Do you love where you live? Or is your choice of home seriously cramped by the size of your budget? Big city dreams are often quashed by big city apartment price tags.
Financial relief can come in the form of a group house. But before you begin recounting tales of sitcom-level nightmare roommates, consider the positives: More space. Maybe a yard. Meals that beat microwave noodle cups by a mile.
If those advantages sound tempting, group living might be a good option for you. We asked two group-living pros how they get by for less, but end up feeling richer for it.
Meet Two Group-Living Experts
“I pay less than half in rent and utilities compared to my peers, and do things that would normally be cost-prohibitive,” said Rachel Choate, a DC-based real estate agent who dreams of putting a healthy deposit down on her first home of her own. Until then, group living is her arrangement of choice; in fact, she’s organized three out of the five group homes she’s lived in.
Choate, who is lovingly referred to as the “house mom,” said, “There is also the built-in support network that a group house gives.” That network can be important, especially if you’re living far away from family and friends.
Lyndsey Fifield, a digital director for a public policy nonprofit, has also enjoyed the camaraderie of a well-matched group house. “In one of my group houses when I was first out of college,” she remembered, “we all chipped in for groceries and ate breakfast and dinner together. We all saved a ton and got to know each other better by trying new recipes.”
Ready to organize your first group house and save big? The two women advise taking these five crucial steps.
1. Establish a Lifestyle Goal
Identify your ideal group-living situation and the aspects that are important to your lifestyle.
“You need an identity that sells the house beyond just cheap rent,” Choate said. This identity can be your favorite hobby, your professional arena or maybe a personality trait, like being introverted or extroverted. (Click to tweet this idea.)
“When I started my current house, I had a vision of a house centered around hospitality: a place where guests are always welcome, parties and dinners are hosted often and we really make an effort to be a part of our neighborhood,” Choate said.
2. Gather Your Group
You might be lucky to have a previous roommate or a friend in mind for your new home. But what about the rest of the bedrooms? Ask friends for referrals or use neighborhood email lists to find roommates that match the goals you’ve created.
Who were Choate’s perfect roommates for her recent house? “We all had a strong interest in community, a heart for hospitality, tight budgets and lots of flexibility.” Doesn’t sound too hard to find people to fit that bill, does it?
3. Pick Your Perfect House
Fifield, who describes herself as a Craigslist guru, has smart tips for using the classifieds site to your advantage.
“If you’re using Craigslist in a city (and let’s face it, you are) don’t just look in the housing section for open houses with new leases,” she said. “Look in the ‘shared’ section to find people who want to get out of their leases, or houses that are turning over.” You might be able to scoop up a house before it hits the rental market, or move into a house that will be replacing a majority of its roommates.
Keep an open mind when house-hunting, and consider less-popular neighborhoods. “The best neighborhoods for group houses are often those that most people don’t immediately think of,” Choate said. “The popular neighborhoods are often crammed with high-cost, small apartments and the few houses that are available are ridiculously expensive.”
She spent about three months checking out houses, and settled on one that was slightly further from the area that most of her friends lived in. “The neighborhood was on the edge of what many considered ‘safe,’ but this meant the asking price was also considerably lower than a few blocks over. The house was also convenient to public transportation, making it possible for the roommates to get around without the added expense of a car.”
4. Set Some Ground Rules
Gather everyone around to set some guidelines. “In some group houses it works best if everyone takes one bill, but in others it works best if only one person handles it all. It really depends on your comfort level. It’s a big responsibility,” Fifield said. “Make sure you set a precedent on when utilities will be due and agree on how they should be paid.”
Keep a document or binder handy with all the details of the house, from copies of rental agreements to emergency contact numbers. Fifield stressed the importance of keeping all the details in writing. “You will forget who owes a security deposit after four girls named Sarah have moved in and out of your house in three years.”
She also advised maintaining a healthy relationship with your landlord. Choose one roommate as the main point of contact, so that your landlord doesn’t get overwhelmed with emails or calls with issues at your address.
5. Work Together — Then Relax!
By sharing basic pantry items among all roommates, you can expect a major savings on your grocery bill. Be sure to set clear rules about who should purchase shared grocery items and how often.
Then, take time to enjoy each other’s company. “Our house also tries to have periodic group dinners where either one person cooks for the whole group or we each bring a dish to share,” Choate said. “This definitely cuts down on the grocery budget and means we eat a bit better than we might if we were just cooking for ourselves.”
Fifield agreed. “It’s fun coming home to a house full of people to have a glass of wine instead of going out and spending a ton on happy hours.”
Your Turn: Have you ever lived in a group house? Would you consider it?