Over-40s forced back into flatsharing by housing shortage high rents and divorce
‘Friends’ generation return to student living as financial pressures mount.
Family breakdowns, rocketing house prices and the crushing legacy of the recession are forcing many people over 40 to return to flatsharing with strangers.
Flatsharing websites, which normally cater to students and those in their 20s, have seen an unprecedented boom in the number of older people in need of housing and willing to live with people half their age. In 2013, more than 60,000 people over 40 placed “room wanted” adverts with Spareroom, one of the largest websites – 20,000 more than five years ago. The over-40s now make up about one in eight of those looking for a home. And the number of people in this age bracket who responded to ads without placing one is probably much higher.
The average age of a user of the site is 28, so the over-40s are likely to be sharing with someone a lot younger, potentially meaning a big adjustment in lifestyle to fit in.
In previous generations, people in their 20s would marry and buy a starter home. Analysis from the Office for National Statistics published last week shows that 26% of adults in the UK aged between 20 and 34 are now living with their parents. The average first-time buyer is now 35 and pays £184,000 for a home – meaning that a single buyer would need an income of about £50,000 to get a mortgage.
Matt Hutchinson from Spareroom said that the most common reasons for someone in their 40s or 50s needing a flatshare were the inability to buy somewhere and the breakdown of a relationship. “It splits into two: some people are still sharing in their 40s because they can’t afford to get on to the property ladder; and that’s because we’re in the grip of a housing crisis,” he said. “That means property prices are going up, and increasing rents mean people can’t save a deposit in the way they used to.
“But the other side of the coin is people sharing for the first time in their life or returning to sharing because a relationship has broken up or they have lost their jobs. Previously, people in that position would have rented a one-bedroom flat, but rents are so expensive now, that’s out of the question.”
About 42% of marriages end in divorce. But being pushed into flatsharing in those circumstances is not all bad news, according to Hutchinson. “We often find that, for people coming out of a relationship, having people around instead of staying in alone each night actually helps a situation where they might have really struggled alone.”
He believes the trend will continue, with too few houses being built, exacerbating the shortage: “Unless something happens to change that, people are going to be sharing for longer for years to come.” Paul Bailey, 43, a business coach, moved into a flatshare in London last year. “In July I decided to leave my husband so I started looking through all the normal websites but I found it really hard because of my age. The people I met were all 10 years younger than me and looking for someone in their 20s or maybe 30s.
“Especially in London, it’s just not financially possible to live on your own – I’m paying £650 per month, with bills on top, just for a room in a shared flat now. I’m living with a couple in their 30s and they are lovely people – I enjoy living with them, and look forward to coming home and having a chat with them, but they are, technically, strangers and I really didn’t think I would end up in a flatshare in my 40s. It was quite a bitter pill to swallow.”
Other websites have marked the trend too. Rishi Patel from Easyroommate agreed that the increase was primarily because of marriage break-ups and financial constraints, but said it was also because of a shift in work/life balance, with the high rate of unemployment forcing people to take jobs far away from their family.
“A number of our users choose to live in shared houses in major cities during the week and then spend weekends with their families – nearly a quarter of all over-40s were searching for a room in London. Flatsharing gives them the freedom to move as and when they like and to live with an interesting variety of people, all while saving money,” he said.
He sees this as the start of a long-term change. “As property prices continue to increase, and the rental asking prices for studio and one-bedroom apartments go through the roof, more and more people will choose to live in shared houses as a money-saving alternative. Flatsharing is no longer just for students.”