Too old to rent? Why Spareroom is booming among the over-40s

By Oliver Smith 9 November 2017
Image: Spareroom.

Why tens of thousands of middle-aged Brits are choosing to share their homes.

Yes, millions of millennials are being priced out of Britain’s booming property market, but that’s not why Rupert Hunt’s room-sharing business is going from strength to strength.

For the uninitiated, Spareroom started in 2004 as a way of young professionals filling a spare room in their rental flats, the 21st-century version of a spare room classified ad.

Today it’s the place for tens of thousands of renters across the UK to find a place to live, fill a spare room, even find a group of flatmates to start their property hunt with.

But they’re not the clientele you might expect.

Generation rent

“Over 40s are our biggest growing demographic,” Hunt told The Memo.

He says it’s because ‘generation rent’ is moving into their 30s and 40s, and want a family of sorts “to share the ups and downs with, and to unwind.”

“Yes, people are being priced out for longer, but there’s also a rising number of people who can afford to rent on their own, but are just choosing to share.”

After separating from his wife in 2013, Hunt discovered that he loves to share: “living with the right people is better than living on your own,” he explains.

And now there are more over-35s renting than ever before, according to the latest Department for Communities and Local Government’s English Housing Survey, with almost a third (29.3%) renting in this age group now rent – a sharp jump from the 20% renting in 2004.

While discovering this older growing group of renters, renters today aren’t just looking for the best properties, they’re looking for the best flatmates.

Finding flatmates

“We started off thinking of ourselves as a property site, but now we think of ourselves more as a people site,” says Hunt.

Instead of focusing on big high-resolution photos of flats and spare rooms, which are obviously still important, Spareroom has been building out its people-matching abilities.

“If people find the right people, it can be life-changing with lifelong friends, but if you get it wrong it can be really bad and you can end up dreading going home.”

Including things like age, gender, your interests, Hunt is also a big believer in video as a way of helping people to ‘click’.

“It’s still early days in terms of adoption,” he says. “But by capturing someone just talking about something, nothing in particular, you get that instinctive gut feeling.”

In his own experience on Spareroom, Hunt found that video massively increased the chances that the people he decided to meet up with were a good fit.

It’s this reason why Hunt says Spareroom has no interest in virtual reality, it’s not that he thinks its a gimmick for property, more that finding a good flatshare is about the people, not the place.

Plus among his fastest growing demographic, those key over 40s, VR is probably still a step too far.