In June, Natalee King and her husband, Jonathan, realized a decade-long dream of buying a home in Orange County, California, one of the more expensive housing markets in the country.
The couple drained their savings for a down payment to win the fixer upper.
But concerned about the cost of future repairs and compelled to rebuild their savings, they decided to rent out the master bedroom with its own bathroom for $1,250. From September through January, two college students on internships leased the space.
That rent money gave the Kings a bit of relief, and they’re looking for more.
They just signed another renter who is expected to move in at the end of the month. They plan to rent for at least a year to steady their finances as Jonathan goes back to school for a career change.
“Unless you were gifted money, the only way to own a home if you’re middle income is you have to rent,” Natalee, 35, said. “We see it all the time. Some people may think it’s weird, but I feel like, in Orange County, it’s the norm now to have that American Dream.”
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Is this normal?
The Kings are part of a small, but now seemingly permanent, trend of married couples taking in roommates to defray high housing costs, according to a new study from Trulia given exclusively to USA TODAY.
More married couples turned to this arrangement as home prices peaked right before the housing crash. They largely stuck with it through the Great Recession and even as the economy bounced back.
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“The thing is home prices keep going up and up, while wages remained flat. So, it makes sense that people are having a tough time with housing costs, even as the economy has gotten better,” said Cheryl Young, a senior economist at Trulia.
The percentage of renting and home-owning married couples with roommates is now 28 percent higher than its historical average between 1995 and 2018, Trulia found. The increase is led by more married homeowners taking on roommates, which is 38 percent higher than its historical average, Trulia found.
The share of married renters with roommates is up just 11 percent over the historical average, but these couples are almost three times more likely to have a roommate.
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Trulia found that West Coast markets have a higher share of this unique housing arrangement, likely because they have had some of the fastest home price growth over the last decade.
“There is clear correlation between high home prices and rates of married couples with roommates,” Young said. For every $100,000 increase in median metro home prices, there is a 0.25 percentage point increase in the rate of married couples living with roommates, Trulia found.
Owning in Oakland
In Oakland, California, Katy Liang, her husband and their two children have been living with a family friend for the past three-and-a-half years since they bought their three-bedroom house for $1 million.
“We decided to get a roommate because the mortgage is a lot and we’re a house of two teachers,” Katy, 34, said.
Their roommate – a friend of her husband – pays $900 each month to rent out the master bedroom with its own bathroom. The rent makes up one-fifth of the total $4,400 monthly mortgage payment.
The arrangement has been smooth, Liang said. The roommate doesn’t use the kitchen much and instead relies on a hot plate, microwave and mini fridge in his room. But he joins the family sometimes for holiday celebrations and will play with the kids outside.
Liang originally thought he’d move out after they had their second child, who’s seven months old now. “But we feel like we have enough space still for our family,” she said. “Maybe when the kids need their own room, another three years maybe.”
Sharing in Seattle
When Michelle Hardies switched careers, she and her husband, Don, wanted extra income while she built up her new business as a real estate agent. Don, who had lived with the same boarder for 12 years with his ex-wife, suggested a roommate.
Their home – a four-bedroom house in Lake Stevens, Washington – was big enough and ideally located about a 20-minute drive from Everett, where Boeing has a major facility, and 30 minutes from northern Seattle, where rents are becoming unaffordable.
“It’s not possible for people to rent on one income in Seattle,” Don, 58, said. “People are being forced to move further and further out of the city to afford to rent or buy.”
In the past 10 months, they’ve had success renting two rooms on a month-to-month basis, largely to shorter-term boarders. There have been some issues. Two roommates were asked to move out, and another unexpectedly passed away while on vacation. Otherwise, the Hardies – who married two years ago – have been pleased with the arrangement.
“You have to give up some privacy,” Michelle, 50, said. “As a couple you might not do some of the things you would normally do as a couple – as newlyweds.”
“Wink, wink, nod, nod,” Don added.
“In this case, we don’t want anything too long term,” Don continued. “We want to go back to no roommates, that’s preferred for us. But for now, it makes economic sense.”