Should You Consider Having a Housemate?

Having someone to share a home has some great advantages, some disadvantages

By Deborah Jeanne Sergeant

Physician assistant Helen Harris has rented a room in Solvay for the past six years because it’s close to her work. She says she goes home (in Harpursville, east of Binghamton) on Fridays and stays until Monday. Renting a room near her work saves her commuting time and fuel expenses. “If I had to drive back and forth, it would be exhausting,” Harris said. “I did it once.
Physician assistant Helen Harris has rented a room in Solvay for the past six years because it’s close to her work. She says she goes home (in Harpursville, east of Binghamton) on Fridays and stays until Monday. Renting a room near her work saves her commuting time and fuel expenses. “If I had to drive back and forth, it would be exhausting,” Harris said. “I did it once.

Perhaps your large home feels even larger now that the children are grown.

Or maybe you would like a means to earn passive income to enhance your retirement.

Could your widowed mom enjoy some companionship? Or maybe you would feel more at peace if your in-laws weren’t by themselves so far from your home.

Any of these scenarios could be a good reason to consider renting a room to a housemate.

Whether through word-of-mouth or roommate-matching websites, renting a room to a stranger when you’re a 55-plusser isn’t so strange anymore. Numerous people watched their retirement savings evaporate during the recession. Most older adults want to age in place. Renting a room provides companionship, savings on household expenses and assistance with chores.

Others rent space to save on their household expenses or to make commuting to a distant job easier.

Take Helen Harris, 48, for example. A physician assistant at Syracuse Orthopedic Specialists (SOS), she has rented a room in Solvay for the past six years. Her rental includes access to common areas of the house.

She and her partner, Karen Clark, built their dream home in Harpursville, east of Binghamton, an 80-minute drive from Harris’ workplace.

“I like being here at our house so much,” Harris said. “I like mowing the grass and being outside. As we get older, that may be more annoying to do, but I enjoy it. I don’t like the neighbors being on top of me and I like that I don’t have to sacrifice that by renting a room to be close to work.”

Of course, Harris could find employment closer to home, but she said she’s content at SOS and doesn’t want to find a different workplace. By renting a room for $100 monthly, Harris can save gas, car maintenance and driving time and give Clark, who is retired, quiet time Tuesday through Thursday while Harris is away. Harris returns to Harpursville Friday and stays through Monday.

“If I had to drive back and forth, it would be exhausting,” Harris said. “I did it once.”

She spends about 10 hours at her rental a day, so occupying an entire apartment would waste a lot of money, she figures.

“I shower and sleep there and that’s it,” Harris said. “It’s a great thing for me.”

So far, sharing a home on weekdays has worked well for Harris.

“The people I’ve rented from know what my needs are,” she said. “I visit with the people I stay with, but I see them for only an hour and they have their weekends to themselves.”

Harris also likes that by renting, she can help out the owner of the home she shares.

People renting part of their home with someone else must count that money as taxable income.

Bill Symons, staff accountant at Canale Insurance & Accounting in Oswego, said homeowners can “write off expenses for whatever percent of the house they’re using for the rental. If it’s 15 percent of the house, then write off 15 percent.”

That can apply to expenses such as home owner’s insurance, mortgage interest and home improvement expenses.

For an elderly person who simply needs a companion, offsetting the income by hiring workers to perform home repairs and upgrades may prove a means to maintain the home and keep a companion.

“If you aren’t sure of what you’re doing regarding taxes and deductions, bring it to someone who does know,” Symons added.

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