Annamarie Pluhar, founded Sharing Housing, Inc. a nonprofit organization to promote the idea of shared housing for adults and to teach people how to find and keep good housemates. She is the author of Sharing Housing, A Guidebook for Finding and Keeping Good Housemates which gives a step by step process for screening potential housemates. https://sharinghousing.org
Frank Samson: Welcome to the Agent Boomers. I’m your host Frank Sampson. Of course on our show we discuss so many of the issues facing boomers, their parents and what we know of course is an aging population which I am smack in the middle of. And I just want to thank everybody for all their support. Our listeners are growing each and every day. So many of you just download the free app if you have an iPhone or android phone, just type in the aging boomers and just download the free app and you get up to date on all of our wonderful interviews and guests and some of you have gone to our website at theagingboomers.com, some of you have got onto iTunes, iHeart radio, there’s a lot of different ways to listen to the show. So I just want to thank everybody for all their support with that.
And speaking of that, we’ve got another wonderful guest today. We have with us Anna Marie Pluhar, founder of Sharing Housing Incorporated. It’s a non-profit organization which focuses on promoting the idea of shared housing for adults, and teaches people how to find and keep good housemates. She is the author of Sharing Housing: A Guidebook for Finding and Keeping Good Housemates, which gives us step by step process for screening potential housemates.
Anna Marie, thank you so much for joining us on the show on a very important subject matter.
Anna Marie: I am delighted to be. Thank you for having me.
Frank: I guess first question that comes off the top of mind is, how’d you get started with this?
Anna: It was actually a total accident. I got the idea for writing the book, Sharing Housing, when a friend of mine was complaining about her finances and I said to her, I said she should share housing. I had been living and have lived in shared housing for almost all my adult life and I love, I choose it. At the time that I was talking to this friend I was living in a four bedroom house in Silver Spring Maryland that I bought on purpose to have housemates because I don’t like living alone. My friend asked me if I would coach her and of course I agreed. We started talking some more about it and once I got off the phone with I realized that wait, yes, I might actually have a plan for this.
I thought, has anybody ever written about this? I went looking online, didn’t find a book and literally the next day I spent two hours on a bus writing the outline for the book. And that was it. That outline sat on my computer, I wish I knew exactly how long, five, six years, until the day when I just had this little voice which was, are you ever going to do that project? And that was it. A number of other things happened that helped me get it done. So the book came out in 2011 and then I spent a lot of time trying to figure out what I was supposed to do with the book. But I figured out pretty quickly that there was a huge need, particularly among boomers, of which I am one, to encourage people who are single that they could in fact share housing and that that’s a good thing. That’s not a less than, it’s a plus plus for one’s life. So that’s how I got here.
Frank: Okay. In your experience thus far would you say that most the people are looking for shared housing for economic reasons or like you said, that they just don’t like to be alone.
Anna: I think most people who look at it now are doing it for economic reasons and that’s so understandable with housing costs being so outrageous. It’s really quite amazing how much housing has increased. I think in California the stat is something like in the last five years it’s increased 75%. Financial advisors and such will say that you shouldn’t spend more than 30% of your income on housing otherwise you are cost burdened they call it. And if you’re spending more than 50% you are severely cost burdened. And most people who live by themselves are experiencing that crunch. So I really believe that people could have a whole lot more comfortable a life if they would share housing.
Frank: So who exactly are you advocating this for? Millennials, baby boomers, who?
Anna: I think the millennials understand it right off the bat. I started living in shared housing during college and grad school, and then again after I graduated. We lived in these group houses and eventually some people went off and people got married and had their families, left the group houses, I just never did that. So the millennials, these days, I think they get it. But I’m really focused on boomers for whom, for all of the various different reasons are not in relationships, some of whom have not had kids and who have loved living alone when they were busy with work. So when you’re busy with work and you come home to your home, it’s sanctuary. Right? You get away from all those people, all those demands, you get to have your space. It’s a very different thing to retire. And then you don’t have a reason to leave the house and you’re alone. And it’s so hard to have connections in our society, I think.
Frank: So when you say shared housing, is this housing that has been built for that purpose or it’s not and people are sharing the cost of living together?
Anna: These days, there is more housing that’s being built for sharing. The way I started out with this it was simply taking a four bedroom house and saying okay, there are four bedrooms, one’s going to be a guest room, one’s going to be mine and I’ve got two more. So let’s have some people living in those. There are a lot of people in areas who are house rich, which is to say they are by themselves living in houses with extra bedrooms because they bought it, they got it in the divorce, the kids have left, the husband’s died, and this is usually women by the way. Excuse me for sort of focusing on women but that tends to be. And they’re alone. What really gives me passion in this piece is the idea of being able to help all these lonely people.
Frank: Got it. So, what’s the process? How are you helping people? Are you helping people find the housing connection, or are you more on the advising end? Tell me what your service is and what’s the process.
Anna: So what I’ve been doing is I’ve been working on teaching people how to do it themselves using the process that I developed which worked for me for many many years and I found to be fast, effective, and efficient. But let me back up maybe and give you a definition. I want people to have what I call home mates. A home mate, in my definition, is someone whom you like and respect, those are very important, who’s way of living at home is compatible enough that everybody is comfortable. Okay.
Anna: There’s a lot in that sentence. So what I really want to do is I want people to understand what it means to find a house mate who’s habits are compatible with your own. What do I need? What must I have? What can’t I live with in my home that would have to be there? How do I ask that question? How do I explore the dimensions of home sharing? To answer these questions, I offer a four session webinar that people can take and some people just take that webinar and they run with it. I also have a half day workshop when organizations invite me to come and deliver that workshop in person. And now, this my ultimate vision mind you, I have designed a three day workshop which is to help people go from not knowing how to find a good housemate, to, at the end of a three-day workshop, being able to look someone in the eye and say for sure whether it’s a good fit for them or not.
I think that a lot of people are afraid of shared housing and for good reasons, home should be sanctuary and we tend to hear nightmare stories about living with strangers, etc. We hear about bad housemates or we remember a bad housemate. What we don’t remember and we don’t hear about is when it simply works. It’s just life. I once had an elderly woman come up to me after she heard me do a talk and she said, I lived like that for 30 years, I thought nothing of it.
Frank: How do most people find, if they’re open to some sort of shared housing, but they don’t own a house themselves, where do they go for help? Is there a website or anything like that available?
Anna: Yeah, there are a couple of sites actually and I’m going to mention a few but before I mention a site, I want to say that word of mouth through one’s communities is the best way. What I encourage people to do and teach people how to do is to sort out who they are and what they’re looking for so that they can write what I’m now calling an announcement. Putting together and articulating in an announcement what it is you’re looking for and handing it out is the best way to get the word out, even with the internet these days.
I now have a colleague who lives in Tucson Arizona named Deb. Deb and Sharon were connected to each other through their communities, who thought they would be a good fit and thus set them up. They were both a little wary at first, which is to be expected, but they had a few conversations with each other to get a sense of what living together might be like. Now, they are very public about how much they value the relationship that they have developed.
Frank: That’s wonderful. When people come to you for advice and they go, where do I start? What do I do? What do you advise them? We’d like them to get your book but give us a little bit.
Anna: What the book offers and what I help people do in the webinar, etc , is to do a personal inventory. Which is to say, how do you already live in your house? What’s important to you? What’s not important? What makes it home? People have different standards of cleanliness. They have different standards of neatness. You need to kind of think about those sorts of things because a neat nit should not live with a slob and vice versa. That’s what I mean by compatible enough. But two people that don’t mind piles of newspapers are going to be perfectly happy with each other. But getting clear on how you now live in your house helps create parameters so that you can say to somebody who doesn’t meet those, right off the bat, hey this doesn’t work, that’s not for me. But that’s part of what you put in the announcement so that you attract somebody who meets those things. Right?
Frank: Right right right.
Anna: It’s really an important step, as well as looking at your routines and looking at what kind of space you have available or what kind of space you want to live in. Getting clear about all of that. That’s sort of visioning or clarity is so critical and I will tell you Frank that all, all of the bad stories I’ve heard come from an ineffective selection process.
Frank: I was going to say, I see a lot of advantages but the horror stories could be pretty bad I would think if not planned out.
Anna: The horror stories, they’re bad. So what I teach is how to be clear about what you want, and also how to trust your gut. The first time you talk to somebody and you say, I don’t like this person, that’s really never going to change.
Frank: Yeah. What advice, like you said and I know people who’ve done this, and it’s worked out great. But my next question is, what advice would you give to a homeowner who’s thinking about opening his or her property up to shared housing. As I’m sure there could be legal issues, I want to know what advice you would give to them, because I’m sure it won’t be as easy as simply finding a compatible housemate.
Anna: Beyond the must haves and can’t live withs and your gut check, I highly, not even recommend, I insist that people get references and they talk to those references. It’s not like a security check or a credit check although if people want to do those that’s fine with me but the talking to somebody who knows the person that you’re considering living with is crucial.
Also, if you’re doing a home mate thing, it doesn’t have to be an overnight decision. You can have coffee together. You can have another coffee together. You can go to each other’s homes. Do you like the way each other lives? You have social media these days. You can look somebody up on Facebook. In fact, in my book I have a story about a younger woman who was trying to decide between two possible housemates and she looked them up and one of them had had a really bad accident and her community had come together to raise money to help her pay for her medical expenses and as the person I was talking to said, I figured that this was somebody that the community enough about it would everybody a good fit for me. Right?
Anna: Right. This way you can know a lot about a person ahead of time.
Frank: I guess my question, and again just because I’m in the business of senior care, alright, housemates could really hit it off in the beginning and enjoy living together for a time, but what if one person’s health starts to decline, and the other one realizes that they might not be compatible anymore because her housemates is starting to suffer accidents, falls, she’s not remembering things, whatever the case may be.
I think that if it’s not compatible for the renter based on the terms of the agreement, they leave. But if it’s not compatible for the home owner that’s where it could get sticky. Any thoughts there?
Anna: I think it can get sticky and I think that this is where it might be useful to have somebody to talk to. I can see that. In my book I talk about when is the relationship over. And this comes from my personal experience that it’s over when you don’t want to go home. It hurts. I think that the home owner has to be able to say to this person, you need care beyond what I can give you. It’s a hard conversation, but a necessary one. And I will say, in general, that two people can still coexist and remain independent very successfully. The second person can be considered a second support system, if you will.
Frank: I would 100% agree. And that’s why I say the advantages far outweigh the disadvantages. No doubt about it.
Anna: Right. We haven’t talked about the benefit of help, literally, help. Help in an emergency. And help that hospitals don’t release somebody unless there’s somebody at home to take care of them. Right?
Frank: Right right. It could even just be engagement.
Frank: Somebody being home alone and sitting in front of the TV all the time is not a good thing. Having engagement and things like that, conversation is a positive.
Anna: Well and we know that social isolation is a really big issue for seniors, right? And this is a way to address and not allow oneself to become socially isolated.
Frank: So Anna Marie, how can people reach out to you? Tell us your website or any other information you’d like to share with our listeners.
Anna: Absolutely. So I’m at sharinghousing.com and also my non-profit organization is shoringhousing.org and on that website I have blogs, I have newsletter, I have my webinar. If you’re interested in my webinar then you can register for it on my website. I’ve got my book, my workbook, and a few other resources lined up on there. I’m on Facebook, Sharing Housing. And we also have a closed Facebook group called Hello Home Mate, which is designed to be a place for people to talk to one another about this idea and that people have to apply and enter and we accept most people. So those are the best. And I can always be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Frank: Got it. So listen, you’ve been doing it for a little bit, you’re seeing probably some trends, you talk to a lot of people, what’s your hope for the future? Let’s fast forward a little bit, three, five years, what do you think is going to be needed as the boomers are aging?
Anna: Well I hope, it’s actually a little longer than five years but we’ll work with five years, I hope that we as a society get to place where we assume that people are going to live together. We’ve got this strange assumption right now that if I’m single I should live alone. Human beings have never done that. We’re social, we live together. And it’s a very strange piece of our world right now that people live by themselves. So I would hope that 10 years down the road somebody says oh, I live by myself, another person says why, why do you do that? Which is the reverse of what’s happening now. As Margret Mead said that she thinks that it’s almost a universal human need to have someone who wonders where you are when you don’t come home at night.
Frank: Right. Well great. Anna Marie, thank you so much for joining us on The Aging Boomers. Very informative. Check out Anna Marie’s website at sharinghousing.org as well as sharinghousing.com. Pick up her book, great guide book for sharing housing. A guide book for finding and keeping good house mates.
Frank: Great, well thank you so much for joining us, I really appreciate it.
Anna: Thank you so much for the opportunity.
Frank: Yep. And I want to thank everybody for joining us on The Aging Boomers. Just be safe out there and we’ll talk to you all soon.