Why I’d Never Rent a Room in My Home Again

Find a great housemate and you can end up with a new best friend.

Make a bad choice, and you can end up with a fiend.

I had the fiend experience back in the ‘80s when I agreed to split a two-bedroom house with a college student I’d just met. It took me a few months to realize the textbooks she carried around were a prop she used to do a naughty schoolgirl routine at the massage parlor where she worked. Her chronic sniffles weren’t from allergies; they were from too much cocaine snorting.

That was the end of my willingness to share my space until I met my husband. We have a lot of extra space in our current home, but I’d have to be really hard up for cash to rent out any of it.

There are apparently several million people who disagree with me. The Census Bureau says 6.2 million Americans live in shared households (not counting the 15.8 million adults who live with their parents).

Among the people who think I’m way wrong about house-sharing: Crystal Stemberger, ablogger who’s rented a spare bedroom in her Houston home to five different people over the last six years.

Her first roommate was a friend who simply needed a place to live for a while. “A while” turned out to be four months and when he moved out, Stemberger and her husband decided having housemates agreed with them.

“We were addicted to the pretty easy extra money that was covering two-thirds of our mortgage by itself,” she says. They put an ad on Craigslist to find a replacement renter.

(Fortunately, the Stembergers didn’t live in Boston, where at the time “Craigslist killer”Philip Markoff trolled for victims.)

Their second roommate was a single guy with a busy social life and a heavy workload that kept him out of the house. “When he was around, he was clean, friendly, and was always very helpful,” Stemberger says. “He stayed for more than a year and we still miss him.”

A housemate that doesn’t come home sounds good to me.

Annamarie Pluhar, who blogs from the website Sharing Housing, says money is the first thing people think about. “You save literally thousands of dollars in a year,” she says. But what ends up making a difference in your life is having help with household tasks, such as maintenance and pet sitting.

Pluhar adds “having someone there to find you when you fall and can’t get up” to her list of positives after a woman in her hometown of Brattleboro, Vt., slipped on an icy front sidewalk and died of hypothermia when no one noticed her.

Great housemates not only find you when you’re lying unconscious on your icy sidewalk, they create relationships that are different than the ones you have with friends, Pluhar says. “You pass each other in the kitchen and say, ‘Hi,’ or you spend 45 minutes talking about the latest things. It’s a daily connection with someone who can really lift your life.”

I get that if you’re single, but if you’re married, that’s what your spouse allegedly does. Maybe a housemate would work out if he’d do all the things my husband and I don’t want to do — like tackle Laundry Mountain or seal the driveway.

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