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Sharing a home

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For some people, sharing a house or apartment is simply a way to save money. For others, it's a way of life. In any event, it isn't always easy to find the right place. Why not take the initiative yourself? We have some tips to help you make sharing work.

First of all, you need to make sure that it's right for you. Not everyone is the sharing type. Some people are very sociable but prefer to live alone, perhaps because they need peace and quiet, don't want to be under pressure to fit in all the time or really need their independence. If none of those applies to you, there are plenty of arguments in favor of sharing.

Advantages of sharing

  1. Low fixed costs: Young people on a tight budget need somewhere cheap to live, and sharing is the cheapest option of all.
  2. Good company: Getting a little distance from your parents doesn't have to mean sitting around on your own all the time. Housemates can make a great second family.
  3. Pooled resources: Plates and glasses, sofa and dining table, Internet and Netflix: why pay for everything by yourself? Sharing the cost can save you a lot of cash.
  4. Shared chores: Cooking, cleaning, laundry, and taking out the trash are jobs that need to be done in every household. It's nice to alternate – that way, you enjoy more free time. 
  5. Lessons for life: Tolerance, responsibility, social skills, communication, and conflict resolution: if you're prepared to learn, sharing a home can be a rewarding experience.

Finding the right people to move in with

The biggest advantage of starting your own shared home is the freedom to choose. Should it be all male, all female or mixed? What age range do you want? Are there any no-gos? You could find potential housemates among your friends, through social media, at colleges or on special online platforms. You can trust your instincts when it comes to deciding who to move in with, but you should also find out more about them first.

Shared goals

If you're going to share a home, it makes sense to choose people who share your goals and expectations as well. Is it all about saving money or more a case of "best friends forever"? Do you prefer classic and cozy or modern and minimalist? Are you looking for a temporary arrangement or a base for several years? Should it be spontaneous and straightforward or organized and orderly? If you can agree on these things, you're more likely to get along.

Personal chemistry

People who live together should like each other and enjoy spending time in each other's company – or at least be able to occupy the same space without falling out. Similar hobbies, interests or political views aren't absolutely essential, but they can create common ground. That said, it isn't always safe to assume that someone you like working with will also be someone you like living with.

Practical aspects

Habits are an important factor. What if Céline likes to sleep in, but Yan practices the violin early in the morning? What if Mila smokes a pack of cigarettes day, but Loris can't stand the smell? There's sure to be tension. Parties, eating habits, hygiene, pets, and all manner of annoying foibles can lead to arguments. It helps to be completely open, avoiding conflict or recognizing when two people just aren't compatible.

Finding the right place to live

If you have an attractive apartment with the right number of rooms and affordable rent in a nice neighborhood, that's a good start, but you'll need more to make sharing work.

  • Good location: public transportation, shopping, maybe parking too
  • Suitable rooms: all of equal size and standard if possible
  • More bathrooms: at the very least a separate toilet, ideally two full bathrooms
  • Plenty of living space: enough room to share the entrance hall, kitchen, and living room, as well as the balcony if there is one
  • Ample storage: fitted closets, an attic or cellar, etc. – invaluable, especially in a shared home
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Legal and financial aspects

Rental agreement

Before you sign the rental agreement, check that the landlord is happy for the property to be shared. If you want to act as the main tenant and sublet individual rooms, note that you'll be liable for the other residents, although you will be able to evict them if necessary. In most shared homes, all residents act as main tenants and thus have the same rights and obligations.

Tips on setting up a shared house or apartment:

  1. List all residents by name in the rental agreement OR sign subletting agreements.
  2. Contractually agree how the rent, ancillary costs, and deposit will be divided up.
  3. Set out each person's liability, both financial and for any damage. 
  4. Reach a clear agreement on the duration of the rental and notice periods for terminating the agreement.
  5. Put all relevant details down in writing, e.g. joint purchases, who brought what, etc.

Insurance

Insurance is a matter of personal preference, so it's best if everyone does their own thing here, but with one exception: you should ideally take out personal liability and household contents insurance for the entire household. It covers everyone mentioned by name in the policy. That way, you can all pay a share of the premium and save a lot of money. Just remember to let your insurer know when housemates leave and new ones join.

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Household budget

Premium or cut-price? Organic or not? Money is always a difficult topic, and shared homes are no exception. The more people's approaches to dealing with their finances differ, the harder it is to agree on a shared budget. Here are the most important questions you need to ask: 

  • What are we going to buy as a group, and what will we buy individually (household essentials, groceries, toiletries, etc.)?
  • Will everyone contribute the same amount, or will we take each person's circumstances into account (how much they earn, how much time they spend away, other special factors)? 
  • Should some rooms cost more than others (size, position, balcony, etc.)?

Once the basics are agreed, you can work out the details for each budget item. 

Fixed costs: rent, heating and other standing charges, household insurance, TV license, Internet/TV, streaming subscriptions 

Variable costs: electricity, laundry detergent and cleaning supplies, consumables like sandwich bags and toilet paper, garbage bags, groceries, drinks, etc. 

Fixed costs are easy to split, whereas variable costs are best paid from a shared kitty. Housemates would actually have a shared wallet in times gone by, but these days it's usually a joint account. It sometimes takes a while to find out how much money you actually need to run the household. Of course, it also depends on who does the shopping...

Budgeting made easy

Budget apps like these three are a good way to keep costs in check:

  • Budget-App (in German, the classic from Budgetberatung Schweiz)
  • Flatastic (in German, with shopping list and cleaning rota)
  • Splid (also great for group vacations)

Living together in harmony

A home is more than just a room in a shared apartment, it's somewhere you feel settled. That why the success of a shared household hinges on the people living in it: what makes them tick, how they communicate and organize themselves.

Closeness and distance

Having company at home can be great – as long as you also have privacy. Different people have different needs in this respect. Some need lots of "me time," while others prefer to be in a group all the time. The best thing you can do is get to know each other and respect each other's boundaries. Here are some things that can help: Knock before entering. Close the door when you want to be left alone. Draw up a bathroom schedule. Keep a shared calendar. Go outside and take a walk when you want to make a phone call. There are many more you can try. Living together demands creativity!

Cleaning and tidying

Where do you draw the line between "lived in" and just plain messy? How clean is clean enough? These are tricky questions in any shared home because opinions differ. Follow these three golden rules to reach a consensus: 

  • Transparency and tolerance: Whatever the topic, the key to living together is always to stand up for what matters to you, respect others' differences, and talk through disagreements openly rather than letting them fester. 
  • Dividing up chores: Keeping a rota is a tried-and-tested way of sharing cleaning, garbage disposal, shopping, cooking, and laundry duties fairly. Perhaps certain people have favorite chores they're happy to do regularly. If not, you can simply alternate or draw lots to decide who does what.
  • Joint events: Spring cleaning sounds boring and hard work, but why not turn it into a party? Put on some music, order pizza, then settle down for drinks, nibbles, and a movie when all the work's done. That could make it fun and strengthen your team spirit.

Communication and conflict resolution

Last but not least, the most important topic of all, the one that determines whether housemates really live happily ever after together or end up falling out and going their separate ways. Here are some tips for ensuring good, clear communication:

  1. Spend time with each other: spontaneous conversations, evenings in, maybe even joint day trips or vacations
  2. Use all communication channels: group chat, shared app/calendar/shopping list, pinboard, etc.
  3. Keep a record of what's agreed: always in writing – either on paper or in a shared space online

Not all differences of opinion can be resolved rationally. Every shared home has its own challenges. How they're dealt with depends on the individual housemates' social skills. The more open, respectful, and willing to compromise they are, the easier it will be. But nobody's perfect, and that's OK. Sharing a home can still be rewarding, even if there's some tension. Conflict can be seen as an opportunity for personal growth. If you take this positive attitude, you might well look back on your sharing days in years to come and think, "I had the time of my life."

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