The 40-year-old roommate

A New York apartment building

KAI RYSSDAL: As we wait patiently for the housing market to decide when it's done falling, the news has been of the follow-on effects. Falling share prices for home builders and heavy equipment makers, and whether or not there's a wider economic impact. Commentator and New York City renter Doug Cordell says oh, you bet there is.


DOUG CORDELL: You don't expect to find yourself in your 40's and having a roommate. Not a live-in lover, a roommate. As in: "Could you turn your music down?" and "That was my milk."

But having been away from New York for a few years, I came back to find myself priced out of the market. Forget Manhattan — I couldn't afford to rent a place in Queens.

It turns out, when the housing market goes soft — as it has even in crazy-money New York — the rental market tightens up, because first-time buyers sit on their hands in their rented apartments and wait for sales prices to hit bottom.

Thus to Craigslist, and a share in some guy's two-bedroom walk-up.

Life as a roommate in your 40's: In conversation with people, I make only vague references to my housing situation, to avoid the embarrassment. I also skip any of my roommate's favorite haunts, especially when I'm out on a date. Usually I insist on meeting my dates in their neighborhood — so if we go back to anybody's place, it won't be mine.

On the plus side of being a, um . . . mature roommate: You've proven to anyone who cares to know — an old girlfriend, say, who shall remain nameless — that, yes, you can live with someone.

Indeed, after several years of living alone, you've discovered it can be kind of nice to share — even something as simple as a newspaper or a bag of cookies. And even with a relative stranger — someone who walks around in an open bathrobe practicing arias for his amateur opera club.

The main thing is, with the money I save on rent, I'm able to afford things I couldn't otherwise: better restaurants, a regular haircut, nicer clothes. In fact, I probably look more successful now than when I had my own apartment. As long as I'm not actually in my apartment.

And who knows? If the housing market keeps tanking, maybe I'll be able to get a place of my own again — a nice little one-bedroom all to myself.

Or maybe a two-bedroom would be a better idea. Just to have the option of renting out the other room, if I feel the need. Financially speaking, I mean.

RYSSDAL: Doug Cordell lives and writes in New York City.

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