Silver Sharers – A New Hope

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If you believe my friends – and you should(!) – I’m one part Cupid, one part bargain hunter topped with boundless positivity and enthusiasm. Fortunately, this cocktail of character traits was exactly what I needed when serendipity came knocking and Silver Sharers: my business helping mature homeowners find compatible long term lodgers was born.

Online or off, nothing pleases me more than the satisfaction of connecting like-minded people and watching them hit it off or using my sleuthing skills to ferret out a bargain. So it was no surprise that my 60+-year-old partner – recently in the freelance market and thus without the requisite employment history necessary to secure a rental via the usual channels – came to me insisting I was his only hope. 

And so the saga began…

At the time I was (and still am) living with my ‘home-mate’, a man in his 50s and, having recently discovered the pleasure of home-sharing as an older person, I was determined to find my partner a similar set-up where the more relaxed rules around credit and rental history sometimes apply. I figured, with all my detective skills, it would be easier for me to search for such a set up than it would be for him, who often found websites challenging to navigate.

Four years earlier, I had been in a similar situation, helping a friend to find shared accommodation (without success), and, as a result, I had some idea of the kind of challenge I was taking on. What I hadn’t taken into account was how much had changed since that earlier experience.

Looking through flat-sharing platforms was a depressing experience. I lost count of the number of rooms advertised with little to no description of the property or its other occupants. It was not uncommon to discover that for £700+ per month one could expect little more than a bedroom with a lock on the door and no shared social space. Trying hard not to reveal my disappointment to my partner, I carried on looking, eventually finding him a large space with his own micro-kitchen and a bathroom in a house nearby to my own, where he would be sharing with a couple in their sixties.

I’m someone who enjoys finding solutions to problems and instinctively I knew that there was a problem begging to be solved. How many other older people in London, I wondered, were also seeking this type of shared living arrangement, either by choice or through financial necessity?

I put the question to a Facebook group of 3,500 that I run called Advantages of Age, an online community of over 50s.  The results surprised me. Dozens of people came forward sharing with me their own stories of living in shared accommodation. Others expressed an interest in finding a similar situation. Over the next 6 months, with the help of an anthropologist, we interviewed many of these people in-depth to learn as much as we could about what draws older people to live together, read reports, news articles and whatever we could find to help us understand this type of co-living.

As chance would have it, I managed to find a co-founder, with a background working in the property sector as a product designer, who shared my passion. We joined forces and embarked on an online ‘startup school’ together, with a view to seeing how we would get along and whether we could turn our idea into a business. We succeeded on both counts and seven weeks into the start of the programme, in mid-September, Silver Sharers was launched!

It’s very early days for us but here’s how we work. Those with a spare room or those that have a spare room fill in a form on our website. Once I’ve personally verified the homeowner and confirmed that the rooms are genuinely available, they are listed on our newsletter which is distributed once a week to anyone who signs up to receive it. All inquiries for the rooms come via myself and I put the prospective lodger and homeowner in touch with each other to see if they’re a good fit. The cost for the homeowner to list is currently £10.

In a short space of time, since being featured in The Guardian, Evening Standard and Camden New Journal, amongst others, we have nearly 700 people subscribing to receive our weekly newsletter. Currently, we are focussing on London as we believe the opportunity in the capital is big enough for now and enables us to keep the business very personal and focussed on making sure we’re in touch with our customers on a daily basis.

We’re learning every day and are keen to speak to as many older people as we can to try and understand how we can serve our customers better. Whether you’re an older homeowner with one or more empty bedrooms, someone who is currently living with an older person or looking for this type of arrangement, we’re keen to hear from you and to pay you for your time. See our website or get in touch with us at suzanne@silversharers.com to find out more.

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