Friday, October 24, 2014

Gearing Down, Part 4 -- Housing

Housing is another area of our lives in which making rapid changes often is not possible. Most of the inertia in housing comes from the nature of the legal arrangements by which we occupy our dwellings and the ways by which those arrangements are terminated.

Most obviously, if you own your house and it becomes unaffordable, you have to sell it, which means finding a buyer. And in a down market, that means the whole horrendous hassle of special cleaning and staging and showing it to people and generally being at the beck and call of your real estate agent until someone decides to buy it. The only alternative to the complexity of selling your house is foreclosure, which puts a big ugly black mark on your credit report that lingers for years.

Just because you're renting, it doesn't always mean you can leave an apartment or rental house that has suddenly become too expensive. Renters are often in year-long leases with expensive penalties for breaking them. Even if you're not locked into a lease, you still need to find new digs, which often means coming up with a large lump sum of cash to cover the security deposit, first month's rent and often the last month's rent.

It's possible to make some economies on other areas of your housing cost, particularly your utilities. However, there is only so much you can pare by shutting off lights, turning back the thermostat, and making sure not to run water when you're not actively using it. If a 5-10% reduction simply isn't going to make the difference between crash-and-burn and survival, you're going to need to look at more drastic measures.

One possibility to look into is sharing your quarters, and the expenses for them, with someone else. Although we often think in terms of adult children moving back in with their parents, there are many other possibilities for working out shared housing arrangements. Other family members or friends may be possibilities for co-housing.

However, you will want to think carefully about your arrangements if you bring someone else into your home. If you are renting, your lease may have restrictions on your ability to bring another person in as a co-tenant.

Also, consider how well you will be able to handle having another person on what has previously been your space. Especially if you have occupied your dwelling for some time, you probably have established routines that have become comfortable. How much are you willing to give to accommodate a new person's routines and habits? If you expect them to fit neatly in the spaces around your life, you're apt to discover that things don't work as happily as expected.

If you're going to have friends rooming with you, how well do you know them, and under what circumstances? All too often, people only see one side of a person. If you've only seen their public face, having to share personal space with them day in and day out may reveal a side of them that proves less polished than their company manners.

Then there is the question of rules and boundaries. When adult children move back home, it generally means moving back under Mom and Dad's rules as well as their roof. When siblings, cousins or friends move in together, things can be more ambiguous. Sometimes it can be possible to sort things out on the fly, but with some people gray areas are sources of trouble. And with friends, it's always possible that differences in your family backgrounds mean that things you would never even thought of discussing will suddenly turn out to be a problem.

If you are a homeowner bringing a non-family member into your home, you may well want to formally delineate the rules of living under your roof and make sure those rules are understood before they move in. If you feel this approach is necessary, it is generally best to start strict and become more lenient if it turns out that gray areas aren't a source of trouble. Starting out laid-back and discovering that it causes trouble, then trying to tighten things up to a more strict arrangement pretty much guarantees resentment and may even lead to loss of respect for your authority as the homeowner.

And if it appears that things aren't working out, it's best to get things dismantled before the petty grit in the gears turns into major aggravations. Friendships have been destroyed for good by trying to make a co-housing arrangement work in spite of evidence to the contrary.

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