by Ken Dychtwald

In What Retirees Want, we cover the wide range of location and housing options available to today’s retirees. One of their challenges is setting up living arrangements that provide for their assistance as needed. Many retirees live alone, but an old-fashioned arrangement, particularly for women, is growing in popularity.

Roommates: A Cross Between Golden Girls and Friends

The Golden Girls was more than an acclaimed American sitcom of the late ’80s and early ’90s. The premise – four older women sharing a home, one of whom was the parent of another – was a harbinger of the future. A few years later, Friends not only introduced us to Jennifer Anniston, Courtney Cox, and Matt LeBlanc (among others), it also made it cool to share a residence with your buds. Living with roommates is hardly a new idea, but one gaining in popularity. As more older retirees live alone, many in houses they own, having roommates can make enormous sense socially, financially, and pragmatically.

People aged 50 and over are now the fastest growing demographic on SpareRoom, an apartment-sharing service that helps roommates find each other via online ads and in-person meet ups. Other home-sharing matching services focus specifically on older adults. Silvernest has seen rapid growth since launching in 2015, expanding to all 50 states, growing its annual signup rate by 150 percent, and making nearly 40,000 qualified matches in its first three years.

Like some did decades ago with live-in nannies and au pairs to help with raising their kids, Boomers are now experimenting with providing low or no rent to younger individuals who are willing to help around the house or with caregiving responsibilities. For example, ALA’s Shared Housing program matches two or more unrelated people to share a home in exchange for rent or services such as cleaning or cooking. The arrangements are especially popular in cities like Los Angeles, where there is a shortage of affordable housing. The average age of ALA housing providers is 75.

In Germany, the “Living for Help” association matches students on a budget with older people who have room to spare. The students provide some household help as part of the arrangement, and young and old enjoy the company. Similarly, the university town of Porto, Portugal, has a program that helps students find affordable housing while combating loneliness and isolation among older residents. And at the Humanitas retirement home in Deventer, Netherlands, university students live rent-free in exchange for spending at least 30 hours a month acting as “good neighbors” to residents by doing simple activities together and providing company when older residents are ill. These arrangements look like a win-win all around.

Louise Bardswich was in her 50s looking for a care facility for her mother when she decided that she personally wanted to take a different course: “I recognized that at some stage I was going to be living with other people, probably because at some point I would become infirm enough that my family said, we’ve got to move you in with somebody else.” Bardswich didn’t want to wait for that to happen: “If you recognize it’s going to happen anyhow, you can take control, figure it out and live with people you want to live with.” Together with three other retired women, she purchased and renovated a residential home. With the help of a local builder who specialized in designing homes for older adults, they built their own version of a retirement paradise. Their 6-bedroom, wheelchair- accessible, 5,000-square-foot farmhouse enables them to remain independent, enjoy the benefits of companionship, and have the security of knowing they can stay there forever, barring any unexpected changes to their lifestyle or health status.

Golden girls, indeed. Back in the day, we’d call this a “commune.” We are absolutely convinced that this style of living/housing will be commonplace for retiring Boomers.

Excerpt from What Retirees Want: A Holistic View of Life’s Third Age, by Ken Dychtwald, PhD, and Robert Morison. Ó 2020. Published by Wiley, July 15, 2020.