You may have heard the term “the sharing economy” of late. It’s an increasingly popular model where everyday people share their resources, be it a car (think Uber and Lyft ridesharing), office space (such as coworking hubs), or crowdfunding (like Kickstarter fundraisers). But an example of the sharing economy that is really taking off among older Americans could also be one solution to our nation’s growing caregiving crisis: homesharing.

What exactly is “homesharing”?

Homesharing is when a person offers a room within their own home for rent. It is different than a traditional landlord/tenant situation where the tenant rents an entire house or apartment from the owner. With homesharing, the tenant and the property owner inhabit the same dwelling, often sharing common areas such as a kitchen, living room, and even bathroom. Essentially, the homeowner and tenant are roommates.

Homesharing is a way for a homeowner to generate passive income from a room in their home they aren’t using, but there are also other advantages to homesharing. The homeowner can benefit from the division of housework and some household bills, as well as the built-in companionship that comes with having a roommate.

These homesharing perks are among the reasons that a growing number of seniors are opting to open their home to a tenant. But there may be other reasons for seniors to consider this unique living arrangement.

>> Related: A New Case for the Continuing Care at Home Model?

Seniors warming up to homesharing

Silvernest, a website that matches homeowners with homesharing tenants, recently conducted a survey of 305 homeowners ages 55 to 85. (Of note, these respondents were not current Silvernest site users.) They asked these seniors a variety of questions about their financial preparedness for retirement, as well as about their thoughts on housing and homesharing.

The survey had the following key findings:

  • 88 percent of the survey’s respondents said it’s important for them to stay in their own home for as long as possible, yet only a quarter said they feel that they, and their homes, are ready for so-called “aging in place.”
  • Nearly half (49 percent) of respondents said they don’t have enough savings to fund their retirement, or they don’t know if they have enough saved. This concern was higher among women (51 percent) than men (43 percent).
  • A large majority of survey respondents — 71 percent —are actively looking for new ways to earn income during retirement with more than a third (37 percent) of retired respondents saying they are currently working part-time.

But this was the finding that really jumped out at me: Nearly every survey respondent — 98 percent — said we as a country need to find more creative living solutions for aging people. To this end, 44 percent of the seniors in this survey said they would consider homesharing. And this concept is increasingly of interest to them with more than a quarter (26 percent) noting they are more likely to consider homesharing today than they were five years ago.

>> Related: The Value of a Solid Support System During Retirement

A potential caregiving solution

The Silvernest survey is reflective of changing attitudes toward homesharing among seniors, but there is another topic that remains fairly consistent over time: the vast majority of seniors want to remain in their own home for as long as possible. This survey’s findings on this issue are akin to those of other surveys, like the one conducted in 2018 by AARP, which found that more than 3 out of 4 seniors would like to stay in their home as they age.

It could be that homesharing could facilitate this objective of remaining in the home, while also addressing other common concerns among seniors.

When asked their perceptions on the benefits of homesharing, 80 percent of the Silvernest survey respondents said it was the extra income they could earn. But the next most popular perceived benefits of homesharing were help around the house/splitting chores (57 percent), companionship (52 percent), the peace of mind of having a housemate (51 percent), and the ability to maintain their independence (41 percent).

With the ever-growing caregiving crisis we face in this country, homesharing may be able to address at least some of the tasks that seniors commonly need a bit of help with. For example, a homesharing tenant may be able to help a senior with household chores, shopping, food preparation, home maintenance, or yardwork that can get more challenging as we age. These are essential activities that may otherwise need to be delegated to a paid or unpaid caregiver.

>> Related: Inflection Point: Our Nation’s Ever-Growing Long-Term Care Crisis

Reservations about homesharing

While there is a lot to like about the possibility of homesharing, some seniors also have their reservations about the concept. The number one reason holding survey respondents back from opening their home to a tenant is concerns about the loss of privacy (75 percent). There were other concerns around safety too, with 72 percent of respondents saying they were concerned about living with someone they don’t know.

If people were to open their home to a tenant, however, there are certain people they would find preferable. The vast majority of respondents would consider renting out a room to a travelling nurse (81 percent), a teacher or essential worker (77 percent), or a service year member (66 percent).

Interestingly, a tenant’s age was a big consideration for the seniors who took part in the Silvernest survey. A full 80 percent said they would consider renting a room to someone who is younger than them, a so-called “intergenerational housemate.” Yet on the flip side, only one out of three respondents (33 percent) said they would be willing to rent to someone older than themselves.

This datapoint brings up issues around ageism in the homesharing market. Yet it is also somewhat understandable that if one of the benefits the senior hopes to achieve by opening up their home to a tenant is getting help with household chores, a younger tenant may be more attractive to them.

It is worth noting that challenges may arise in a homesharing situation in the event that the older homeowner’s health or mobility markedly declines. For the benefit of all parties, it may be wise to put expectations in writing in terms of just how much caregiving the tenant would be expected to do.

>> Related: CCRCs Help Avoid the “Senior Living Shuffle”

Adding to the list of senior living options

Homesharing can be a great solution for seniors who are looking for ways to remain in their current home for longer. This mutually beneficial living arrangement can provide reasonably priced living quarters to a renter while offering the senior passive income, companionship, and assistance with household chores.

If you are considering opening your doors to a homesharing situation, be sure you implement certain protections. In addition to a background check of your tenant, you will want to execute a lease, be certain the tenant has renter’s insurance coverage, and possibly set up automatic rent payments to ensure you get paid on time each month.

While growing in popularity, homesharing isn’t for everyone, however. In addition to the loss of some degree of privacy, there are also compatibility issues to consider (e.g., smoking, pets, and for some people, gender). Additionally, should you eventually require more formal care services beyond a bit of help with simple household chores, it can be extremely costly to receive such services within the home, and it may preclude you from having a tenant.

If you like the idea of maintaining your independence and privacy, while also having built-in options for companionship and assistance with some of your household chores, a continuing care retirement community (CCRC, or life plan community) may be a better senior living solution for you.

A CCRC provides residents a host of amenities, social opportunities, and services for a comfortable retirement lifestyle, but importantly, they also provide on-site access to a full continuum of care services, up to and including full-time nursing care, should you need them. Homesharing may have its perks, but for many seniors, you can’t put a price on the peace of mind that comes with living in a CCRC.

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