Want to own a home? Get some room­mates

Mar­ried cou­ples rent­ing out rooms to de­fray high costs of hous­ing


“There is clear cor­re­la­tion be­tween high home prices and rates of mar­ried cou­ples with room­mates. For every $100,000 in­crease in me­dian metro home prices, there is a 0.25 per­cent­age point in­crease in the rate of mar­ried cou­ples liv­ing with room­mates.

Ch­eryl Young, se­nior econ­o­mist at Tru­lia

In June, Natalee King and her hus­band, Jonathan, re­al­ized a decade-long dream of buy­ing a home in Or­ange County, Cal­i­for­nia, one of the more ex­pen­sive hous­ing mar­kets in the coun­try.

The cou­ple drained their sav­ings for a down pay­ment to win the fixer-up­per.

But con­cerned about the cost of fu­ture re­pairs and com­pelled to re­build their sav­ings, they de­cided to rent out the mas­ter bed­room with its own bath­room for $1,250. From Septem­ber through Jan­uary, two col­lege stu­dents on in­tern­ships leased the space.

That rent money gave the Kings a bit of re­lief, and they’re look­ing for more.

They just signed an­other ren­ter who is ex­pected to move in at the end of the month. They plan to rent for at least a year to steady their fi­nances as Jonathan goes back to school for a ca­reer change.

“Un­less you were gifted money, the only way to own a home if you’re mid­dle in­come is you have to rent,” Natalee, 35, said. “We see it all the time. Some peo­ple may think it’s weird, but I feel like, in Or­ange County, it’s the norm now to have that Amer­i­can Dream.”

Is this nor­mal?

The Kings are part of a small, but now seem­ingly per­ma­nent, trend of mar­ried cou­ples tak­ing in room­mates to de­fray high hous­ing costs, ac­cord­ing to a new study from Tru­lia given ex­clu­sively to USA TO­DAY.

More mar­ried cou­ples turned to this ar­range­ment as home prices peaked right be­fore the hous­ing crash. They largely stuck with it through the Great Re­ces­sion and even as the econ­omy bounced back.

“The thing is home prices keep go­ing up and up, while wages re­mained flat. So, it makes sense that peo­ple are hav­ing a tough time with hous­ing costs, even as the econ­omy has got­ten bet­ter,” said Ch­eryl Young, a se­nior econ­o­mist at Tru­lia.

The per­cent­age of rent­ing and home­own­ing mar­ried cou­ples with room­mates is now 28 per­cent higher than its his­tor­i­cal av­er­age be­tween 1995 and 2018, Tru­lia found. The in­crease is led by more mar­ried home­own­ers tak­ing on room­mates, which is 38 per­cent higher than its his­tor­i­cal av­er­age, Tru­lia found.

The share of mar­ried renters with room­mates is up just 11 per­cent over the his­tor­i­cal av­er­age, but these cou­ples are al­most three times more likely to have a room­mate.

Tru­lia found that West Coast mar­kets have a higher share of this unique hous­ing ar­range­ment, likely be­cause they have had some of the fastest home price growth over the last decade.

“There is clear cor­re­la­tion be­tween high home prices and rates of mar­ried cou­ples with room­mates,” Young said. For every $100,000 in­crease in me­dian metro home prices, there is a 0.25 per­cent­age point in­crease in the rate of mar­ried cou­ples liv­ing with room­mates, Tru­lia found.

Own­ing in Oak­land

In Oak­land, Cal­i­for­nia, Katy Liang, her hus­band and their two chil­dren have been liv­ing with a fam­ily friend for the

past three-and-a-half years since they bought their three-bed­room house for $1 mil­lion.

“We de­cided to get a room­mate be­cause the mort­gage is a lot, and we’re a house of two teach­ers,” Katy, 34, said.

Their room­mate – a friend of her hus­band – pays $900 each month to rent out the mas­ter bed­room with its own bath­room. The rent makes up one-fifth of the to­tal $4,400 monthly mort­gage pay­ment.

The ar­range­ment has been smooth, Liang said. The room­mate doesn’t use the kitchen much and in­stead re­lies on a hot plate, mi­crowave and mini fridge in his room. But he joins the fam­ily some­times for hol­i­day cel­e­bra­tions and will play with the kids out­side.

Liang orig­i­nally thought he’d move out af­ter they had their sec­ond child, who’s 7 months old now. “But we feel like we have enough space still for our fam­ily,” she said. “Maybe when the kids need their own room, an­other three years maybe.”

Shar­ing in Seat­tle

When Michelle Hardies switched ca­reers, she and her hus­band, Don, wanted ex­tra in­come while she built up her new busi­ness as a real es­tate agent. Don, who had lived with the same boarder for 12 years with his ex-wife, sug­gested a room­mate.

Their home – a four-bed­room house in Lake Stevens, Wash­ing­ton – was big enough and ideally lo­cated about a 20minute drive from Everett, where Boe­ing has a ma­jor fa­cil­ity, and 30 min­utes from north­ern Seat­tle, where rents are be­com­ing un­af­ford­able.

“It’s not pos­si­ble for peo­ple to rent on one in­come in Seat­tle,” Don, 58, said. “Peo­ple are be­ing forced to move fur­ther and fur­ther out of the city to af­ford to rent or buy.”

In the past 10 months, they’ve had suc­cess rent­ing two rooms on a mon­thto-month ba­sis, largely to shorter-term board­ers. There have been some is­sues. Two room­mates were asked to move out, and an­other un­ex­pect­edly died while on va­ca­tion. Oth­er­wise, the Hardies – who mar­ried two years ago – have been pleased.

“You have to give up some pri­vacy,” Michelle, 50, said. “As a cou­ple you might not do some of the things you would nor­mally do as a cou­ple – as new­ly­weds.”

“In this case, we don’t want any­thing too long-term,” Don con­tin­ued. “We want to go back to no room­mates, that’s pre­ferred for us. But for now, it makes eco­nomic sense.”

Natalee and Jonathan King rent out the mas­ter bed­room and bath­room of their home to help with their fi­nances.

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