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With the cost of renting often taking up a huge proportion of income, finding ways to save money on rent can be a real help. This guest post by financial independence blogger Jen (from Monethalia) shows how you could save on rent by becoming a homesharer, especially as a student or young professional.
How to live in a big city for cheap and gain life skills
It is no secret that the housing market in the UK is facing a crisis. Average rents in the UK have increased to £941 in June 2019. Within London, average rent prices have soared even higher and now stand at £1,611 per month. Finding affordable housing within big cities such as London is already challenging, and may become nearly impossible to find for students and people living in single households. Homesharing can be an attractive solution for these population groups.
What is homesharing?
Many elderly people live alone, leaving them vulnerable to loneliness and neglect. However, they often live in paid-off houses and have spare rooms in which their children used to live. Homesharing aims to solve both the housing problem and the loneliness problem by connecting elderly people to those in need of affordable housing. The homesharer, often a student or young professional, gets to live for free in the house of the elderly person. In return, they provide companionship and help with household tasks. Most commonly, both parties pay a small monthly fee to a sharing agency who thoroughly checks homesharer before connecting them to the elderly person and also provides ongoing support.
What tasks do homesharers do?
The homesharer agrees to spend ten hours per week helping the homeowner. Common tasks include household chores such as cleaning, washing up, cooking, etc. Homesharers may also be asked to go to appointments with the elderly person or to go for walks with them. Some people just want a homesharer to have someone to talk to or play games with. Whatever the tasks are, they are set out at the beginning of the sharing period and written down so that there is no confusion later on. Another important rule is that homesharers have to be in the property on four evenings a week and sleep there six nights a week, except for one free weekend a month.
My experiences as a homesharer
When moving to London for my masters degree, it was clear that I would not be able to afford paying crazy amounts of rent. As a German citizen, I was ineligible for a maintenance loan and the money I was given as a bursary from Germany was adjusted to German rent prices, which are not comparable to London prices. I was lucky to find an advert seeking a homesharer on spareroom.
I soon moved in with an 80-year-old African lady in the early stages of Alzheimer dementia. Initially, I was in doubt of whether homesharing was right for me as I am not a very social person and like to keep to myself. However, Emma (name changed), the lady I came to live with, was a warm and open person who treated me like her own granddaughter from the start. In return, she quickly became a part of my family, too.
As Emma had a professional carer for essential jobs such as washing and cooking, my tasks were limited to cleaning the house once weekly, going to church with Emma and keeping her company. I was able to fit this in around my studies and even started working part-time as retail assistant to save money for tuition fees. I am not the type who likes to party all night, so I had no problem with staying in during the evenings. On the contrary, it gave me time to study once Emma had gone to bed.
We often played board games together, although they became increasingly challenging for Emma as her dementia progressed. At other times, we would go for a walk together or visit Emma’s old friends. This was interesting as I was able to learn a lot about African culture. During the evenings, I often taught Emma how to deal with technology such as handling a mobile phone, a CD player or the TV. Due to her dementia she had difficulties with this but much to the surprise of her family, she eventually learned.
The advantages of homesharing
The biggest advantage of homesharing is obviously saving money. Instead of paying in excess of £600 for rent, I paid a monthly fee of £150 to the sharing agency. This means I could pay the third instalment of my tuition fees entirely with money I would have otherwise spent on rent.
Other than that, I really grew as a person. As mentioned above, I usually like to mind my own business. By living with Emma, I learned to be empathetic and to see the world with another person’s eye as I constantly had to predict her needs and potential challenges. I really got better at understanding others thanks to living with Emma. Plus, my homesharing experience looks great on my CV.
The downsides of sharing
Sadly, homesharing can have its downsides as well. For me, I often got into arguments with Emma’s daughter who often claimed that I slacked on my chores and neglected Emma. Once, she spent a whole ten minutes shouting at me over the phone! I had to get the homesharing agency involved to deal with her as my mental health was suffering due to her.
It was also sad to see how dementia progresses mercilessly and causes frustration and suffering to the affected person and family. I do what I can now to prevent my own grandmother from developing dementia, although there is frustratingly little that can be done.
Another potential issue may be that it is difficult to maintain the boundaries of the sharing contract. For example, once your ten hours of weekly help are over, the homesharer cannot just ignore the elderly person for the rest of the week. Equally, some tasks may lie outside of the sharing agreement but may need to be done nonetheless.
Homesharing is not the solution to the housing crisis but can be a great temporary help for those in need of affordable housing. It is also a great opportunity to gain additional life skills and can be fitted around the homesharer’s normal daily life. As with every job, there is potential for conflicts and other issues, but these can often be resolved through clear communication and if necessary, involvement of the sharing agency.
Interested in becoming a sharer?
Anyone with a clear criminal record can become a homesharer, previous experience is not needed. Most commonly, you will need two references but these can be provided by anyone who knows you sufficiently well, for example friends or colleagues. Homesharing offers are mostly limited to big cities and advertised on housing websites such as spareroom.
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