For Sally Lorino and Nagesh Khanvilkar, it was compatibility at first sight.
Lorino, a retired Webster University dean with a large house in south St. Louis County, was looking for a responsible roommate – someone to provide companionship, mostly, and perhaps share light chores and occasional meals.
Khanvilkar, a Webster graduate student from Mumbai, India, was trying to find affordable rental housing beyond on-campus options and something more culturally immersive. “I wanted to understand American lifestyles more closely with a person who has experience in life,” Khanvilkar says.
Enter Odd Couples Housing.
Khanvilkar found a flyer for the Clayton-based company in the university gym. He was intrigued by its unique, roommate-pairing twist: Odd Couples matches millennials – especially grad students and young-professionals – with “active, healthy seniors with rooms to spare,” the handout said.
Simultaneously, empty-nester Lorino learned of Odd Couples from a neighbor and liked the concept. Applications were submitted. A face-to-face was arranged. Click! The two immediately hit it off and have been roomies since November 2018.
“I was pretty confident this was going to work,” Lorino says. “Now, I’m really happy to have him in the house. It’s great fun.”
John Levis, co-founder and chairman of Odd Couples, says his startup has made dozens of similar successful match-ups since its 2018 inception. The company’s name, he says, was inspired by two of its first inter-generational roommates. “They jokingly called themselves ‘The Odd Couple,’ like the old tv sitcom, and we thought it was a fun way to describe our niche.”
That niche — pairing millennials and seniors right in the seniors’ own homes — makes it not just the first of its kind in St. Louis, but in the entire country, the company’s research shows. “We knew from our development stage this was unique,” Levis says. “It’s yet another example of what can result from our city’s terrific eco-system of incubators and support for entrepreneurs and job creators.”
Levis’s idea for a roommate service involving seniors was sparked by his success in pairing older, single relatives into one residence and then seeing them thrive. The former financial advisor thought of doing more of that until he asked MBA students at Washington University to analyze the concept. After some research and looking at their own life experiences, the millennial students hit upon something even better, Levis says.
“They said, ‘What about us?’ They believed that in keeping with the new ‘sharing economy,’ we should instead focus on millennial/senior pairings, creating efficiencies allowing both generations to solve problems,” Levis remembers.
A recent story by MSNBC says millennials carry an average $42,000 in debt, from credit cards to student loans, while facing self-funded retirement plans and skyrocketing housing prices.
And seniors face trials of their own. Wikipedia declares that 60 percent of them lost value in investments due to the 2008 economic crisis, 42 percent are delaying retirement and 25 percent claim they will never retire. Correspondingly, an article from Washington University in St. Louis about aging says 87 percent want to “age in place,” which Levis says is not always practical or financially feasible.
Complicating it all: shifting demographics. “By 2030, 65% of the population will be 65 or older,” Levis says. “That means we will have a historically high number of seniors with potential housing challenges.”
Some of that data also explains why intergenerational housing is a good pivot, Levis reasons. Younger people can save money and improve their living conditions, while seniors often gain an additional income stream as well as the possibility for a longer stay in their homes. But Levis is quick to caution that while a pair may become friends, the younger roommate doesn’t provide caregiving services and, conversely, it’s okay for the home-owner to refuse to parent their new pal.
But compatibility is key.
“In the application process, our algorithms evaluate answers to compatibility questions,” Levis says. He ticks off a few: “Are you an extrovert or an introvert? Are you neat or not? A smoker or not? Do you object to drinks?”
When the algorithm hits upon a match and the potential roommates approve of each other after meeting, Odd Couples provides a written agreement that documents expectations. “Are we going to have meals together? How much are you going to contribute in dollars? If I have pets, what’s your role with them? When are you going to do your laundry?” Levis notes.
The agreement takes care of “friction points,” Levis says. “Then, in the early stages, we check up on the couples. We call them and see how things are going.”
The next phase for Odd Couples Housing itself, Levis suggests, is growth.
“Now that word of what we’re doing is beginning to spread, the velocity is picking up significantly,” Levis says. “Also, the problems we address are not unique to St. Louis. We think this idea has legs to expand to other communities.”
Meanwhile, back in their shared suburban home, Lorino and Khanvilkar have fallen into a nice roommate rhythm. Between studies, Khanvilkar sometimes walks Lorino’s dog Tank. He also cooks curry-based meals, which he calls “a stress buster” and she calls a nice bonus.
The pair have animated conversations about their mutually relatable academic experiences. Lorino has three master’s degrees, giving her what Khanvilkar says is “lots of understanding” about his rigorous pursuit of a Master of Science in Cybersecurity.
“She asks me, ‘How are your grades? What are you studying? Do you know what’s happening in the U.S. right now?’ We discuss it all,” he says.
Lorino agrees. “It’s like the ultimate exchange forum,” she says with a smile. “And I’m also getting an unexpected education in movies.”
“Bollywood,” Khanvilkar chuckles.