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Here are 3 things to consider before getting a roommate in retirement

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Being home alone is a retirement reality for many. According to government data, more than three in 10 women and two in 10 men at least age 65 live alone. For women, the odds of being solo increase with age, thanks in part to longer life expectancy; in 2018, 44% of women at least age 75 lived alone.

Anyone living alone — and who worries about having the retirement income they need to enjoy themselves — should at least consider having a roommate. Sure, it’s way outside the box, but before you dismiss the idea, consider how it might enhance your retirement. Here are three things to think about beforehand.

Living alone can be expensive

Even if you’ve polished off the mortgage, there’s still property tax to pay. In pricey markets, that’s likely going to eat a chunk of retirement income.

Or maybe you’ve got your eye on a retirement relocation, but your top choices seem out of reach. A $600,000 townhouse or $1,400 monthly rent might be more in reach if there’s someone to share costs with.

Been wishing you could move into a bustling city, where you can ditch the car and walk more? Maybe that becomes more realistic when the cost is shared.

Then there’s the potential payoff from having some company. Maybe that’s not front of mind now, but as you age, you may find your energy to go out to see friends and attend events slows a bit. Studies have shown that social isolation is a health risk — at any age — and it may also lead to an increased likelihood of developing dementia.

How to start the co-housing conversation

OK, the big hurdle is finding the right roommate. And that’s not easy, because this is a topic that isn’t exactly part of everyday conversations. But what do you have to lose by raising the issue?

If you need a nudge to put yourself “out there,” think of yourself as part of a very small, but growing segment of the population.

According to the Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard University, in the 10 years through 2016, the number of people sharing their home as roommates nearly doubled to 1 million.

With record numbers of baby boomers entering retirement in the coming years, and many without sufficient income to live comfortably, that trend is likely to continue.

Here are a few places to start your search:

  • Do you have friends or family who are also living alone, and that you could envision sharing a place with? Start with them.
  • And consider floating the idea among any communities you are involved with, be it a place of worship or your local NextDoor group.
  • Maybe frame it as an exploration. “I am interested in the possibility of sharing my home (a home) in retirement. It’s a big decision, but if you share the interest, might we start a conversation?”
  • Companies including SeniorHomeshares.com and Silvernest are in the business of connecting seniors looking for shared housing.
  • OddCouplesHousing.com works to connect older homeowners with younger adults looking to rent a room and, if agreed upon, handle some of the chores.

Hashing out the logistics

Work out as many kinks as possible before anyone makes a move. But if Gen Z and Millennials can hash out roommate agreements, why not you?

There’s no need to combine financial accounts. If one of you is paying the other, put in writing the date that a direct deposit will be made to your checking account each month. Or if you’re splitting housing costs, maybe set up a joint checking account to autopay all the bills, with an agreed-upon date each month for each of you to deposit funds.

Also put in writing exactly what costs will be shared. Are you going to shop and cook together or separately? Do you both agree on how often you want a housekeeper?

The biggest hurdle will be talking through how you might handle one of you becoming ill or in need of help with some basics of independent living. Don’t assume the other person will be the caregiver. You need to carefully discuss how that situation will be handled.

And most importantly, if you are moving into someone else’s home, you (and your adult kids) should know upfront how much time you will have to relocate if your roommate must move to a care facility or dies.

And if you’re going to buy a place together, it’s going to be smart to hash out the title long before you start shopping. Joint tenancy with right of survivorship makes it possible for the surviving roommate to stay put (though they must be able to handle the cost), while tenancy-in-common would enable the deceased’s heirs to push for being bought out or force a sale. Sitting down with an elder care attorney with experience dealing with estate planning for cohabitators is going to be worth the cost.