“Home Sharing” Extends Life At Home for Seniors

Home sharing programs across the nation are continuing to help seniors stay in their homes at a time when their retirement income and savings are down, and their home may be the only substantial asset they have.

While home sharing is available to homeowners of all ages through many programs that facilitate it across the U.S., providers say it is popular among seniors and continues to present an option for them to remain living at home when the physical burden of home upkeep starts to take a toll. Like the reverse mortgage demographic, the seniors seeking a home sharing option appear to be getting younger, as well.

“We definitely have seen an uptick in interest from the home providers from when the surge began in 2008,” says Rebecca Sheppard, director of home sharing at Baltimore-based St. Ambrose Housing Aid Center. “Demographically, our homeowners have often been in the 50-plus category. Largely our program appeals to 50-plus single females living alone.”

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Through home sharing programs like the one Sheppard runs, seniors and other homeowners can be matched up with others in their area who are looking for an affordable place to live in exchange for duties that they can provide around the house—yard work, errands, cleaning and other tasks, as long as no medical care is needed. The homeowner often charges a modest rent.

The home sharing organizations will conduct background checks and will screen applicants and determine when there is a “match” between a homeowner and a home-seeker. They then advise the homeowner to seek the advise of an accountant or lawyer on the details of the arrangement when it comes to rental income and the exchange of money.

Home sharing arrangements can last months or years, depending on the needs of the senior homeowner.

“The whole goal is to help seniors remain in their homes as long as possible,” says Ryan Cowmeadow at the Housing Bureau for Seniors at the University of Michigan Health System, which runs a home sharing program that currently has 50 home sharing agreements in place. “The need is greater now for homeowners, with the change in the economy.”

The average age for the home “provider” or homeowner, has traditionally been around 73 but has decreased to the upper 60s, Cowmeadow says, with 68 being the average age today. The longest standing home sharing arrangement in Cowmeadow’s program is 14 years—and counting—but it depends on what the homeowners’ needs are.

“They may only have a year left in their home, but this can help improve their quality of life for that time,” he says.

Written by Elizabeth Ecker

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