Bonnie Moore: Bringing the Shared Housing Movement to Boomers

Bonnie MooreWhen asked to tell her story, Bonnie Moore laughs. “Well, I’m 70 years old, I have a long story. I’ve been through three husbands. I was divorced before I even went to college. And while the truth is, I’m not cut out to be a wife, I’m definitely built for working life. I’ve run my own businesses before, but I didn’t become a serious entrepreneur until I was 69.”

At a time when most people would be putting their feet up for a long-deserved retirement, Moore was writing business plans and seeking developers to launch her online network supporting communal living among mature adults.

Moore’s drive to launch the Golden Girls Network was created out of necessity, but perhaps it also has its roots in her early years as a college graduate and divorcee living the hippy life in San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury district. “I’ve always loved the camaraderie and convenience of communal living,” she explains.

A hippy perhaps, but for 27 of the 30 years she lived in the “City by the Bay,” Moore was an accountant. That is until she brought a class action suit against the California State Board of Accountancy in a fight over her right to refer to herself officially as an accountant rather than a bookkeeper. The case ended up before the California Supreme Court, and – although she lost by one vote – Moore became something of a celebrity, giving lots of talks on the issue of commercial speech. The experience sparked an interest in law, and so at 44 years of age she enrolled in law school, while working part-time.

“I was 50 when I graduated and the first question I asked myself was, ‘What am I going to do for the rest of my life?’”

But unlike her fellow eager graduates, Moore had to put her legal dreams on hold. “My 29-year-old daughter was diagnosed with AIDS and there was no question that I would drop everything to take care of her. She was one of the first patients in 1995 to get the untested cocktail because she was dying and had nothing to lose. Within one month she started to improve.”

It took almost three years for Moore’s daughter to get back on her feet, but as soon as she was, Moore decided to move on to the next chapter in her life. With a second divorce behind her, she set her sights on Washington DC, and with nothing more than a 15-year-old two-seater sports car packed with a suitcase and a blow-up mattress, she hit the road to finally live east of the Mississippi.

DC was a good move. After several temp jobs as an accountant, Moore secured a consulting gig with a CPA firm and stayed for 15 years until semi-retiring at age 69. She still works part-time for the firm on a project basis.

Bonnie Moore“I was suddenly lost, sitting around in my PJs. I’m the kind of person who needs lots of things going on. I was itching for my next challenge,” she laughs.

Moore’s inspiration for her next move came directly from her own experience. Divorced for the third time in 2008, she was saddled with a large mortgage for her newly remodeled 5-bedroom home in Bowie, MD. “Home renovation is a stressful process,” Moore says wryly. The recession had started and the house value was plummeting.

“I had my dream home. But my income was cut in half and I had 100% of the bills (her ex filed for bankruptcy). I knew I wanted to keep the house so I decided to start looking for roommates. Bowie is primarily a family town so it was challenging to get people to move out there.”

She focused on women in the same age-group. After some interesting experiences … the woman who reorganized all her drawers and the Jehovah’s Witness who shunned her Halloween decorations … Moore finally found four roommates that worked. Multiple house agreements have helped maintain order and balance the demands of five different personalities.

Fast forward five years to retirement and Moore realized her next opportunity was right in front of her. There was a market of mature women struggling financially and searching for housing, and the Craigslists and rent.coms of the world were not meeting their needs. She would establish a business to help other women do the same thing that she and her roommates were doing: find like-minded individuals to sharing housing.

Golden Girls Network is a membership-based organization modeled after match.com that provides an easy-to-use platform for mature women (and men) to search for and find shared living arrangements from a national database. Users can be seek housemates to share in their home or rooms in other Golden Girls homes. Bonnie is also working on a foundation which will support a home companion program through which a housemate could receive a reduced rate for rent in exchange for providing assistance in the home of an older adult. “This wouldn’t include medical needs, but rather help such as changing light bulbs, doing the grocery shopping, and shoveling snow,” Moore notes.

“I was suddenly lost, sitting around in my PJs. I’m the kind of person who needs lots of things going on. I was itching for my next challenge,”

And while the idea came easily and the business plan has evolved, setting up Golden Girls Network has not been without pains.

“We were trying to do too much and there were liability hurdles that I didn’t foresee. Then I found someone to build the database, but let’s just say it didn’t go very smoothly. I almost packed it in until NPR contacted me. I wasn’t even in business yet! Three developers later, the database was ready to launch and the very same day, we were on the cover of the style section of The Washington Post.”

Completely self-funded (although looking for an investor), the network currently includes more than 900 people in 47 states. Moore is in licensing talks to expand the network outside of the US. And even though she doesn’t sport a hoodie, she joined a business incubation center at Bowie State University shortly after her launch.

“We’ve tapped into something that people are really interested in, it’s a sleeper thing. Baby boomers are retiring and their situations are not what they expected. There is an epidemic of middle-age divorce. People who lost the value of their homes or their jobs through the recession don’t have the money to retire the way they thought they would. What’s more, women’s salaries are lower than men’s and often they don’t have secure retirement plans. Retirement communities are expensive, especially for people on a fixed income. Living in shared housing helps cut costs dramatically and the bonus is you don’t have a house or yard to take care of. It’s kind of nice.”

So what’s next for the septuagenarian after she finds that investor and takes Golden Girls Network to the next level?

“Oh, I’m going to be the ‘Where’s the Beef?’ lady – the face of the company – and let someone else run it! One of these days I’m really going to retire and live the life of a Golden Girl.”