his or her life and home with others. For these people, shared housing offers companionship, affordable housing, security, mutual support and much more.

    Home Sharing programs can offer a more secure alternative to other roommate options. Many programs have staff who are trained to carefully screen each program applicant through interviewing, background checking, and personal references.”

    Jan Cullinane, author, The Single Woman’s Guide to Retirement (AARP/Wiley)

    by Jan Cullinane — October 3, 2017

  2. Possibly do a background check? Are you kidding? I wouldn’t hire a dog sitter without conducting one, much less open up my home to a total stranger. This is a terrible idea, fraught with risks that range anywhere from losing your sanity, to your possessions, your money, and even your life. My advice is if you find yourself in this position, move to a cheap part of the country, set yourself up in a place you can afford, and start making friends. If after a time you’ve gotten to know someone, and you trust them, then by all means move in together. But there are a lot of bad people out there who are looking to take advantage of the lonely and the vulnerable. You are more likely to become a victim if you set yourself up to be victimized. Remember, your life isn’t a sit-com and the Golden Girls wasn’t real.

    by Alice — October 3, 2017

  3. For me, living with someone other than my husband would be a horror show. I was an only child and used to my solitude and had no children so have led a quiet life besides my barky dogs. Some people who were brought up in big families might be able to adjust to this type of living arrangement. People, including myself, have a lot of annoying habits that could make living together impossible! I am with Alice, downsize and find a cheaper place to live. If you are low income, there are programs to help with rent, heat and food stamps. There are food banks too.

    Not only would you have to live with this stranger or friend but then a parade of their friends or relatives visiting. NOPE not for me!

    by louise — October 3, 2017

  4. I actually knew two retired school teachers that this worked for them. Neither had husbands, or children but enjoyed the same interests. This could work with single people of the same interests and backgrounds if they have known each other for a long time. A person would also have to consider things, like closet space, private bathrooms, cooking arrangements, cable and phone access in your bedroom, etc. Personally I would downsize to a Hi Rise for seniors before moving someone in with me.

    by William DeyErmand — October 3, 2017

  5. W. DeyErmand, I agree, for some people this is doable. I can see a brother and a sister, a sister and a sister, a brother and a brother, best friends, boyfriend and girlfriend. However, as much as I love one of my bestfriends she is very set in her ways. I am with you, I would find alternative housing options before having someone move in with me! I can also see if you have a cottage on your property where you can rent it to someone who doesn’t live in your house. Or possibly if you can figure a way to have a separate apartment within your home where you live separately and not share common areas. NOPE, absolutely not for me! I hope I never have to consider it. But great for those who would enjoy it.

    A friend of mine told me when he was a kid his father died and his mother was left to raise 6 boys. She was a very smart woman and bought this former veterinarian building. It had about 5 examination rooms and she converted them to rental rooms. I believe he said the renters had to share a common bathroom. She rented to college kids because they were in a college town. She was able to support her kids from the rent she got. Food for thought!

    by louise — October 3, 2017

  6. This would only work if I already knew the person well. I agree with Alice, particularly in this day! I would do some serious downsizing and move to a studio apt that was my own rather than live with a stranger. We have some lovely retirement apartments for seniors here. It’s not assisted living. I know several seniors that live there very modestly and love it. Let’s face people get pretty set in their ways and handling a new roommate is likely to lead to trouble and end up costing more money. Good luck getting them out of you no longer want them living there. Also there are definitely people that prey on people that are lonely.

    by Kate — October 4, 2017

  7. Kate: Where do you live and what is the name of the retirement apartments for seniors? Thanks.

    by judy — October 4, 2017

  8. I am also an only child with no children and no pets and I live a quiet country life so I am used to peace and quiet and having my own space. Roomates are a very bad idea. I lived with several bad and psycho roommates in Boston for 5 years when I was in my 20s. Now I live happily with my husband and will never live with roommates ever again. It is smarter to move to a safe low cost area and rent or buy a smaller space than to have roommates who will have money, drug, or personal problems and steal or be inconsiderate. Peace of mind is very important. Even my closest friends are very set in their ways and are not flexible as am I. I was overly acccommodating in my 20s so my roommates took advantage of my sweet nature. But now I am set in my ways and have zero tolerance for rude, inconsiderate, crazy roommates who invite their friends and relatives over and disturb my piece of mind.

    by Jasmine — October 4, 2017

  9. My roommate and I are in our 50s and have been roomies for nearly 30 years. Neither of us ever got married and have worked very hard at being roomies. We were introduced to each other by a mutual friend at church and it has worked out well. We had some ups and downs at the beginning when we were first learning how to live together, but we weathered those storms and now we are starting to look at retirement. There is no one else I would rather retire with and she has become my best friend and vice versa. Finding the right roommate is no different at an older age as it is at a younger age. You need to find someone you like to spend time with. We view our situation as a marriage without the “fun stuff” ;o))) I can understand how people who have been married for a long time might be a bit put off at the thought of a roommate, but if you are now alone, lonely and struggling with finances, then I can think of no better way of living. You might be surprised that you are able to find and make a new best friend for the latter years of your life. My roomie and I have two separate bedrooms and our own bathrooms so we don’t have to share. We split bills 50/50. If you are open to new adventures and friendships, then this might be something to consider. Don’t simply write it off because you are “set in your ways”. Maybe it’s time to let go a little and try something new. You might be surprised at what is out there.

    by Theresa — October 4, 2017

  10. I have lived with multiple roommates throughout my life. The best fit for me were male international graduate students from the university where I attended. They were very interesting, and they did not shirk their finances and helped to keep the house clean. They were quiet, were in class or studying, and they did their own cooking and cleaned up after themselves. They were grateful. They did not want to get kicked out of the house, so they made a special effort to follow my rules. I have dogs, and my dogs were great at weeding out the ones that would not work for us. Also, they were vetted by the university and through the feds for coming into the country as students. I lived with students from Ireland, China, Taiwan, Japan, and Spain. I also lived with Native American graduate students that were just as good as those from overseas. I found that these students mainly came from cultures that value the elderly, the wisdom and knowledge bases that seniors have. I never felt disrespected (they would be OUT if I had), and actually became good friends with a couple of the students. We stay in touch, even after almost 20 years of not living together. The longest they stayed is 2 years, and then a new roommate came into my life. I will do this again when I retire.

    by Elaine — October 4, 2017

  11. Does anyone know the legalities behind something like this, such as what you can and can’t ask someone who is basically going to rent out a portion of your house? What about evicting them, is this even possible? What about if they arrive with a truckload of guns? How would you feel about that, even though they are perfectly legal? Folks, I am the first to admit that I see danger where others see none. On the other hand, I’m never the one who needs bailing out of bad situations that are largely of their own making. My advice is to play it safe with all your decisions, especially at this time of your life when you may not live long enough to recover from your whooper mistakes.

    by Alice — October 5, 2017

  12. Alice – you can write up a lease that stipulates your house rules. Just because something is legal in your area doesn’t mean that you must permit the behavior in your home.

    Rules about weapons, alcohol abuse, repeated entanglements with the police, smoking, pets, overnight guests and so forth can be spelled out in the lease. There are lots of samples on the Internet – and if you have a lawyer friend, you can ask for a hand.

    by JCarol — October 5, 2017

  13. It is a shame that there is not a national database that specializes in Retiree Housing communities, apartments as well as housing available, AND including those houses owned by retirees that would like to stay in their homes by renting extra rooms or basement apartments out to other retirees. A national clearinghouse with this information, and a non-profit roommate matching service that could be added for a fee to both seekers and offerers, would be a wonderful addition to balancing the need for cheap safe housing with those needing it.

    As a single, I have been living in shared housing since moving to the Washington DC area in the late 1980’s, but spent my first 5 years here trying to live in awful apartment complexes that were 2 times more expensive as I could afford, noisy, full of drugs and noise, and went up in cost annually because they were becoming filled with large groups of homeless illegal immigrants who were able to get away with keeping “extended families” of 10-20 people in one 2 bedroom apartment, each “tenant” paying $50- $100/month to share in rent costs. The market in DC will easily bear whatever the owners want to charge. I, too, had sworn when young and just starting out that I would never stoop to having to live with roommates, but it only took me those 5 years of living in apartments (moving twice) to learn that these things are often dictated by necessity and not by choice. The economics of living as a young single with no back-up safety net, on contract work at rates and jobs reset every 3 years by those at the top paying for their yachts and Potomac mansions, and who are severely limiting the portions of their contract receipts that they will pay their workers, results in a phenomenon where people gain by living symbiotically. And because of the diversity here, everyone can find the perfect most comfortable place to live for the duration of their stay. Most places advertising house-shares are offering housing for professionals with other professionals. When everyone gives personal space to the others and minds their own business everyone can live in reasonable harmony.
    I do not regret switching from apartment living to a house-shared roommate type lifestyle. Of course, there needs to be an effort to gain the basic knowledge of who the future roommates will be before you move in, meet before hand and offer to compare lifestyles, and share with honesty what you expect from them and get what they will expect from you. Make sure it is all written in the lease contract.
    In large expensive metropolitan areas, there is no stigma against having renters sharing your house or apartment. For those without partners or family to live with locally and cheaply, and for those who don’t have wealthy parents who have turned over their life’s savings to the kid to live on, roommates are the only way to go.
    If each party talks about their needs and expectations, the seeker of housing can make an informed choice of whether to move in or keep looking. A coworker of mine went through 2 shared living situations within a year because neither she nor the offerers were up front about what they wanted. The housing laws prohibit discrimination, so the offerers, who were Muslims in this situation, could not advertise that they only wanted to rent to other Muslims. The young woman, an Afro-American, who was needing the room, was employed but temporarily homeless, and she was not aware of the extent to which their religious practices would be so vastly different, in that to share facilities such as bathrooms, kitchens and washer/dryer facilities in a Muslim household, you would need to be a Muslim also. She was a Christian. She had to move out soon after moving in to these houses due to the resulting psychological stress of trying to stay there permanently without use of the kitchen, washer/drier/and bathroom. Any roommate matching service could have prevented this situation from happening.
    If one checks the internet senior apartment websites, they are all posting apartments that cater to the elderly needing long term care. No one who is still healthy is going to spend their entire life’s savings in a couple of years to move into a commercial retirement home that in the next economic downturn or political upheaval in Washington could go belly up before one gets to live out one’s entire life there, maybe eventually needing the offered levels of care and being left penniless and homeless due to circumstances beyond one’s control.
    There are nice places in nice small towns that offer nice inexpensive apartments available for seniors still living on their own, but these are not openly advertised anywhere–you have to have a friend living there to find out about them, or move to the area and learn of them by local grapevine. That is impossible to do unless you are living there.
    It is these nice places at VERY reasonable costs in low-crime areas that many of us are seeking, and there is currently no national way to dig for the information!

    by Khem — October 13, 2017

  14. Check out thbe below website as they have not only senior, but military, affordable, luxury & single family rentals My wife and I pay for my Mom to live in the Lexington, KY senior residences but they have complexes all over the country (concentrated mostly in red states). These are NOT section 8 units and most have only been around 10 years or less. Very nice amenities and cheap and located in good areas not the ghetto. My Mom’s apartment is 3 blocks from my house so she gets the benefit of living in a $350K-$800K neighbohood but only pays $637 per month for a 2 bed/1 bath unit built in 2012 with all appliances included (frig, microwave, clothes washer/dryer, oven). The sewer, trash, pest control and full time maintenance and property manager also. The units are 2 story with large elevator and security code only access to the atrium entrance. They have a media room, gym, internet room and games room so the residents will stay active and mingle. The Miller Valentine Group properties are stringently vetted to keep out the riff-raff. No one can live in the unit except the lease holders. You must be 55 or over, no kids/grandkids or boyfriends can live with you so only singles (mostly women) and some married couples but no baby daddies, felons, bad credit scores, etc.. They keep the prices low and the quality high because the residents are top notch.

    by dan — October 14, 2017

  15. It’s also surprising to me that more baby boomers aren’t jumping on the opportunity for co-housing/roommates. We are trying to stay in our home; we remodeled our basement into a lovely 900 square foot apartment with its own kitchenette and are renting that out.

    We live in the Winchester, VA area, and a few of our friends are now doing the same. Our houses are too big for just 2 people to use all the space. It is a waste of money not to utilize the space.

    by liz — October 14, 2017

  16. Liz, your optimism on your new venture renting out a unit in your house is inspiring. However, until you run into some bad renters you will see why people choose not to put themselves thru it. You might get lucky and have perfect tenants but I have heard nightmares of people who do damage to the unit, holes punched in the walls, drugs, marital scream fests, children screaming, loud music, animals that bark, garbage not taken out, non payment of rent, etc. It is hard to evict people even when they are doing things you don’t like. Good luck but it isn’t for everyone.

    by louise — October 15, 2017

  17. To Louise:

    We’ve been doing this for over 2 years now with great success. The unit we have can only accommodate one person and we do not allow pets, so we avoid family and children issues, as well as pet issues. We rent without a lease – month to month – with the understanding that either party can cancel the arrangement with a 30-day notice.

    In 2+ years, we have had 3 people in our unit with absolutely NO problems. I agree, however, that some may not be as lucky as we have been. Still, a good credit check, references, and job verification go a long way.

    by Liz — October 15, 2017

  18. Thank you Dan for this information. It is exactly the type of thing I will try to find when I decide to leave the Washington area.
    And thanks, Liz, for the info about the Winchester area. I have been checking on apartments there for the last couple of years as I have several friends that have moved out there and love it, but Winchester and Southern West Virginia are both filling up rapidly with all the folks fleeing the disintegrating sanctuary cities of Fairfax and Arlington, and these have driven up the rental prices to the same levels as are now in the DC Metro area all the way down to Charlottesville. I am looking at areas in Southern to middle Virginia as well as Tennessee, as I want to return to the mountains and be somewhere where hiking is available along with reliable high speed internet.

    by Khem — October 15, 2017

  19. I have found that as with most of life’s interpersonal arrangements, a successful roommate experience is 95% preparation and attitude. Desperation and short time windows never improve the odds of success.

    Potential roommates and landlords obviously need to keep their eyes and ears wide open during searches. Talk less, listen more. The interview is the opportunity to learn the other person’s life patterns and to figure out whether they’ll harmonize well with one’s own.

    It’s quite bizarre that Khem’s Christian friend didn’t research deeply religious Muslim households prior to moving in with them, and that the homeowners themselves didn’t lay out their religious laws and living expectations during the interview process. That living arrangement was a recipe for failure.

    As a young adult in the 1970s, roommate living was my age group’s norm in Los Angeles. Over the course of ten years I had a total of nine roommates, most of whom were great matches, and I either split from or worked it out with the couple who weren’t. It didn’t dawn on us to be bitter or angry about the economic situation that made roommates necessary. It was what it was.

    If tomorrow I found myself needing to live with someone new in order to keep a roof over my head, I’m absolutely confident that I could find a way to make it work. Now that I think about it, I’ve had a roommate (my husband) for 40 years. During that time we added three little roommates, had stints with eight foreign exchange students, and numerous non-human creatures of various sorts. It wasn’t always easy to harmonize so many different personalities, but with cooperation and compromise we found ways through the rough patches and our lives were enriched by the experience.

    Liz, good for you. If my hubby and I your housing configuration, we’d likely also rent out the extra quarters. I rather like having other humans around.

    by JCarol — October 16, 2017

  20. JCarol…well said!

    by Staceky — October 17, 2017

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