Step 1: Get the word out
If there's a home-share matching service in your area, use it, advises Jacqueline Grossmann, co-president of the National Shared Housing Network, who has helped set up hundreds of matches in the Chicago area. It's safer to have an experienced, impartial person checking out potential housemates, and having a pro involved in setting up the details helps smooth the way.
Also, while con artists and frauds are not as common as many people fear, those who are out there are likely to steer clear of a professional agency. You can check the National Shared Housing Resource Center for a nearby service.
If you live in an area without a service, you'll need to find another way. Post the ads yourself if you live nearby, giving your contact information rather than the older adults'. You can do the initial screening to find potential housemates you feel comfortable introducing to them.
Online classifieds like Craigslist will likely yield a lot of calls or e-mails. If they live near a university, you could post a notice on a bulletin board in the international student or grad student center, where students who need housing are likely to congregate. University websites often have an area where you can post your listing online.
Call the HR departments of nearby corporations to see whether they ever bring in out-of-town employees who may be looking for a furnished place to stay for several months or longer that's homier and more affordable than a hotel. Nurses are often flown in from all over the country when there's a local shortage -- check with a local hospital.
Ask whether your pastor or rabbi knows of anyone who's new in the area. You may also want to advertise in the church or synagogue bulletin.
Step 2: Do the initial interviews yourself
Schedule a one-on-one chat with candidates who seem promising. Do this in a public place rather than at the older adults' home. You don't want strangers coming in and casing the joint. It's your job to safeguard them -- to rule out anyone who seems untrustworthy or unsuitable and to find one great candidate you'd like to introduce to them.
Talk about the kinds of help they need and how much rent they're looking for. Keep in mind that different people will have different things to offer -- your best chance of success will come if everyone is somewhat flexible. A real gem of a person who's handy and likes to garden but who can only pay $150 in rent might be worth considering. For people who put a high value on privacy, a busy professional who works long hours but can pay enough to cover, say, the utility bill and property taxes might be a good match. Be open to the possibilities without losing sight of the basic requirements they need to remain in their home.
"Many seniors will say, 'Oh, they can stay here for free if they help me out sometimes,'" says Grossman. "That's a bad idea. You need to charge something to keep it professional. But keep in mind that it needs to be a sweet deal for a renter, too."
Figure out, too, whether prospective renters are looking for a long- or short-term arrangement. Some may be new to town and don't want to sign a year-long lease until they see how a new job goes. Others may want to move in and stay for years while they build up a nest egg. Make sure their plans mesh with yours.
If you live too far away to do the interviews yourself, make sure those you're caring for are clients of the local social service agency, or enlist the help of a relative, a friend, or a trusted neighbor. The goal is to avoid isolating them and a renter. If trouble arises, someone who cares about them needs to be around to notice it.
Steps 3 and 4: Check references and arrange a meeting
Step 3: Do your homework on your top pick
Ask for three personal references you can call, as well as proof of income, such as a paycheck stub or a bank statement. Call the renter's employer to make sure he has steady work. What you want to avoid is taking someone on who isn't trustworthy or won't be able to make the rent, forcing you into costly eviction proceedings and making petty theft (or worse) more likely.
Step 4: If everything checks out, introduce the renter
Set up a meeting with the renter and with those you're caring for at their house. This is the chance to do a basic chemistry test: If you can see that they loathe each other on sight, it's time to move on to your next choice.
Show the renter around the house and go over how things would be set up, which spaces would be private and which shared. Point out any medical issues the older adults may have -- are they prone to fainting? Do they have diabetes? Give a renter a realistic picture and let him know any signs he'd need to watch for.
This is also the time to talk about personal habits -- for instance, does the renter like to spend a lot of time cooking? -- as well as quirks and pet peeves. Seemingly minor differences can become a major source of tension if they're not considered ahead of time. Print out our list of questions and take it with you to this meeting -- it will help you avoid trouble down the line.
Step 5: Write and sign a lease
If everyone is game to give the match a try, it's time to draft a home-sharing agreement. You can find sample leases online that give you a starting point, and then customize your lease as much as you like. Once signed by both parties, it becomes a legally binding agreement. At minimum, it needs to specify how much the rent is, when it's due, and how much notice either party needs to give before ending the arrangement.
If you're setting up a trial period, write that into the lease as well. Some home sharers like to have the trial last a month. Others try sharing for a weekend before committing. Home-sharing leases are typically written to be a term of anywhere from two to nine months.
When outlining what help the renter commits to give, be specific. Rather than a blanket statement that he agrees to help as needed, detail the specific tasks he is expected to perform and how many hours per week he agrees to contribute. Home-share arrangements typically include a maximum of eight hours per week of help from a renter.
Also specify which spaces in the house are private and which are shared. Go into detail about the house rules: who buys what, who cleans what.
Step 6: Prepare the house for move-in day
It's best if the renter is supplied with a furnished room. That way, you'll avoid the disruption and nicked walls that come from people moving furniture in and out. Prepare the renter's room by emptying it of all the existing belongings except a bed, a desk, a chair, and a dresser.
If linens are being provided, put them in the room as well. If you've promised the renter Internet access or a second phone line, have it installed before he moves in.
In the kitchen, empty a cupboard and clear off a shelf or two in the fridge where the renter can put his food. Have an extra set of house keys made. Be sure to specify in the lease that the renter will need to find off-site storage for any boxes or bulky belongings, even if there's space in the garage. If he decides to walk out, you don't want to be stuck with piles of stuff.
Make sure all the bedrooms have a lock on the door for privacy. Take a look at where those you're caring for keep their financial records, their valuables, identification such as Social Security cards and birth certificates, and their wallets. If they tend to be left out in the open, find a secure spot to keep them. Most elder abuse is financial in nature, so it's wise to remove any unnecessary temptation.
Steps 7 and 8: Settling in and readjusting
Step 7: Give it some time
Sharing a home is an adjustment for everyone. It's hard enough to live with a relative, let alone a perfect stranger. Check in regularly over the first month or two, but don't take older adults' complaints about minor transgressions too seriously. A little friction is normal.
Suggest that everyone sit down together after the first week or two to talk about how it's going and iron out any miscommunications. Encourage them to be flexible about the renter's ways but also open to talking about problems.
Step 8: Be prepared to readjust
If they start complaining a lot, look at their contract and make sure all the points in the agreement are being kept. If their need for help has increased since the lease was signed, talk to the renter about the possibility of reducing his rent and increasing his responsibilities. If he's not willing, you may need to hire some additional help or see whether he's willing to tear up the lease and let you find a new housemate.
If those solutions don't work, it may be time to consider another living arrangement, such as assisted living.