When first bought our home, we bought near the top of our limit allowed by our lender (my husband was in school on the GI bill and the bank didn’t consider his living stipend to be income, so we had to qualify on my income, which wasn’t very high at the time).

Our mortgage came to 35% our gross income, which would make us considered to be “rent burdened” based on the national affordability calculation that your rent/mortgage shouldn’t be more than 30% your gross income.

While we could have managed that ourselves, we decided instead to rent out two of the bedrooms in our three bedroom house, which dropped our portion of the mortgage payment to 30% of our income.

Night hike down to the water with our (then) 3 roommates

We were 23 years old at the time, so finding friends to move in with us was easy and a lot of fun. While we occasionally had minor issues with roommates, it was overall a good experience and definitely saved us money over the years.

Our long term plan was to keep roommates until we would start trying for our first child. The normal expectation is that once you grow your family, there isn’t room in your house for anyone else. We bought a “starter” home with 3 bedrooms, 1.75 bathrooms and 1350 square feet, so it seemed to make sense that we would want the room for our growing family once there was more than just the two of us.

We were young though, and not ready to start our family, so our shared home continued for the first three years after we bought it. Over that time, we refinanced once (dropping our monthly payment by $160/month), paid off my student loans, my husband graduated and found a career job while I continued to receive raises as mine, and so our mortgage payment got more and more affordable over time.

Concurrently, rental costs exploded in the Seattle area and are now growing faster than any other US city and home ownership looks the same. Because we fixed our interest rate, our mortgage keeps getting smaller and smaller compared to what we could buy now, and our home would now rent out for considerably more than we pay.

Even so, we’ve kept our rental costs flat for our roommates because it’s been more important to us to have great roommates than make a ton of money on the deal.

Roommate hiking trip circa 2014

Fast forward to spring of 2014, and one of our roommates moved out to live with her boyfriend, and we found ourselves with an empty bedroom for the first time since we bought our house three years before.

Since we were thinking about trying for a baby in the near future, we decided to leave the room vacant, and by the end of May, I was pregnant. Our one remaining roommate had been living with us for almost two years at that point and was open to staying even under threat of living with a crying newborn.

While we had previously expected to ask everyone to leave once I got pregnant, our roommate had become more like extended family than simply an income source – we’ve gone on vacations together, eaten many many meals together, and he occasionally joins us for holidays with our extended family. My mom and grandmother even buy him small Christmas presents every year.

While I wouldn’t advocate for just anyone renting a room out while growing their family, because of the special situation we have, it has continued to work.

Playing video games together while Mama gets work done

When we got home to spend our first few days with our newborn son, our roommate cooked us dinners so we had one less thing to worry about. While we may not have a true “village” like centuries past, we do have a little more than the typical nuclear family, and for that I am very grateful.

Our roommate is perpetually single and had never been around babies or children before, but he is now someone I can lean on the odd days I have to work from home due to snow or sickness and our son loves hanging out with his “uncle.”

This past winter, I had two weeks back to back of sickness and snow days, and our roommate was the only way I was able to get any work done from home with a needy toddler.

Hanging out while mom and dad get a break for a few minutes

Over all, continuing to have a roommate after having a child has been an improvement to our lives, not a detriment, something that I would not have foreseen before we ended up in the situation ourselves.

A great roommate can turn a money making situation into a positive cohousing choice. 

Since he pays so little rent, at this point it is more about having him around the house and getting a little income from him (plus free pet care when we’re out of town!) Our mortgage is now 16% of our income and dropping his rent would only bump this up to 17%, so having him continue to live with us is really about all the other reasons beyond a simple rent check.

Medication for our dog to be given every 12 hours

We’re now getting ready to go on a camping trip for the long holiday weekend, but since our dog was just diagnosed with heart disease and now needs medication every 12 hours, we would have had to cancel if it wasn’t for our roommate situation.

Instead, our roommate with be holding down the fort and taking wonderful care of our old dog, and I won’t worry – too much. He takes wonderful care of all of our animals while we are gone, and since we have quite a few (we are now down to two dogs, a cat, a ferret, and a corn snake), we would have a hard time traveling as much as we do if we had to pay for a house sitter every time we went away for the weekend.

He now works evenings, so we see him very infrequently and only on the weekends, but our coliving continues to work mostly smoothly – in case he sounds perfect, I had to start charging a cleaning fee since I was doing all of his dishes!

We trust him when we are away to care for our very loved animals, and he has really become more like family than I ever would have expected.

Whether he continues to live with us for only 5 more months or another 5 years or more, we will look back at this time as a very special situation where we were able to share our lives with another person.

I call it “hiking with toddler”

18 thoughts on “Finding Your Tribe: Why You Might Want To Reconsider A Roommate 

  1. OMG that’s the cutest thing ever! I love it when you find your “family by choice”. All around win for everyone, since it sounds like there’s no way he could find another place to rent for an amount equal to whatever you’re charging now!

    1. Oh yeah, anywhere else, even for a shared room, would be at least double. But at this point we wouldn’t keep renting to anyone else 🙂

  2. have you seen the photos of our giant house? i would love to do this but mrs. me ain’t having it. we could rent 2 bedrooms and get 1000 a month total and it would be a bargain for those people.

    1. To be fair, we knew our roommate before he moved in with us. My husband wouldn’t be up for a random person living in our house.

  3. That is awesome!

    We are considering AirBnB instead of getting a roommate. Mainly because we like the option of having the guest room empty for when friends or family visit from out of town. But your setup seems amazing, and quite similar to the co-housing we hope to get in place with my best friend and her partner in the future!

    1. Yeah, it really depends on the roommate of course. The nice thing about Airbnb is that if you’re not a fan of the person they don’t stay very long 😉

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