RISMEDIA, March 25, 2009-(MCT)-More than the stone angel in the front lawn or the framed portraits above the stairway, the lavender-hued bedroom is the real tip-off. This Garland, Texas, two story house is no typical bachelor pad.
It’s now the home of three middle-aged men, who, like many Americans, have altered their lifestyle and living arrangements as the economy sucks their savings. In an effort to meet monthly mortgage payments, homeowners across the country are beginning to live college student style.
They’re offering rooms to other couples, providing the bottom floor of their house to single-parent families and even offering to cook in exchange for rent.
“People now need to find other ways, and sharing stuff is an option,” said John Bundy, whose quiet suburban house sat idly on the market for six months before he decided to rent out two of its rooms.
“The problem,” he said, as he opened an over-stuffed fridge, “is getting the right people.”
The recession is re-establishing cultural norms of community. But rental property managers warn that a “welcome all” attitude can furnish the makings of a home horror story.
Craigslist room-share postings have gone up nationwide by almost 20,000 from last January. Dallas postings have almost doubled, up to 3,165, over the same period.
Dan Ross, the manager of RoomateExpress.com, said calls have increased across the country from 150 a month to almost 500.
Homeowners “go at it grudgingly,” he said. “Reality strikes and they don’t want to do it, but the next step is losing the house.”
Shared living arrangements are most often connected to housing cooperatives, or co-ops, where individuals and couples share their lives, food and sometimes income with the rest of the building’s residents.
Today’s homeowners may not plan to eat lentils nightly with their renters or go on “house-outings,” but they are fostering a similar type of living situation. It’s one that the National Association of Housing Cooperatives publicly advocates as a way to deal with the increasing number of single-family home foreclosures.
It doesn’t always work though. Theresa Santarelli’s latest Craigslist ad read, “Home to Share.” She spent more than three months searching for renters, even offering up the bottom floor of her 4,400-square foot Frisco, Texas, home. She’s unable to make her monthly $2,500 lease payments and will return to New Jersey at the end of the month, along with four of her six children.
“It’s a shame,” said the 49-year old Frisco Independent School District employee, who previously considered moving her family to a local shelter. “There’s going to be more of it.”
That shouldn’t stop hunting homeowners from being as discerning about roommates as they are about lovers, said Mark Kreditor, a broker for Get There First Realty in Dallas and the past president of the National Association of Residential Property Managers.
“It’s extremely risky,” he said. “They live in your house and have your key. They’re not going anywhere.”
He advises viewing the situation as a business transaction by having a third party do a background check and credit screening. It’s not overstepping to require your new roommate to sign a legally binding lease, he said.
Bundy, the Garland homeowner, learned this lesson from his last roommates. The stains on the upstairs carpet serve as reminders. An old acquaintance who moved in was an alcoholic. The other was jobless. They scarfed everything in his fridge. Neither paid their bills.
While Bundy still trusts his personal judgment, he said he’s growing more discerning. His newest housemate is a trusted friend from fourth grade. He scrutinized his other housemate, “Google Earthing” him to ensure he previously lived where he claimed.
The three spend most of their time at a local bar down the street – together.
It’s not what Bundy’s boyhood-friend J.R. Ewing imagined. Ewing has two kids in college who tease him about living like they do. But after a lay-off and a recent divorce, it beats staying with his parents, he said.
He’s less keen about the possibility of sharing a bathroom if Bundy rents his last free room.
City codes in places such as Dallas and Garland limit the number of unrelated individuals who can live in a single-family home to four.
But the line between a make-ends-meet rental and a boarding house is fuzzy in cities like Garland, where boarding houses are illegal.
“If you are turning all your rooms into bedrooms, renting them out and placing door numbers on the doors to each of the rooms, that is a boarding house,” said Steve Killen, Garland’s Director of Code Compliance.
Dallas, which does not permit boarding houses in single-family districts, defines a boarding house as a multi-tenant property, leaving more freedom to financially distressed homeowners. And both agencies say they are reactive rather than pro-active, responding only to complaints.
Some of the homeowners turned landlords have their own set of complaints.
Rebecca Gallegos got fed up with “sketchy people” from Craigslist. She settled instead on renting a room in her Keller, Texas, home to a fellow stand-up comedian.
Billy McFarland moved in two weeks ago. Already they test jokes on each other and share occasional meals. There’s an extra room for his 6-year-old daughter when she comes to visit.
There’s no lack of material for the pair about the non-romantic sharing of mixed-gender spaces.
Gallegos shrugs off any awkwardness, saying the new companionship is actually comforting. They meet around the kitchen’s island at the end of the day. And there’s the grill.
“It’s why you need a guy around – BBQ,” she said, smirking at McFarland.
Unlike college roommates, renters and homeowners have long since established their living spaces and daily routines. Their dependence is more financial, or at least starts that way.
In Mark Doran’s case, it’s filling a void that American society has largely zapped. The 49-year-old is currently moving his 7-year old daughter and himself into a Frisco home with a divorced mother and her two teenage children.
“I’m driven on a couple of different levels,” he said. “It provides a (female) adult in the household for my daughter when there wouldn’t be one. And at the same time, when you are a single parent and you want to work out in the morning or go for a walk, you can’t do that.”
This decision is about more than money, he said. It’s about lost values, the ones it took Americans a financial crisis to see.
“Who needs a 60,000 square-foot home for a married family and one child?” he asked. “It’s insane.”
© 2009, The Dallas Morning News.
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.