Sharing with neighbors means savings for thrifty homeowners

Sharing is undoubtedly something you try to teach your kids from the moment they understand the concept, but there's a lot of value in the basic idea of "some for you, some for me" for adults, too. Inspired by the still-lousy economy, a sense of altruism or a desire to lessen their environmental footprint, many Americans are looking for ways to pool their resources and share with those around them.

Expenses related to yard work is a popular category for sharing. Lowell Bike (pictured), the owner of a car-advice web site in St. Charles, Ill., told WalletPop how his whole neighborhood goes in on one giant bulk delivery of mulch so that each family only has to pay a fraction of what the mulch would otherwise cost. "By combining the purchase, we get free shipping and a roughly 15 percent break on the price," Bike says.

Bike's neighbors also split the cost of landscaping equipment and truck rentals for heavy gardening and hauling chores. "We've been here for about four years, and we've been doing it since we moved in," Bike says. "We've made a bunch of friends, and everyone's always looking for ways to cut costs."

The genesis of the plans often come from mere over-the-fence-style chatting. "We came up with the idea to split the mulch order over a couple of beers one night," Bike says.

Another American who sings the praises of sharing yard work costs is Michelle Morton, the owner of a home-based business in Raleigh, N.C. Every year, she and her husband share the cost of renting a lawn aerator with several other neighbors, bringing the $120 daily rental fee down to a much more manageable $20 or so per family.

"I think it's cost effective for everybody," Morton says. "By renting the machine and splitting the cost, we're able to keep everybody's costs down."

Chad Wooters' sharing moment revolved around a driveway -- an old, somewhat tumbledown driveway between his and his next-door neighbor's house in the Chicago suburb of Lombard, Ill. Four years ago, Wooters approached his neighbor to see if he wanted to share the cost of repaving the driveway, since the two regularly drove on each others' side of the driveway, anyway. The neighbor agreed, so they split the $6,000 cost down the middle and got a discount on subsequent resealing jobs, since the workers only had to come to one address to do the job.

"We've always had a good relationship with our neighbor, and we're both the types that take care of our property," Wooters says. Now, his cost for sealing the driveway comes to only $80, a sum Wooters acknowledges would have been higher if he'd sought to go it alone.

Making the right connections

The dismal economy of the past two years even has neighbors banding together to share phone and Internet services. Jim Dailakis, a New York City-based actor, shared a Wi-Fi signal with his next-door neighbor for about a year. With the router in one apartment, the signal was strong enough to reach his apartment (a phenomenon you may notice if you live in an apartment or condo building, or in a neighborhood of densely laid-out homes or townhouses).

"It was a good idea to begin with," says Dailakis, but then things changed. "Unfortunately, the connections were never that strong. [My neighbor] wasn't tech savvy so if anything went wrong, I'd always have to be there and try and work out the problem. It became a very frustrating exercise." Eventually, he decided that the roughly $15 he was saving every month wasn't worth it. "It was great saving money, but at the same time, it's great not having to go in and be tech support for her," he says.

Marie Anne Delia, a bartender in Toronto, shares a Wi-Fi signal and a phone signal with her next-door neighbor. Since the wall between their two townhouses is thin, her neighbor plugged in the base station in her jack and gave Delia the second handset to keep on her side of the wall. Delia says since she works evenings while her neighbor works days, and since she primarily uses her cell phone anyway, there's very little hassle factor. She and her neighbor split the bill-paying responsibilities down the middle; she says since the phone and the Internet cost about the same, they're each responsible for one apiece.

But wait! There's more...

The list of things you can share is almost limitless, according to Janelle Orsi, a Berkeley, Calif.-based lawyer and co-author of The Sharing Solution. You can pool your resources to share an item you either jointly own or rent, you can share a service such as landscaping or dog walking, or you can even share a big item such as a car.

Unsure of what you have to share? Make a list of all the things you think you could possibly share (warehouse club purchases? extra space in the garage?) and what you'd like to share (dog walking responsibilities? a cord of firewood?), then go from there. Orsi's book contains oodles of information about the best way to establish and maintain a sharing partnership, so WalletPop got on the phone with Orsi to ask her to share some of the book's secrets.

"One important thing is to know enough about the person before you commit to any sort of relationship," Orsi advises. "If you're going to make a larger commitment, it should be an accountable person." Someone who counts costs down to the penny could be a headache to deal with when it comes to dealing with routine maintenance, for instance.

Orsi says it's best to find co-sharers close to where you live and work. For that, you can look to your neighbors, co-workers, members of a house of worship or even online for sharing partners. One caveat, especially if you're going the Internet route: Make sure you know the person well enough to determine if they'll be a good fit for your sharing goals. Be sure to articulate your expectations and go through a list of questions beforehand, so there isn't any unintended conflict, Orsi says. "When you don't set those expectations," she warns, "one might misinterpret the other's actions."

Warning signs

Of course, not all forms of sharing are equal. In fact, some kinds could land you in hot water. Both AT&T and cable provider Comcast confirmed to WalletPop that they have verbiage in their customer agreements that prohibits this practice. A Verizon representative said the company is adding a prohibition that will go into effect within the next 60 days against what it terms attempts to "resell, re-provision or rent the service."

Strictly speaking, there's probably not any way a telecom company could find out if you're sharing your wireless signal with a neighbor, but if that neighbor blows through your bandwidth allotment or makes a bunch of long-distance calls, you won't have any recourse with the company if they refuse to pay up, points out Robert Elek, the Verizon spokesman WalletPop spoke with. If you share a Wi-Fi signal and leave it "unlocked" so the other party can get in, you also run the risk of having your data hacked.

Orsi says there are other caveats you should keep in mind if you're considering entering into any kind of sharing arrangement. You want to spell out how routine maintenance is going to be paid for, and talk about how you'll handle the item breaking before it actually dies, falls apart or conks out on you. Anticipating these kinds of problems in advance and making plans for how to deal with them will prevent unexpected events from starting an argument or, worse, dissolving a good friendship.

If you're sharing a big item, such as a car, or an item in which there could be potential liability, or if there are a large number of people sharing one or more items, it might be a good idea to set up an LLC or nonprofit entity. That way, things like insurance could be paid through that entity, and if someone caused an accident, injury or property damage while operating the co-owned item, the other party couldn't sue the rest of the group. If you're just sharing a lawnmower, though, you don't really need to take these extra steps.

Finally, Orsi addresses the idea of people who go so far as to share real estate, such as vacation homes. In these cases, she says, legal co-ownership is important. (For small items, it's fine if only one party technically owns the grill, weed whacker or floor buffer.) You'll want to bring in an attorney at this point; their guidance in drawing up the necessary paperwork is crucial.

Sharing can be a good thing for your relationships as well as for your wallet. And in these times, who doesn't want both those benefits?

Tell us, do you share anything with friends or neighbors? What do you appreciate most about it? Did anything to wrong with the arrangement?
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