Roommates are a fact of life in expensive cities like San Francisco. But while the typical roommate scenario involves a bunch of young singles sharing a place, in recent years more and more couples have been hopping on the roommate bandwagon.
Local leasing agent James Wavro started noticing an uptick around 2014, as rents in the city were skyrocketing. “Any time prices go up, we see the shared space market increase,” he said.
In fact, the Bay Area has the largest percentage of couples living with a roommate in the country, according to Zumper’s 2017 Renter Survey. “Of the respondents in the Bay Area, 17.9 percent of people living with a partner also had at least one other roommate, which is a pretty high percentage,” said Zumper Marketing Manager Crystal Chen. “Los Angeles and Chicago were other top cities that had high percentages, with around 17 percent of users reporting that they lived with their partner and at least one other roommate. This was followed by New York City (15 percent), Boston (15 percent) and Washington DC (14 percent).”
And it’s not just partnered-up renters who are looking for roomies. Some couples who have bought their homes and even started families still find roommates desirable. Sharing a home can ease the mortgage burden, yes, but it also creates a social environment within the home at time when the couple may be spending more and more time there.
When Pam McElroy moved into her first apartment in San Francisco with her now-husband, the couple also brought along a single, male friend as a roommate. When he moved out the following year, another couple they knew moved in. In 2012, they got married and bought a home in the city. In 2014, they had a son. Through it all, they had roommates-always a single person, and always someone they already knew.
“While we always charged under market-after we owned our house-the extra income was still great,” she says. “Plus, it was helpful to have another adult in the house who we already knew and enjoyed hanging out with. It brought a social element to our house; even after we had a baby, we never felt isolated or like we weren’t social anymore. Plus, it was great to have help with some housework-dinners, dishes, straightening-not to mention free babysitting!”
McElroy said that since she has always lived with roommates, she never had any concerns about sharing her home, though the same may not always have been true of her single friends.
“Our roommates had to get used to our toddler waking up at seven in the morning, even on the weekends,” she laughed.
She advised any couples thinking of living with a roommate to remember a few rules, all of which are probably sound advice for any roommate scenario: “Be willing to share your space-common space is common space. Also, be willing to give up the private space or room they are renting. Just because it’s your house, if they are renting the room, it is fully theirs. Always be open and communicate your needs.”
Despite all of her shared-space success over the years, 35-year-old McElroy is now living without a roommate for the first time in her life. That’s because the family will soon be getting another tiny lodger in the form of baby number two, due this winter.
Emily Landes is a writer and editor who is obsessed with all things real estate.