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The Secret to Living in a Sweet House / Apartment : Roommates

Last night, we helped a friend move across the city. She’d moved into the first place as a temporary third roommate, but now the real third roommate is coming. Fortunately, that gave her time to find another great living situation.

What I was really struck by was how nice the houses she’s been living in are. Both places struck me as something left from when the rich people lived in DC and had receptions and whatnot. I could just see people in Edwardian dress mingling in both living rooms. Or dining in the elegant dining areas.

We live in a small but not-too-expensive apartment, but she actually pays less than us in rent (I believe). And lives in a much nicer place.

The secret is in the roommates.

For instance, the rent on the house where she’s living may well be something like $1750/month. But if there are 3 people sharing it, that comes out to under $600 per person, which is great by DC standards.

Of course, if you’re a married couple you probably want your own house or apartment. Sharing seems less cool. At least if you’re newlyweds like we were when we moved here. Thinking about this more, though, it seems like some houses are built well enough for multi-small-family dwelling.

My friend’s new house, for instance, has 3 floors. The way it’s set up, she has her own floor at the top. Two rooms, slightly smaller than our apartment. When you take out the need for a kitchen on our floor (because they share one downstairs), the sizes are closer.

Quite cozy for a couple. And perhaps even with a child.

As it is, we don’t have an interest in moving right now. Moving is rough, even more so if it’s your own stuff (if it’s a friend’s then they have to do all the unpacking, which is most of the suckiness for me). We’re also not terribly keen on the idea of roommates. But it’s something to consider.

Maybe I’m missing a large trend in young marrieds living with friends. I really think there are societal feelings against it. “Bad” enough to be renting and not own our own place. Or not have kids yet. If we lived with other people, would we even be taken seriously?


deepali June 27, 2008 at 11:12 am

I’m as open-minded as they come, but a married couple living with housemates does strike me as a bit odd. But I also equate marriage with “financial independence” (ie, you don’t get married until the two of can make it on your own), so I might have an uncommon opinion on this…?

Multifamily homes that are essentially several small apartments in one house seem fine to me. But having your own “space” as a married couple would be important to me.

As for the rest, I’m single with roommates and I think it was one of the best decisions I made. I can’t beat the location, the size of the place, etc. And it’s considerably cheaper than anything else in the area!

Amphritrite June 27, 2008 at 11:17 am

I lived all over the DC area for a long time, first in a house with one roommate, then two (Mortgage was about $1700), and then in DT Silver Spring (Rent: $1400) with a roommate in a REALLY nice apartment. Then, I got fed up with roomies and moved to just outside of Baltimore on my own in another REALLY nice apartment (Rent: $807).

Where I agree that roommates help with costs, they can also be costly. You have no control over roommates or what they may do to the place you’re living, who they might bring over, or what they may adopt. When moving out of my SS Roommate situation, her cat had peed all over the closet (little known to us) and cost me $1000 to replace the carpet in the apartment because it was supposed to last 7 years and only lasted a year.

Now, I live in Seattle, and I’m moving from a high rent, northern town ($905) to downtown for a cheaper rent by nearly $100. It means I’m giving up square feet, but it’s all about location to me! (Location, location, location ;))

Megan June 27, 2008 at 11:36 am

I have a number of friends who are married and have roommates. I think with most of these friends, the roommate is a guy who was living with the husband pre-marriage, and now they all live together. Some in apartment settings, some in house settings. It may seem strange to people, but all the couples I know who have done it just sort of shrug and say “Yeah, it’s cool.”

So I think it’s up to each couple as to whether the roommate thing is something they want to do.

Tina June 27, 2008 at 11:44 am

When your married you generally don’t have “roommates” you take in “boarders”. I boarded with my newly married brother and SIL for a while, I worked and went to school full time so I was never home. I only needed a bed to crash in and a shower so they earned a bit of money off of an otherwise empty bedroom and I hardly ever saw them.

Aaron June 27, 2008 at 1:36 pm

I think I can contribute to this conversation. My wife and I own (well, we bought it; not paid off yet) our house. Purchased it about 3 years ago. It’s 3BR, 2BA upstairs (1 bath is in the master bedroom), and a big game/great room, office, workout room/ 1/2 BA downstairs.

Shortly after purchasing it, one of our friends fell on some hard times. His engagement fell through, and the ‘baby momma/fiance’ threw him out. He didn’t make the greatest PF decisions (honestly, who am *I* to talk) so we invited him to move in. No talk of $$ or anything just helping a friend. A ‘help out when you can’ deal. After a while, he started chipping in regularly (about $300 and buying groceries) which was close to half our mortgage. The wife and I got to thinking damn; this is a good way to get extra debt repayment money.

He’s since moved out, but we picked up another roomate (now friend) that’s in the AirForce and stationed at the base near our home. The money has gone up a bit, but we are still using it for the same stuff; every month it goes straight to whatever debt we are working on OR it goes to our emergency/savings fund. In my opinion, it works out well for everyone. The roommate gets a GREAT deal on housing, and I get a large debt snowflake.

Personally, I would rent out the third bedroom also or rent them both to perhaps a single parent and child but I’m not certain how my wife feels about that.

deepali June 27, 2008 at 1:53 pm

Oh. The idea of taking in boarders/friends/family doesn’t seem odd to me in the slightest! Funny how changing a word makes a world of a difference!

Meagan June 27, 2008 at 2:12 pm

My husband and I have had a roommate for the past two years, which is a little more than half of our married life together. We are both students and splitting rent and bills has kept our student loan debt down substantially. Our roommate is my former college roommate who is attending the same graduate school. People do think it’s strange at first usually, but they get over it. We live in Texas which is known for low cost of living so I think it is a little more weird here than in a high cost of living location. We are moving at the end of July and I have to say that, while grateful for the opportunities having a roommate has presented for us, I can’t wait to have a place of our own again.

Healthy Amelia June 27, 2008 at 3:38 pm

Since moving to DC in 2000, I’ve lived in every imaginable living situation. Roommates in apartments, roommates in a house, studio on my own… For the past 4 years, though, I’ve lived with my now-husband of almost 3 years in a tiny one bedroom basement apartment in our landlady’s house. People are always asking about why we don’t get something bigger or buy a house. And why haven’t you had kids yet?

The most important thing is finding out what works for you (and your partner, if applicable). We love where we live, our landlady and her family, and the low rent. I’m in the final stages of paying off my debt so we will move into “save up for a house” mode soon. There is no need to rush it and there’s no reason to listen to or take to heart others’ expectations of where you should be. We won’t rush our life stages or get in over our heads to please anyone else. It’s our life and we have to live it.

Lisa June 27, 2008 at 4:54 pm

I’m currently a “boarder” in a house owned by a family- husband/wife and 3 year old. I admit at first I was skeptical and was leaning towards finding roommates my own age, but seeing the house an dmeeting the family convinced me. I think I’m getting a great deal and because I don’t plan to be in the area more than a year I think it’s worth it. Some of my friends think it’s weird too, but those who have seen the place and see what I end up getting for my money are normally impressed or jealous.
In the end I think it depends on what you want out of the situation. I couldn’t do this if I wanted to through crazy parties with my friends all the time, but that’s not my thing. A lot depends on the family and the “boarder”. I don’t interact a lot with the family, but we get along fine, say hi and have basic conversation. I have almost half the house to myself other than the shared kitchen. If the border is friends with the family then the extra space probably isn’t as much the issue.
I probably wouldn’t do this for too long, but for now I find this a good solution to saving money without sacrificing anything- and often gaining nice living space.

Meg from FruWiki & All About Appearances June 27, 2008 at 5:16 pm

We have the best of both worlds. My husband and I own a home, but we rent out our spare bedroom to a close friend. Some people may think it’s weird, but we see it as a way to spend more time with friends while helping them out and… yes… making a few hundred bucks a month.

Sometimes we wonder what people think since no, there’s nothing going on between us and our friend Katy other than a close friendship. We live in a college town, though, so having roommates isn’t unusual, just the fact that we’re married.

It’s great to have our friend staying with us as well as to have extra income and even extra help around the house. She’s actually one of 5 roommates we’ve had since moving here (one was my brother-in-law, but the others were gal pals). Some were better to live with than others, but it’s worked really well for us in general. And when she moves out, we’ll probably have another roommate. In fact, there are three people right now who have their eyes on her room — which certainly makes us feel loved. And of course, it’s a great deal for them. They get to live in an actual house, with a yard even, and they don’t have to do a lot of the housework — plus it’s a whole lot cheaper for them than it would be to rent around here.

Sara June 27, 2008 at 10:08 pm

I know that the math makes total sense, but you couldn’t pay me enough to take on roommates. (I’m actually shuddering right now.) I would downsize to a cheaper, less attractive home and be assured of always walking into a peaceful, welcoming environment before repeating some of my previous roommate experiences.

Frugal Vet Tech June 28, 2008 at 12:15 pm

I occasionally think about hubby and I doing something like that when we have the room (we’re in a one bedroom apartment right now), but I don’t think we’d like it much. Perhaps we’d consider it if we had a house with a second level, but even then, I’m not sure. We like our space and privacy. If we ever had a friend or family member that needed a place to stay we certainly wouldn’t hesitate to offer them a place to crash for a while. In fact, shortly after we were married, we ended up with a “cousin” (really long story) of mine living with us in our tiny apartment because she had no where else to go. It was rather crowded, but otherwise it worked out fairly well.

My parents have a gal that lives with them and that’s worked out really well, but they didn’t set out to find someone to rent a room from them. My mom and the gal work at the same place (and she’s from the same town I grew up in), so got an apartment together as a matter of convenience. Then, my parents bought a house (they had two separate residences for a while due to having jobs three hours apart before getting our old place sold) and invited her to move with them. The gal pretty much has the whole downstairs to herself and can, of course, use the kitchen and what-not when she needs or wants to. It’s worked out quite well. So well, in fact, that my dad told her that when she gets married she can’t move out! 🙂

Susan June 28, 2008 at 9:45 pm

I wouldn’t want roommates (other than my husband) now that I’m married. Hubby and I have our own way of doing things, our own schedule, so living with a roommate wouldn’t appeal to us. Plus, there goes the parading around the house naked!
(Whoa, did I just say that?!) 😉

I can see having a roommate as a single person, though, that is if you get a really cool roommate! Otherwise, it could be a very unpleasant living situation, even if you’re saving money!

fathersez June 29, 2008 at 10:22 am

Both my elder girls have just been taken in as boarders.

They are staying separately as their work places are too far apart.

They are staying with single mothers now, and they plan to get their own apartment and share once they are a little more settled.

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