How you could retire with your friends

6 min | 27 February 2023

Janice Warman
Janice Warman

If you're planning for retirement, have you thought about house sharing with friends?

Years ago a friend of mine moved to Suffolk with his family to join a commune on a farm. It turned out to be a thoroughly modern commune where you bought your apartment. You shared the work in the house and on the land. Toiletries and food were supplied when needed. If you left, you sold your property back to the commune for the value linked to the House Price Index.

I spent some happy weekends there with my partner and children, and it’s always stuck in my mind as a really good way to live. So, when I heard that older people were choosing to retire in shared properties, my ears pricked up.

After all, many of us lived in shared houses as students and young professionals, and may look back on those years with affection. When we think of our retirement, we might imagine being one of those silver-haired couples striding along the beach, like we see on TV ads. But for many of us, retirement may mean restricted income and, if we own a home, it may be too expensive to maintain.

Choosing friends to live with in retirement can be a solution. You could have company, friendship and the option to share costs, including care.

A study from the Mental Health Foundation found that people who are more connected to family and friends are happier, physically healthier and may even live longer. And according to an October 2022 survey from property management company FirstPort, house sharing is becoming more popular among older adults.

The survey reveals that 30% of over-55s would consider sharing a home in later life, 31% would be happy to live with a friend, while one in six of the 2,000 over 55-year-olds interviewed would prefer to live with a friend than with family. Perhaps unsurprisingly, financial fears were the biggest concern for 63% of those questioned.

Even if finance is not a concern, loneliness might well be a factor. According to the Office of National Statistics, the number of people living alone in the UK has increased by 8.3% over the 10 years to 2021. In 2021, the proportion of one-person households ranged from 25.8% in London to 36.0% in Scotland.

Women who did it

Retired journalist Andrea Hargreaves lived alone for seven years after her husband died. And then moved in with two friends in a south-coast town. They each sold their homes and bought a larger one together. She wrote about her experience in The Guardian. “It feels like I’m embracing a new, vital life,” she says. They enjoy their individual interests, one friend converted a single garage to an artist’s studio, another created a kitchen garden, and Andrea got herself a batch of hens.

Couples who did it

Three couples in Australia bought a property together and rebuilt it for their retirement, yoga teacher Eva Grzybowski explained in an article for Tonic Magazine. They bought a house on an island off New South Wales, spent holidays there together, converted it to take six people, and trialled living together in a rented house in Sydney.

So how does it work? “I can honestly say, far better than anyone expected,” said Grzybowski. “We have a Friday morning working bee where the six of us clean the house, each with our regular chores. We also have a sign-up spreadsheet for dinners that lets us list when we will be in for which meals, with a spot to put an asterisk if we're going to cook. It works very well.”

So, you’ve decided to share a house in retirement. How can you make it work?

How to do it

  1. Find your people. Do you have close friends who you could see yourself living with? Remember, this will be longer than a dinner party, a weekend away at a music festival or even a couple of weeks’ holiday together.
  2. Find somewhere to live. One of you might have a large property that’s turning out to be too expensive to heat or maintain. Or you could each sell your own home and buy a new, larger one. In a way, this will be a kind of commune. And just like a commune, it'll need to have ground rules about everything from dividing the household bills to who does which chores.
  3. Get your family onside. If you have children or other relatives, you’ll probably need their support. They might want to help you plan for any changes, like if one person in the shared property passes away.
  4. Set up ownership of the house with care. You should be meticulous about the ownership of the house, and what happens when one of you eventually dies, or has to go into a retirement home. Seek out independent legal advice about what documents you may need to protect the interests of the heirs of any part-owner of the shared property who dies.
  5. Finally, you may need to have a big clear-out of your own home before moving, as you're likely to have less room for your belongings. You could decide who brings what furniture and household items, then sell anything you don’t need.

As students or young working people, we may have lived carefree if somewhat messy lives in shared houses and flats, as portrayed in many TV sitcoms. As older people, once the hectic family years are over, and especially if one of a couple has died, we may face a new, more solitary existence, perhaps with money worries too. It’s good to think that if we plan carefully and choose our friends well, we might be able to enter a new, happier phase of our lives, sharing a home in retirement with some of the people we love the best.

Many of us end up living communally at the end of life, with one of our children, in retirement homes, nursing homes or hospices. The beauty of this form of communal living is that we get to choose the company we keep.

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