August 15, 2017 / Published 11:00 AM EST / Iris Oberlaender, Staff Writer

Home too big? How to make it work for you

Thinking about downsizing? There's been a trend over the past few years of people moving into homes that are 100 to 400 square feet, whereas the average home in Canada is close to 2,100 square feet. For many tiny home dwellers, a move into a smaller abode means financial freedom, the flexibility to travel and a minimalist, clutter-free lifestyle.

But you don't have to downsize to a tiny house to get some of the same benefits. Living in that perfectly-sized forever home is tricky, especially when things keep changing. Maybe you're adding to your family, going separate ways, having an adult child move back home or (finally) entering the empty nest life stage. Do you stay put and make it work or do you move?

For some, moving isn't an option. Thousands of baby boomers are among the more than 50 per cent of Ontario households with too much living space. But these homeowners have limited options in their area to move to a smaller home, such as a semi-detached home, town house or apartment. Real estate experts refer to this lack of supply as the missing middle, which is impacting affordability for everyone.

Here are some tips on how to make your home fit your needs (and make some extra cash, too):

Long-term rentals

Rent out your basement

Basement apartments are likely the first thing that comes to your mind if you're thinking about turning your house into an income property. If you've got a finished basement, and you're not using it for your own family, why not make some cash from the lower level of your house? Keep in mind that you'll have to comply with legal requirements for secondary suites outlined in your municipal code which includes rules for ceiling heights and fire exits before you rent out space. Your return will depend on rental rates in your area, as well as how much money you have to spend on renovations prior to renting it out.

Create an in-law suite

An in-law suite can be a variation of a basement apartment or it can take up any space in your home. You may charge less rent (or no rent at all) for having a family member live in your house. In return, you may get a set of helping hands or support in paying for groceries or utilities. Even though it's family, it's a good idea to agree on the deal beforehand to avoid conflict.

Offer a place to sleep and study

If you live close to a campus, you could rent out that extra room to a college or university student. Rooms with access to a private bathroom will get you more in rent than smaller bedrooms. Do your homework before signing on the dotted line: Assess the space you have, interview applicants in person, do a background check and set boundaries through a rental agreement upfront.

Short-term rentals

Host a foreign student

Not sure you're ready to commit to a long-term tenant? Try renting your spare room to an international student. Programs range in duration but typically start at six weeks. Agencies, such as the non-profit Canada Homestay Network (CHN), connect hosts with students, field applications and provide support. In addition to a private bedroom, hosts provide meals and spend quality time with the student to help them learn the local language and culture. Money should not be the only motive for potential host families. Ideally, hosts are interested in sharing their lifestyle in a positive and mutually-rewarding way, says the CHN.

Share your home

Chances are, the last time you took a trip somewhere, you considered staying in an Airbnb rather than a hotel. If you didn't, you likely have a friend who raved about their experience after booking their place through the home-sharing website. Staying in someone's home or spare room for a weekend getaway or a vacation has become incredibly popular over the last few years as part of a growing sharing economy. Is becoming an Airbnb host right for you? Here are 10 things to consider before creating your listing.

Make it on the big screen

And finally, here's a tip for all those movie aficionados. Wouldn't it be fun to rent out your house to film makers? You earn bragging rights as well as a fee that can range from $500 to $5,000 per day. How much cash home owners can make depends on several factors, including the type of project and its budget, the amount of space the film crew will occupy, and the scale of the home and property. Does your house have movie star qualities? Take some pictures and find out. If you're in Ontario, you can register your property online with the Ontario Media Development Corporation (OMDC).

These are just a few ways to put the five million unused or spare bedrooms in Ontario to good use. Make your home work for you, earn extra cash, benefit your local community, and gain new friendships or (unofficial) movie credits.

Of course, with any of the options above, be sure to do your homework, read the fine print and speak to a lawyer or financial advisor if necessary to ensure it makes sense for your situation.

Photo credits: Jean Lavergne (1), Tamara George (2)

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