This is a guest blog, written by Louise Machinist and Karen Bush, and is based on a presentation they did at a professional conference.
This is an exciting time to be retired. The array of positive aging strategies is expanding as knowledge and lifestyle options proliferate, including innovative shared housing models that allow retirees to enhance both their financial resources and their quality of life.
We’re talking about much more than just sharing the rent or a mortgage payment. We’re using the term “cooperative household” to mean “two or more unrelated people co-owning and sharing a residence to gain financial, social, lifestyle, and environmental benefits.” It offers a positive option for boomers and seniors to age in place within a mutually supportive household community, to share resources, and to save money – in other words, to live better for less.
In 2004, we and our friend Jean bought a charming old house in Pittsburgh, PA. Our 11-year experience taught us that healthy independence is strengthened through interdependence. Fast forward: we were so happy with the results that a couple of years ago, we moved to different locations and did it again, this time with condos instead of a house. Our own experience tells us that single boomer women, in particular, are interested in new ways to live together.
Of course, prudent planning is necessary to protect householders’ individual and shared interests and to set the stage for success.
Together, individuals can better afford and manage an aging-in-place-appropriate home. Obviously, combining resources has a multiplier effect for shared purchasing power while dividing shared costs. By combining resources, people can better afford a home with adequate space and they can better afford to purchase household maintenance services (cleaning, grass cutting, window washing, repairs), tasks that grow more challenging as we age.
Co-owning not only promotes economies of many kinds (space, costs, labor, environmental footprint), it also builds financial equity. House and neighborhood? Nicer. Mortgage and taxes? Divide by the number of owners. Utility costs? Ditto.
Of equal importance are multiple psychosocial factors. For example, we know that isolation and loneliness are among the major risk factors for seniors who live alone. In contrast, cooperative living enhances safety, social and psychological support systems, and creates greater happiness potential.
Kitchen clean up? Whoever didn’t cook. Late coming home? Lights on; leftovers in the fridge. All the work and all the fun? Shared.
Cautions and Caveats
Jointly purchasing a residence with other unrelated individuals is a life-changing legal and financial commitment that requires a well-informed, rational approach. A co-owned cooperative household should be structured from the outset to protect the interests of each homeowner. Careful planning minimizes the effects of negative scenarios that could threaten financial wellbeing (such as death or departure of a co-owner, serious illness, and financial setbacks).
Before a real estate purchase is even contemplated, local zoning ordinances must be researched, because some municipalities limit joint residence by unrelated individuals, often setting a number limit.
A legally binding partnership or co-ownership agreement, developed with the help of an attorney, is a must. Needless to say, each partner in a cohousehold must be stable enough to manage his or her share of the financial responsibilities and financial information and credit scores need to be shared among the purchasing partners at the outset.
Potential housemates need to protect their mutual psychological well-being by establishing clearly articulated, workable boundaries based on respect for each person’s rights. Consideration, flexibility, self-discipline, and empathy are essential ingredients in a harmonious household. It is important to establish a healthy balance of private space/time vs. shared space/time. After all, while sharing a home protects against loneliness, alone time is also valuable. No one should feel crowded or pressured to socialize beyond the comfort point. Personal reliability is another key to a functional household. A tiny intentional community can only thrive if everyone does what he or she promises to do.
Living in a cooperative household is an innovative way to reach positive aging-in-place goals. For more information, please see our book: My House Our House: Living Far Better for Far Less in a Cooperative Household, Karen M. Bush, Louise S. Machinist and Jean McQuillin, St. Lynn’s Press, June, 2013.
I'm Linda Fleit. My husband and I were lucky enough to retire when we were 61, about nine years ago. We love being retired and want to share all that we've learned over the years about this wonderful stage of life.