In a recent Forbes post, I wrote about forming a pod in retirement. What’s a pod? It’s the idea of creating a shared life in retirement with friends and family. I’m not talking about individual apartments in 55+ communities in South Florida or an assisted living facility in some city up North. I’m talking more about WeWork-like living adapted for mature adults; think about The Golden Girls for today’s senior. That means the benefits of communal socialization – and the advantage of sharing costs like rent, heating/cooling, electric, food, and other bills, but with private bedrooms and bathrooms and plenty of opportunity for “alone time” personal space when needed.
After all, isolation has been linked to some health risks including heart attack, depression, obesity and dementia – and the expense that modern life increasingly demands is taxing on us all. Denmark, for instance, already known for its social progressiveness, estimates that about 8% of its population, 456,000 people, live in housing like the pod.
But before you leap head, heart – and wallet – first into these novel living arrangements, several additional variables must be factored into the decision-making process. Only then can older Americans make the shared living choice that’s right for them.
How Big Is Your Pod?
Size matters – especially when it comes to determining how many peas (people) you’ll have in your pod. Size will undoubtedly play a significant role in what you decide. Sharing expenses is great, but you have to be comfortable, and practical.
If you have a one-bedroom condo that you’re comfortable in, you’re probably not thinking about sharing it with anyone. It will be better for you to consider upgrading or moving into someone else’s pod. Tight quarters will inevitably lead to trouble. I’m not advocating reverting to living like a college student. It may have been fun back then, but I’m sure that life has long since lost its appeal – if it ever actually had any. And, let’s face it, bunk beds are only fun when you’re eight years old.
On the other hand, just because you have a four-bedroom home, doesn’t mean you have to fill all the bedrooms. Remember, you have to weigh the options and come up with a plan that works for you. You may want to keep a bedroom or two for visits from your kids and grandkids.
Zoning and Other Regulations
If you live in a co-op, there are strict rules that apply to how many people can live in your apartment. In addition to the number of people, an extra tenant will likely require co-op board approval. The approval process can be slow and thorough, requiring financial disclosure and even personal references.
If you live in a rental apartment, even if it has two or more bedrooms, your lease may require you to report an additional tenant, and may also trigger an increase in rent.
Owning your own house offers more flexibility, and you can indeed have more residents. But, if you are considered to be charging rent, zoning laws may kick-in. A residential neighborhood may not allow a rental situation.
These questions will be answered by your lawyer, in advance of your making any decisions.
Friends Or Roommates?
The pod is not intended to function as a boarding house. Sure, there is a financial benefit, but taking in people just to reduce your living expenses is not what it’s about. The fact is that you will have a better life if you are sharing it with people you enjoy, respect and want to be with.
They will contribute to the household, but the peas in your pod should enrich each other’s lives. You’re not going to be running a bed and breakfast; this is your home.
Permanent Or Part Time Peas?
When you decide to buy a new car, you have the choice of picking a car off the lot, one that you feel suits you pretty well. You can also order one from the manufacturer, filled with the bells and whistles of your choosing. Putting your pod together is like ordering that perfect new car. You get to have the features that work best for your maximum comfort.
Just because you plan to split your time in different locations, doesn’t mean you can’t make it work. Even if you think living with others is too much for twelve months a year because you know you will benefit from extra alone time, you can design a part-time pod. The part-time pod offers many of the benefits of the full-time version – companionship, economic, shared responsibility.
Remember, you are designing and building your community. And it’s at times like these that the words of Paul Rogat Loeb, an American social and political activist ring most true, “We become human only in the company of other human beings. And this involves both opening our hearts and giving voice to our deepest convictions.”
So, if you’re thinking of unique ways to cut costs and improve your social utility in your later years, start planning your pod today! How’s that for some “peas of mind?”