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Home sharing has become a widening trend

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Costs and security concerns mean it’s not just students and young professionals who choose to live with others

The house-sharing trend is fast evolving beyond the student market as more South Africans turn to communal living as a means to combat rising rents, living costs and crime levels.

Growing numbers of older individuals living away from family – and those who have suffered divorce or the death or a spouse – are also looking for community in shared living, say local real estate agencies. Although the trend is still mainly seen in the student market, says Liezl Hesketh, founder of free online property matching website TheRoomLink, professionals and older, single women are increasingly moving into house shares.

“Student numbers are outpacing available student accommodation, making it necessary for students to find their own accommodation. This also puts pressure on available property stocks as young professionals and students compete within the same market.

“As rents are high, it makes sense that anyone on a tight budget, including students and young professionals, share costs by sharing properties.”

Owing to the concentration of universities and colleges, and the opportunities for job seekers, Hesketh says big cities attract the largest number of sharers. 

Flats and large houses with multiple bedrooms are the most popular. Security issues also mean young women prefer to share with others instead of living alone. Hesketh says there is “definitely” a link between house-sharing trends and a tenant’s life stage.

Students and youngsters leaving home for the first time tend to share living space and choose economy over friends when deciding who to share with, while mature students and young professionals continue to share, but do so with friends or like-minded people.

“Once these students are in a relationship, there is a shift to couples finding their own places to stay, although they sometimes still share with other couples.” 

In addition, older women without family often choose to share with similarly aged roommates, both for company and for safety. In December 2018 a total of 37% of the leases concluded by HouseME, a digital platform that connects tenants and landlords, were multi-tenanted, says founder Ben Shaw.

For the younger generation, affordability is the main driving factor towards house sharing. “Interestingly we are seeing people sharing homes beyond the start of their careers, motivated both by savings and also by convenience and experience.”

Most opt to live with friends with whom they are comfortable. Shaw says the demographics of tenants looking to share are:

  • Young business professionals.
  • Freelancers looking for affordable short-term accommodation.
  • Business professionals who have relocated. 
  • Foreign visitors in the process of immigrating.

“In most instances, landlords agree to house shares if tenants are friends and have a mutual understanding,” Shaw says most shared properties are in the bigger cities and close to CBDs, as well as in towns that are home the country’s larger universities. Internationally, house sharing is also on the rise with real estate start-ups focusing on this market emerging across the globe.

The trend is particularly gaining momentum in cities with high property prices. America, Australia, Portugal and China are among countries seeing this growing movement.

Is your sublet illegal?

THE LAW Tenants are not allowed to sublet rooms in their rental homes unless the lease agreement allows for it. Picture: Supplied

Letting empty rooms in homes can help earn extra money each month, but tenants should always ensure their leases allow this.

There has been an increase in illegal subletting as tenants subdivide their rental homes and let this space without the owner’s knowledge.

They then pocket the rent paid. Tenants also illegally sublet when a roommate moves out before the expiry of their lease, and they replace them with another person.

The most prevalent form of subletting is when tenants bring in roommates to help them pay the rent, says Brian van Wijk, a principal at Just Property.

“We have improved systems and communication with tenants, so we include them in the lease as joint tenants. This helps them qualify for the affordability assessment we do when screening tenants,” says Van Wijk.

These tenants are then jointly liable for the rent.

The benefits and pitfalls of room-mates

DIFFICULT Sharing a home with people who do not have similar tastes and habits can make life unbearable. Picture: Camilla Carvalho

The obvious benefit of sharing a house or flat is the rental saving, says HouseME’s Ben Shaw. Along with this is the fact that roommates get to enjoy the community feel of living with people who often are, or become, close friends.

Housemates can also run a roster for cooking, which saves time, says TheRoomLink’s Liezl Hesketh. “The other big advantage is social. Most people enjoy sharing their lives, so it is more fun to live in a house with other people.

“You get to make friends with your fellow tenants. This is particularly important if you’ve just moved to a new city for work or to study.” In South Africa, security is also an issue, so living with other people means it is more likely someone will always be in the home.

“The home is not left empty if you go away for the weekend or a longer holiday. And a tenant or flatmate can look after your pets,” Hesketh says.

She says a trend overseas, now reaching South Africa, is the joining of budgets by professionals looking for luxury properties. “On a single income there is no way you could ever afford to live a certain lifestyle, but by joining forces with a like-minded friend or couple, you can afford the properties that come with gyms, cafes, swimming pools and even concierge services.

“We expect this to grow as South Africa becomes a bigger consumer nation.” While the benefits of house sharing are easy to see, there are also negatives. The lack of privacy, for example, “does bother a number of tenants”, and is often the trigger to move out of a shared home, says Shaw.

So, too, is a change of relationship between those sharing. “Housemates also struggle when there is no clear code of conduct or social contract to follow. Disagreements can lead to unhappiness within a lease should these not be addressed upfront.”

To address this, HouseME recommends always having a single master lease so that one tenant lays down the law for all other housemates and can act on behalf of the landlord. 

Other downsides of sharing a home include:

  • Noisy or messy roommates.
  • Roommates who hold social events that do not suit everyone in the home.
  • Not being able to put your own stamp on a shared space.
  • Possible lack of accountability for damage or breaking the conditions of the lease.

Take care when allowing a stranger to live in your home 

SAFETY CHECKS Tenants looking for room mates or house shares should use online tools to find out more about potential flatmates before agreeing to meet them. Picture: Christina Morillo

Finding a roommate in a large city isn’t necessarily difficult, but without the right tools, says Adam Gleicher, head of growth at US-based room-mate connection app Roomi, finding the right one can be a “tedious, seemingly never-ending process”.

“Thankfully we’re now in an age where sophisticated roommate finders do exist, and with them come the tools and resources to make this process a whole lot smoother.”

In a blog post titled The Complete Guide to Finding a Room Mate, he advises people to set the right expectations and ensure they know where they stand on things such as:

  • Cleanliness.
  • Weekly routine.
  • Quiet hours and bedtime
  • Partying, drinking and smoking.
  • Finance.
  • Visitors and guests.
  • Pets.

“If you want your potential roommate to be honest about it, you need to make sure you are being honest as well.”

Personal safety is the most important factor to consider when looking to share a home with others. Liezl Hesketh of TheRoomLink says it is “quite alarming” that many South Africans “throw out the rules and common sense” when it comes to letting.

“They allow complete strangers into their property, view properties alone, and share their personal details on classified sites.

“While there is no fool-proof way to find a good property or tenant, online tools can help you sift through people, which means you only personally meet the ones you feel more comfortable with.”

Apart from personal safety, tenants looking into house sharing also need to be comfortable with sharing their private space with others, says Ben Shaw of HouseME.

The only way potential room-mates will know if they will be comfortable living with a particular person or group of people is to find out more about them first. 

“It is imperative to schedule viewings with prospective flatmates and vet them thoroughly when you go for the viewing. Ask many questions to help you decide.

“If the house share is between more than five people, try to schedule your viewing appointment at a time when all of them are at home for you to analyse the dynamic and underlying body language of those present. We have social platforms at our disposal so use them.”

Other recommendations to ensure safety and security include not paying a deposit for a rental property you haven’t viewed in person, Shaw says. “This avoids scams and visiting the property yourself enables you to assess the safety and security of the property and area.

Setting the parameters

Arguments about cleaning can make living in a house share difficult. It is important to set down rules and expectations from the start. Picture: Achim Thiemermann

To avoid clashes and arguments over housework, room-mates must discuss the daily cleaning needs of the home. They also need to reach agreement on how often certain tasks are done each week or month, and then have these assigned fairly so that each person in the house is accountable.

To make this easier, a chart can be drawn up and displayed where everyone can see it. In addition, room-mates need to clean up after themselves. This includes washing their own dishes, tidying the bathroom after use, and generally packing away their own things in communal areas.

This must be communicated from the beginning of any shared living arrangement so that every person living in the home knows what is expected of them. Regular meetings can be held so roommates can talk about issues or concerns.

Tips for finding digs

DISTANCE Students seeking accommodation should consider how far they live from their college. Picture: Supplied

More than 70 000 South Africans begin university this year, and while some can commute or have already found somewhere to live, others are still hunting accommodation.

Online is the best place to begin Claire Cobbledick, general manager of Gumtree SA, which has more than 1 200 listings across the country specific to student accommodation, offers some tips.

  • Research the most popular areas for your varsity and search there.
  • Join forces with others who are also looking – it may be easier to find a whole property than a single room.
  • Compare prices.
  • Understand the full costs – a cheaper rent far from campus might mean greater transport costs.

Cobbledick says: “If you can’t find anything within your budget, opt for a short-term arrangement and then look out for gaps to appear in the market.”


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