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A New Way to Live as We Grow Older: Boomer Roomers

Would you give up some privacy for a living arrangement that comes with companionship and independence? Take a look at this new service.

The Golden Girls was never my jam. The cranky old mom with her snarky daughter, the chatty airhead, and the age-denying Southern belle. When it debuted in 1985, I was living on the East Coast, working in network television. Nothing could have been farther from my reality and thoughts than rooming with other women in my older age. 

Lately conversations with my two best friends have included fantasies about our own Golden Years. Wouldn’t it be fun if we all lived together? 

I don’t know, would it? 

Read More: My Retirement Fantasy Is a Beach House with Girlfriends

Forever Roomies?

What if we were three strangers, all women about the same age? What if one of us was . . . male?

Remember getting acquainted with that stranger who shared the room with you your first year of college? My freshman roommate asked to move out before the end of the first semester. She thought college students were meant to stay in their rooms and study (her dad was a professor). Unshackled from small town life, I thought college was for meeting new people, staying up all night talking about nothing, and getting by with minimal effort. Not a match.

So how is it that a startup founder thinks she can make older people roommates?

We’re in a crunch crisis with affordable housing, and now’s the time for this. 

Jayne Ehrlich, founder of Boomer Roomers, says, “This is not for everybody. More women than men, maybe. More people looking than homes, possibly. But from all my research, I think: We’re in a gig economy, a crunch crisis with affordable housing, and now’s the time.”

I think she’s probably right.

Boomer Roomers is a marketplace that matches older people with places to live. Unaffordable housing, living longer with no retirement plan, an epidemic of loneliness—all these forces favor launching this type of business at this time. And Jayne may be uniquely qualified to do it.

“I’ve been talking to people for 45 years about how they want to age,” says Ehrlich. “I saw the need.”

“Our generation, we were the first to have lived on our own away from home,” she adds. “Our parents didn’t have that luxury, whether for financial reasons, religious reasons, whatever. But we were on the road. So we started having roommates after college too. I think it’s ingrained in us.”

Jayne is a writer. Like all good writers, she notices details and trends. When she couldn’t work during the Hollywood writers’ strike of 1988, she founded Malibu Mamas, a resource for moms living along the 27 mile stretch of coastline in Southern California. Then in 1992, Hometown Nannies started to help new moms find help with their newborns. Over the decades, the business grew into a placement agency for chefs, butlers, personal assistants, and much more of the highly vetted household staff demanded by the one percent. 

Are Boomers Too Set in Their Ways?

Would you date a man who’s been single and living alone most of his adult life? Can you imagine anyone less flexible? Side note: I did, and it was a disaster. When I lived in NYC in my late 20s, I dated a very eligible bachelor with a high-profile job in media. He had a country house in Chappaqua. The first time we went up for the weekend, we went out for provisions. He wouldn’t let me choose what we bought, wouldn’t let me put it in the cart or pay for it, but when we got home, he allowed me to put the groceries away. Later that afternoon I opened a kitchen cabinet to find everything had been rearranged, and he’d made sure all the labels were facing forward and color coordinated in their category. 

Now how in the world are you going to match people who have lived all their lives, making their own rules for themselves, even those who’ve been in a marriage and made few compromises? Somehow this seems harder to do than building a dating app. This is a living together app. For Boomers. As a cohort, we’re known for our defiance of authority and distaste for rules. 

The goal is for people to age in place together as long as they want to—or can.

So is she screening to match roommates who operate with chore charts? Is she filtering out those passive-aggressive ones who leave sticky notes in the refrigerator that say, “DON’T EAT THIS UNDER PENALTY OF DEATH!”?

“We can’t possibly screen for everything, but we have 25 questions and Boomers are pretty savvy,” Ehrlich says. “We’re not doing a Psychology Today questionnaire. People will have to read between the lines. Nobody will be bound for life. The goal is for people to age in place together as long as they want to—or can.”

It’s hard to say whether financial imperative or fear will drive this business model. Sure, there are plenty of Boomers living in houses and condos with no mortgage and plenty of others worried about the next rent increase. But we can’t even get along with our neighbors these days. How are we supposed to live with a stranger at our age?

“I’ve just looked at the first iteration of our video on safety and an agreement that will be signed,” she says. “We will have a document that will help people. We also ask questions about musical tastes, politics, lifestyle.” The implication is that they’re dealing with grownups here, people who’ve been making decisions for themselves all their lives. A certain amount of the responsibility is on them, even if the marketplace facilitates the connection. Just like with a dating app.

Would You Live with a Roommate Again?

All of us have lived long enough to know that life circumstances can change in an instant: with one phone call, one unexpected diagnosis, a marriage-ending affair. If your living arrangements suddenly changed, would you consider living with roommates again? 

It’s kind of like a great marriage of two self-sufficient partners.

I would. Absolutely. Even with strangers, if they’re women my age. And even if we don’t agree 100 percent on politics. Sign me up for a living arrangement that comes with connection, companionship, and independence within a supportive household, even if I give up a little privacy. Kind of like a great marriage of two self-sufficient partners. I’m all in.

As someone who’s been advising startup companies for the last dozen years, I’ve seen lots of good ideas fail, often due to poor market timing or lack of consumer interest. 

I’m placing a bet that this company is going to go the distance: partly because the founder (a woman our age), is experienced, passionate, and determined to make it work. And more importantly, because it addresses a huge and growing problem in our society: How are we going to live our best lives when, with any luck, we still have decades ahead of us?

Read More: Bankrupt in Retirement: Why More Boomers Can’t Pay Their Bills

By Jeannie Edmunds


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