This week SMART Living 365 introduces you to Lynne Spreen as our last guest blogger before returning from our trip. I am a friend as well as a reader of Lynne’s blog Any Shiny Thing. On her blog, Lynne often writes about positive aging and other SMART ideas that I find valuable. Thank you, Lynne, for filling in and sharing these great ideas.
In 2007, a billboard in my town advertised a new housing tract that featured two master bedroom suites, available in their biggest model. It sticks in my memory because I was appalled. Who would buy a house with two master suites?
This was just before the Great Recession, a period of real estate excess when people were buying way too much house and, in some cases, flipping homes like pancakes.
One day, as I drove past that billboard, the concept hit me differently. I mean, it was like a light switching on, illuminating a sunny possibility–more than one family could live comfortably in those homes.
Let me explain. As a grandparent, I’ve provided years of childcare and other parental backstopping that provided economic support and stress relief to my family. I wasn’t the only one. As I waited at the school gates for the bell to ring, I was surrounded by other gray-haired caretakers. When I’ve attended daytime school activities, I see lots of grandparents doing the same. At my grandkids’ swim lessons this summer, fully half the adults there were of my generation. I love seeing how we’re all taking care of each other. My mother, who is in her early nineties, lives four blocks from me. My husband and I help her a lot, and if / when she gets to that point, I’d like to welcome her to move in with us.
Caregiving is a human reality. Families and friends help each other. That’s our American culture. Do you remember the TV show, The Waltons? Three generations lived together. They pooled their resources and helped each other with chores. That’s how we used to do things in this country.
Now, each little family is its own ruggedly individual unit, paying strangers for child and elder care, commuting in two cars to two exhausting jobs, handling all the cooking and cleaning and extracurricular student activities and homework. As I passed that billboard, I wondered why we’re making things so hard for ourselves when a good solution lies in those oversized houses nobody wants anymore.
Suddenly, the big house looked like a smart idea. Especially after the crash of 2008, when homeowners lost their jobs and couldn’t pay their mortgages. The inspirational Brené Brown tells of two brothers, estranged for years, who were both about to lose their homes in the Great Recession. Instead, they reconciled, pooled their resources to save one of the homes, and the two families moved in together. A relationship was reborn. Life got better.
Now that Baby Boomers are aging, many of them are looking to sell their big empty nests and downsize. While this sounds great, not everyone wants or is able to sell and move. For one thing, there’s a crush at the gate. The Boomer demographic is massive. Whatever they do, tens of millions of them are doing it at the same time. In this case, Boomers are shedding big homes in favor of smaller ones, or in favor of rental housing. This is having a ripple effect on two aspects of the housing market.
- More large homes are on the market, driving down their value (except in expensive urban areas like California’s Orange County);
- and there’s a larger demand for small homes and apartments, driving up prices.
So even if you want to sell, it may not be possible or wise.
Besides, not every big-home owner wants to move. Maybe you’ve heard the downsizing drumbeat but love your home and neighborhood. Maybe after years of work, the house and yard finally look exactly the way you want them. You put a lot of thought into this house when buying it, and you’re pleased with its location, the available services, the weather, the social environment, and proximity to family. But there are current and future worries.
- Financial concerns, whether due to loss of income, increased taxes, or increasing cost of maintenance.
- Loneliness/isolation. You have plenty of activities outside the home, but once you close the front door, you feel isolated. You are tired of seeing tumbleweeds roll down the empty hall.
- Help with the basic challenges of life, like a transportation emergency or a grocery run or someone to watch the house when you go out of town. Someone to figure out why the cloud printer stopped communicating with your Chromebook. Having someone there if there’s a noise in the middle of the night.
There might be a solution right under your roof.
First, let’s back up…to the 1940s.
When Mom was a young adult, there was no work in her small hometown of Dickinson, North Dakota, so she and her sisters moved to the west coast. They ended up in Los Angeles, where they rented rooms in a boarding house. Do you remember these?
Back in the day, a housemother supervised the operation of what was originally built as a private home. She provided a certain number of meals. Women (the homes were gender-specific) rented a bedroom, either solo or shared. Bathrooms were communal. The house had rules, such as those restricting gentlemen callers to certain rooms or visiting hours. The young women had jobs and social lives, but they also had built-in friends and a sense of security. They might have left family behind in the Midwest, but in the big city they had a new kind of family from which they could safely enjoy their surroundings.
Do you see the possibilities? I’ve wondered if aging Boomers, who can’t or don’t want to sell their too-big house, might resurrect the concept of the Boarding House of our parents’ generation. Almost like a bed – and – breakfast, except it could be long-term bed – and – dinner.
There are two huge demographics from which your boarders / renters might appear: Millennials and Baby Boomers. Did you know their demographics are approximately equal? Between the two of them, tens of millions of people are looking for smaller, less burdensome housing arrangements.
Older people are downsizing, and many of them want a more communal arrangement, often due to death of a spouse and the resulting fear of (or reality of) intense loneliness. New forms of housing are emerging. In fact, Kathy wrote about cohousing last November (you can read that post here).
Younger people are hesitant to “upsize,” saddled as they are by student loans and rising rents. Housing may be unaffordable, especially in urban areas where they work. Also, long-term employment with one company is a thing of the past. Now, younger people choose to rent because they might have to pull up stakes to chase after a job.
This can mean opportunity for you and your big house. Of course, if you’re going to open your home to roommates, you’d want to go about it in a smart way. Please educate yourself fully before making the leap.
Here are several websites and articles that will get your wheels turning:
As an author who writes about people over fifty, I’m intrigued by this idea of repurposing a too-big empty nest into a cozy, communal sanctuary for people who want companionship and independence as they age. In researching for this post, I posted a question on Facebook asking what my friends saw as the most serious issues they feared in older age. Far and away the number one issue was loneliness. I was reminded that loneliness and isolation can be a negative factor affecting our longevity, but now I feel much more optimistic!
When I was a child, two-thirds of the houses on my street were occupied by a stay-at-home mother and a passel of kids. That was the Baby Boom. Now, as we age, perhaps we’ll return to the warmth of our childhood, and many of the too-big homes on your street will be occupied by a small group of adults, all helping each other and providing companionship in the second half of life.
Have you ever thought about opening your home to roommates, or being one yourself? How do you see this idea? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.
After a thirty-year career in Human Resources, Lynne M. Spreen reinvented herself as an author, speaker, blogger, and teacher. She writes midlife fiction and romance because she believes the second half of life is a rich, untapped literary vein of human drama. All her books are available on Amazon. Lynne and her husband live in Hemet, CA and you can find out much more about Lynne through her blog Any Shiny Thing.
Patricia Carew says
Hi, Kathy. Love this site. Right now I know of two situations where home-sharing would be wonderful.
I live on the New Jersey/New York border, and have thought of starting a kind of ‘business’ of connecting people who need homes (mostly temporarily) with those whose homes are a bit empty. I would ‘screen’ both parties, perhaps asking a local pastor/imam/rabbi to do this with me.
1st situation: a young engaged couple with two young children willing to share house/yard/kitchen chores, and be companions to elderly owners.
2nd situation: a retired couple from Venezuela (presently in the immigration process) able and willing to share etc.
Kathy Gottberg says
Hi Patricia! I think your ideas are wonderful. I’ve actually read, and I’ll bet you have too, that there are a number of sites scattered around the country that do something similar. It obviously takes someone local who understands both the city or area as well as the ability to match-make. But I agree it can be a wonderful win-win for many people. Keep up the good work! ~Kathy
Maureen Taylor says
I found your blog while searching for information on starting a Bed & Breakfast. My husband and I have six children, still raising four, but we are looking toward the future and whether to sell our college town home. A visiting friend suggested our home would be a perfect B&B for college parents visiting for weekend events. We hope to strike the right balance balance between the privacy of our own home for family with hosting guests on select weekends for additional retirement income. We are investigating what it would take to set up a B&B in our town, 10 years down the road.
Kathy Gottberg says
Hi Maureen! How nice to meet you. It sounds like your big house could turn out to be a great place for either a B & B or using additional rooms on Airbnb. I think when people get their imagination involved they have many more options than they realize. I think there are lots of ways to ensure your privacy while hosting others and I’ll bet there are a lot of other resources on the net to help you. Good luck and be sure and have fun too! ~Kathy
What a great idea I surely hadn’t thought about. Of course, it won’t be for everyone to open their well-invested home up to strangers. But, for those who do, the opportunities are limitless. I would do it to not be lonely anymore, but, if I were by myself (and lonely), I would not have a big house to begin with. As a matter of fact, my husband and I currently don’t have a house at all. We love a community feel, though, so who knows when we get older… 🙂
Christie Hawkes says
Another great option to downsizing. We often toy with the idea of a smaller home, but we want to keep a guest room for the grandchildren…and an office for my self-employed husband…and an exercise space for me…pretty soon it just didn’t make sense. Once I retire and we start to travel more, we will re-look at our options. Thanks for getting me thinking outside the box.
Kathy Gottberg says
Hi Christie! Welcome to SMART Living! And isn’t that the beauty of rightsizing? It’s so important to look at your current needs and make sure you are living where you are living (or moving) in an effort to enhance your life–not sacrifice or move just to move. It sounds like you have thought it through very well and it is working perfectly for you. And you’re welcome about help generating your thoughts! That’s a BIG intention here on SMART Living! ~Kathy
Dr Sock says
After I retired, we moved this summer to be closer to our grandkids. As we looked at real estate in the area that we moved to, I observed that many of the houses here have suites in them. The rental income helps homeowners pay for the high cost of housing, and they also provide living places for people who cannot afford to buy into the housing market.
Rather than downsizing, we ended up buying a larger house. We currently have an adult son living with us. He recently completed a professional post-degree diploma and is looking for career related work. Although I know that he is eager to move on with his life and career, in the meantime I am happy to have him here with us. Interestingly, looking at the demographics for our new community, I see that nearly 30% of households here include an adult child residing in the home.
Kathy Gottberg says
Hi Jude! Yes, I’m thinking that it is becoming more and more common for adult children to still be living at home. That’s good as long as it fits well with your “rightsized” life. It is certainly nice that you can help your children out as long as their presence in the home adds to your life rather than complicates it! Thanks for sharing your perspective on this! ~Kathy
I have a friend that remodeled his 2 extra bedrooms into a master suite for his Mother to move in. After she died he is keeping the additional suite in hopes of future grand kids but now for his adult kids to stay. I think the idea is brilliant!
Kathy Gottberg says
Hi Haralee! You might want to share this post with your friend. Maybe if she starts seeing it as a way to generate income for herself she will be motivated? I imagine as a parent it is always the hope that your children (and grandchildren) will visit but I think many are finding that they are moving in. Of course, maybe the best solution is to have the children pay “rent” in one form or another. In that case she would get all her needs fulfilled! ~Kathy
Terri Webster Schrandt says
Our current home (mine for 29 years) started out as a “downsized” home, although it seemed a mansion when we moved from our 2/1 apartment. Between divorce, recessions and other life events, this house is perfect, even with the recent room addition to the master which gave us a second bathroom and me a large area for a home office. As empty nesters with two guest bedrooms for friends and family and the house just the way we want it, we are happy to stay here. I love your idea of boarding houses. My mother did just that by having one renter in an upstairs bedroom suite which paid her expenses. Hope to see these arrangements grow!
Kathy Gottberg says
Hi Terri! You’ve definitely created a rightsized home for you and your husband. But I agree that this big-house model has some potential for a lot of people. Home sharing has as much potential as airbnb in my opinion. Think of the extra money that could be made by someone who had a big house and was willing to rent out rooms either short term or long term. If money is an issue, that would be a way to increase cash flow. If money wasn’t as essential, then a long-term renter–a border, might work better. Lots of options if people are willing to explore it. Thanks for sharing your ideas. ~Kathy
Rebecca Forstadt Olkowski says
I went from a big house with 2 master bedrooms to a mobile home and now an apartment. I like the idea of community living in a big house, though. Maybe that will be my next move. As you mentioned, having 3 generations under one roof, like the Waltons, is not a bad idea. They still do it in Asia and it works very well.
Kathy Gottberg says
Hi Rebecca! I think there are so many great new models of how to live coming out that there should be something that appeals to everyone if we are paying attention. I’m not sure I could handle that many roommates….as a childfree woman I am used to having peace and quiet for much of the day so the thought of constant chatter and noise would be intimidating. But I also get that others don’t mind it and actually find it comforting and invigorating. One thing is for sure it would help a person’s finances if they could live this way. Thanks for sharing your thoughts! ~Kathy
Thank you for saying that it’s not solely “American” to for several generations to share housing or to help each other, it’s also fairly common in some parts of the EU, south America, and it used to be in China as well (and may still be). I don’t know enough about other nations to know if it’s true globally, but suspect it is. It maybe due to high housing costs (as is true in some parts of Italy as well as the US), or because it’s traditional/part of the culture. I’m a late “boomer” (born towards the end of the so-called “boomer generation”), and I can remember a number of friends in highschool and later, college, who had grown up (for at least part of their lives) in multi-generational families, or who had cousins, etc, who lived with them for a time. It wasn’t uncommon for people to live at home, commute to college, or work after highschool (before going to college or not going to college or an apprenticeship at all) and live at home. Often they got along well with their parents, paid some rent, contributed towards food costs, and helped their parents pay off the house mortgage. A few of those adult children eventually inherited those homes.
Zoning is an issue in some parts of the US. Usually several generations of family in the same house aren’t a problem in SFR (single family residence) zoning, but renting rooms, can be. Pepole may do it anyway with no problem, but an angry former tenant or neighbor can create problems if they report that a home owner is renting rooms, etc to the relevant local gov’t agency or board. If it’s an HOA and the HOA doesn’t allow room rentals, same problem.
If it’s a very personal motor vehicle dependent area (as so many parts of the US are) and everyone living in the house has at least one vehicle (where I live, in a modest neighborhood, it’s not unusual for each adult to have a car or pickup, plus they own a RV, one may own at least one motor cycle as well, perhaps a powerboat that’s kept in the driveway along w/the RV, etc–and I have no idea how people afford all those toys), not everyone in the neighborhood will appreciate completely parked up streets. Especially if the vehicles are rarely moved (RVs parked on the street for months because they’re only used occasionally. A friend lives or used to live in Queens, people had “their” on-street parking “spots” on the street; there was conflict/unhappiness if someone “took” that resident’s on street space.
There’s a need to develop peaceful conflict resolution skills if you have more people living together. That’s true if you’re living in a dorm, a boarding house, or several generations living together in a house. Anyone who’s read diaries from the 1900’s (or earlier) or collections of letters, or just talked to people who lived during those times or had parents/grandparents who were immigrants in the late 1800’s/1900’s and those stories are passed down, will be aware of how easily friction can develop when more people share a living space.
With today’s far greater capacity to make noise (powerful sound systems, amplifiers for musical instruments, loud pipe vehicles), not to mention people who “love” dogs but don’t feel there’s any reason to train them properly (or much at all)–and somehow they often most “love” barky/yappy dogs who need a fair amount of exercise and/or mental stimulation, it’s often not easy to find roommates w/whom one can live peacefully. Unless you too are fine w/megabass that goes through your body or barking/yapping that lasts for several hours over the day, dogs leaping on you, etc.
For two years in college, I had a great roommate, we are still friends many years later. I would live with her again, and perhaps my sister and I could live together again. There are perhaps a few other people, but I had two years of roommates who either I didn’t like or who didn’t like me or how I lived. I had problems with one “suite” mate (suites were 2-3 shared bedrooms w/a common bathroom & living/cooking area at the university I attended) who after I moved in, decided that something I did, that I had been completely open about and repeatedly asked if people would be ok w/it (and she had said, no problem), decided it wasn’t. Anyone who’s lived with roommates, is aware that some people lie. Sometimes they are lies that don’t matter, sometimes they matter alot. If you haven’t protected yourself w/a written agreement, if the characteristics/habits/behaviors are a real problem for you, you’re facing a potentially unpleasant and expensive eviction process. Even if you have a written agreement, resolving those problems, or evictions, can be difficult and occasionally expensive.
Living with family doesn’t exempt you from such potential problems. Anyone who’s lived with substance abusers/addicts can tell you that.
How do I know this? From listening to people’s reports, and from 5-6 years as a volunteer mediator for small claims court.
Beth Havey says
As usual this post contains so many SMART ideas. As you know, we downsized when we moved from a four bedroom home in Des Moines, Iowa, to southern California. We did this quickly and now live in a 3 bedroom which allows us to have our children come and visit and stay. One daughter lives in So Cal, our other daughter and son in Chicago and Boston. So family get-togethers requires these bedrooms.
With the state of the country, we have talked about moving to Canada, all of us, on a large farm. With technology some of us could work remotely. But it’s kind of a dream and not much reality attached.
Now we have a new situation with our daughter’s who lives here, in that one son needs a special school, one daughter already starts school early, so the middle child either rides around in the morning before he starts or she needs someone like me to stay with him. Which I can’t do as he is 90 minutes in traffic away. So—we move closer, we share some of these duties. It’s an idea that might take root. Aging on all levels is involved. Health changes and you need assistance. The idea of 4 people living in a mega mansion is changing. If you are vastly wealthy, you might be okay. Most of us are not and with this administration, life will get harder and harder for middle class families. Living close or together, SHARING, will become a necessity. Your ideas are good ones.
Kathy Gottberg says
Hi Beth! Yes, I do think we all need to remain flexible and creative in the days to come. And there is no “one size fits all” formula (unfortunately or fortunately depending on how you look at it.) It does seem that you have so big choices to make in your own life and that is why I so believe in the idea of rightsizing, because only you (and your family) can make them. But I personally love the idea of SHARING no matter what. Thanks so much for adding your thoughts on this…. ~Kathy
What an interesting concept! We don’t have a large home, and certainly not two master suites, but I really can see the benefits of a co-housing situation (you had me at “Someone to figure out why the cloud printer stopped communicating with your Chromebook.”). Since we don’t have children it is even more imperative to plan for our future decline and, unfortunately, for a time when one of us will be alone.
Kathy Gottberg says
Hi Janis! Yes it is good to know about huh? I had read recently about the concept of home-sharing as an alternative so when Lynne said she wanted to write her guest post about this I thought it was an interesting concept–no matter what your age. But it certainly applies to any of us open-minded enough to explore options. I was a little surprised more people haven’t offered thoughts about it here in the comments though? What do you think? ~Kathy
We live in such an independent society that what is “natural” in some cultures, such as intergenerational living, probably seems odd to us. I think aging boomers, who will have more house and less care than they need, and young families who are facing the high cost of housing, might find some natural synergies. It will take flexibility and creative thinking, but it could be the answer for many people.
Hi, Lynne – I love your ‘thinking out of the box’ and your ideas on repurposing. I believe that there are many creative solutions to living well (both in our work lives and in our retirement) if we are innovative, flexible and willing to share. My husband and I have been able to extend our travel (which we both love) by doing home-exchanges. This works with big houses, small houses, vacation homes and apartments. Although not for everyone, It is another creative solution, involving housing, which can save money while still allowing people who love travel to pursue their passion. Thank you for sharing on Kathy’s blog. I am off to check out your site now.
Kathy Gottberg says
Hi Donna! Kathy here. I’m not sure if Lynne is checking in here for comments but I’m back from my trip now and happy to chat! Isn’t it wonderful to have other blogger friends fill in for you when you are out of town? And when Lynne suggested this topic for SMART Living 365 I felt it was another interesting way that people can “rightsize” who don’t want to sell their larger home. Sharing solutions for how we can navigate our lives in ways that work for us is always beneficial. And I am looking forward to chatting more with you about the home exchange idea. We did it back in March by exchanging our home in San Miguel de Allende MX and it turned out very well. I agree that it is yet another way to rightsize travel AND our homes. ~Kathy