New York -- Are you out of a job and without the money to pay the rent? Newly divorced and unable to maintain a home of your own? A longtime widow slowly running out of cash? Struggling on a salary so grievously low that you're forced to live in a dump?
Think about home-sharing. Under this arrangement, a boarder rents a room from a homeowner and shares access to the rest of the house. Often, the homeowner is older. The boarder may help with the chores in return for a low rent.
For boarders, it means a pleasant home in a neighborhood they otherwise might not be able to afford. For the homeowners, it means help, companionship and a few extra dollars every month.
Rental income does not reduce the homeowner's Social Security income, says Milton Marks of the Shared Housing Resource Center in Philadelphia, although it might reduce Supplemental Security Income and food stamps.
Single boarders are generally preferred. But some homeowners accept couples or single parents with a child or two.
Take Becky Wyler, 51, widowed, with grown children, living in a large home with a pool in Coral Gables, Fla. "I didn't like the idea of living alone," she says, but "I didn't want to sell."
Through a home-sharing referral service, she found a recently divorced woman with a 15-year-old son, who now rents from her for only $300 a month plus utilities.
And take Marcella Trout, 76, of San Carlos, Calif. Two years ago, she was paying a live-in companion $350 a week to cook, clean and run errands, and their relationship had deteriorated. Turning to a home-sharing service, she connected with Patrice Ash, then who was going back to school.
Ms. Ash, who now works as a pension-plan administrator, gets free room and board. In return, she does the laundry, the shopping and weekday dinners, leaves salads for lunch and squires her landlady to concerts and movies.
But home-sharing isn't for everyone. Even Becky Wyler, who's happy with her tenants, says, "It was more work than I thought -- cleaning up, throwing things out and making room."
If you're interested in home-sharing, take these tips from the experts:
Leah Dobkin, housing specialist at the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), recommends a one-month trial period before making a commitment to share. She strongly advises a written lease, which includes a section on when and how the living arrangement will be terminated.
For the free "Consumer's Guide to Homesharing," including some guidelines on what a lease should cover, write to the AARP, 37 Correspondence Unit, 601 E St. N.W., Washington, D.C. 20049.
Richard Blumberg, a San Francisco real estate attorney, suggests getting a standard lease from a stationery store if you don't want to pay for legal advice. In some states, the department of consumer affairs or department of real estate also publish lease forms. Don't vary the form without talking to a lawyer, lest you accidentally contravene a state law.
The tenant should get insurance to cover his or her personal property. And -- very important -- the homeowner should talk to his or her insurance agent, to be sure that all liability to the tenant is fully covered. Any dangerous conditions in your house, like rickety front steps, should be corrected pronto.
Check all local regulations on renting a room: Does the zoning allow it in your neighborhood? Do you have to register your rental with the authorities? Does your house need smoke detectors? Do you have to pay interest on security deposits? Are you subject to rent-control laws? Is it easy or hard to evict? Shared-housing experts say that most unsatisfactory boarders leave without making trouble, but you never know.
Check your tax situation with an accountant. Some of your mortgage and upkeep costs may be deductible as a business expense. You may also be subject to a local business tax.
Many cities have roommate referral services of the sort used by Ms. Wyler and Ms. Trout, and they may provide free lease forms. Ask about referrals at your local office for the aging or senior citizens center. Or try the Shared Housing Resource Center (SHRC), (800) 677-7472. It keeps lists of referral services nationwide. (Warning: Some on its list no longer exist.)
The SHRC publishes a brochure, "Is Homesharing for You?" It includes a lease and costs $9 from the SHRC, 6344 Greene St., Philadelphia, Pa. 19144.
* Clarification: In last week's column on high-rate certificates of deposit, Jane Bryant Quinn quoted the "average annual yields" on 2 1/2 - and five-year certificates of deposit. Average annual yields take the total amount you earn from a CD over the whole term and divide by the number of years you held.
Metropolitan Bank in Arlington, Va., for example, pays a stated rate of 7.9 percent; compounded quarterly, that's an annual compounded yield of 8.14 percent. But over the certificate's full five-year term, you earn an average of 9.6 percent a year. Savers will earn the full amounts stated in the column. But when you call the banks, they may quote the annual percentage rates or compounded rates, rather than the average annual yield.