You probably haven’t thought about having a roommate since college. But if you‘re a woman between 50 and 70 and living alone, it might make sense to share housing costs and set up a "Golden Girls" home like the one in the ‘80s TV show.
I’m 69, have been a “Golden Girl” for over six years in Bowie, Md. and give workshops teaching other women how to do it. Here’s my advice on how to find compatible roommates, lower your housing expenses and enjoy this lifestyle.
Before you start looking for a housemate, check your local laws to see if there are what’s known as “Mrs. Murphy’s laws” where you live — restrictions on four or more unrelated people living together.
In most areas, even where there are, the rules don’t apply to roommates. But you’ll want to check.
(MORE: The Perils of Aging Alone)
Making Your Home Roomie-Ready
Once you’ve established that you can have a Golden Girls home, you’ll want to be sure your space is appropriate for others to live with you. First impressions are very important, so make certain your home is clean and clutter-free.
Most roommates want a private bath, if possible. You’ll also need enough closet space for others, a cable/Internet hookup and space for privacy.
Finding Your Housemates
To locate other women who might want to live with you, start advertising in your social circles — church, cultural, educational and community groups. Send out emails and distribute flyers.
In most places, local print newspapers aren’t great for attracting prospects, but if yours has a decent online version, try placing an ad there, too.
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You should also register on roommate websites. Of course, I recommend my own (Golden Girls Network, which specializes in adults over 40), but Roommates.com and Craigslist may work, too. Before advertising on any, see what others are charging for rent and then go with a monthly figure that’s comparable.
Start your ad with” “JOIN A GOLDEN GIRLS HOME.” This lets everyone seeing it know that you’re seeking to live like Rose, Dorothy, Blanche and Sophia.
Liven up your ad with something about you. For instance, are you a retired teacher, a golf lover, a cat fan, or a vegetarian? Then say so.
(MORE: Shared Housing Advice for Older Gays and Lesbians)
Use this as a style guide:
$700 -JOIN A GOLDEN GIRLS HOME! I have an amazing 4-bedroom home and am looking for roommates who have a vision of living together with autonomy and quiet time but who want to share occasional vegetarian meals and activities. We will all pitch in to make it work. Unfurnished room, private bath, utilities included, no pets, no smoking, lease required. (email me at xxxxxxxxxxxx)
Once You Get Responses
OK, now the replies are coming in. How do you handle them? Here are a few hints:
- Never reply to someone from out of state or who asks you to reply to a different email address than the one she sent. These are always phony.
- If the applicant has possibilities, reply with something like this: “I am looking for a woman between the ages of X to Y who is a non-smoker with no pets. Tell me a little more about yourself.” When she replies, ask for a phone number and call her. (Don’t give your address yet!)
- Get to know the applicant on the phone. Cover your basic issues such as smoking or pets and then see whether you two can communicate easily and whether you like her personality. Trust your intuition.
- If all goes well, invite her for a face-to-face interview in two to three days. (If you aren’t comfortable interviewing alone, ask a friend to interview with you.) If you don’t get a good vibe over the phone, politely tell her that you don’t think this is the right match. You do not have to give a reason.
- During the in-person interview, have a list of questions that will help you assess her personality and circumstances. Look for any cultural or lifestyle differences that you think might be difficult. I encourage diversity, but sometimes very different people can’t live easily in the same house. Ask about religious practices, eating habits, alcohol usage, hobbies, political interests, working hours or other things that are important to you.
- I’ve found that people in different age groups have different lifestyles. So, as a rule, I’d suggest looking for roommates within 10 to 20 years of your age.
- Most roommates are clean and tidy. Some, however have OCD. Find someone like you.
- Be honest with yourself about whether you think you could get along with her personality. If she’s assertive and outgoing but you’re quiet and bookish, this probably isn’t a good match.
Putting It On Paper
Develop a written house agreement which must be signed by each roommate. Cover every possible detail, but make the tone “conversational,” not “demanding.” The house agreement must also state that a violation of the basic rules is cause for eviction.
Some women like to start with a month-to-month contract for their Golden Girls arrangement, but I recommend a one-year lease.
You will know if things are working out after two months. If they’re not, have a frank discussion and either figure out a way to work out your differences or give your housemate the 30-day notice required in most states.
When I was starting out putting together a Golden Girls home, I had difficulties because I wasn’t assertive enough. As my “take charge” attitude increased, so did the wellbeing of my home.
Most of my housemates have eventually left because of personal circumstances (several stayed on for more than two years), but I’ve asked five to leave because they didn’t fit in. I now have a great group!