Names: Sisters Linda Thomson, 61, and Fay Davis, 77.
Sister moves to town: Six years ago, Linda was thrilled to learn that retirees Fay and Lowell Davis planned to move to Bellingham from Kennewick. The two sisters had always been close, so Linda grew concerned about Fay and Lowell's frustrating search for an affordable home that fit their needs.
Brainstorm: Then Linda's husband, Nigel Thomson, thought "out of the real estate box."
"Nigel asked Fay and Lowell if they would like to live with us and look for a home together," says Linda, who works as an occupational therapist at PeaceHealth St. Joseph Medical Center. "I wasn't there when he asked them, but it was a great idea. It would mean the four of us finding a larger home."
The right house: Pooling their resources, the foursome agreed on a 6,000-square foot, three-level home on a hill off Samish Way, with a view of Lake Whatcom.
"I found it," says Linda. "As soon as our Realtor opened the door, I knew this was the place. There's a huge common area, one large kitchen, and an area for a huge man cave. It really was a bargain."
Good place to grow old together: All four agreed they wanted a modern home with level entries. The layout of the home created two level entries, along with two master bedrooms and two office spaces. Linda and Nigel, an immigration consultant, had been living in a pleasant three-story home "with lots of steps."
"The whole idea was to find a home where, if things worked out well, we could age well in place," says Linda, a former athlete who had hip-replacement surgery last year. "We felt this home would be perfect for that."
Sticker shock: Fay, a retired registered nurse, and Lowell, a retired banker, acknowledged they were stunned by the prices of Bellingham real estate. They began their search in December 2007, and, after searching in vain for months, in May 2008 they found the home they wanted to share.
"Prices in Bellingham were at least twice as high as they were in the Tri-Cities for similar properties," Fay says. "It really was sticker shock."
Mixed reactions from others: "Some family members thought we were crazy (to share a home) and our friends did too," says Fay with a laugh, recalling the surprised looks whenever she revealed the unusual plan. She and Lowell have three children and five grandchildren.
Linda and Nigel heard a variety of comments.
"I encountered people who were aghast at the idea, and I encountered people who thought it was a great idea," Linda says, adding with a chuckle, "The neighbors really wondered about it."
Honest agreement: Linda says all four people involved talked openly about their feelings.
"We made an agreement that if it ever began to affect our relationships, we would openly and honestly change it (their housing arrangement)," Linda says. "We were not going to stay with the arrangement if it put our long-term relationships at risk."
Who handles the money?: Lowell, of course, since he had a long, successful career in banking.
"We have agreed to split the expenses," says Linda.
Long history together: Fay and Lowell began dating when Linda was still a toddler and Fay was a young adult still living with the family. The sisters have three other siblings. "I was so thrilled when Linda was born. I just loved having a baby sister," says Faye, who has been married to Lowell for 55 years. "Linda was the flower girl at our wedding."
The sisters remained close through the years. "From the time I was 7 to 21, I lived in the same town (Lamoni, Iowa) as Fay and Lowell," says Linda, who has been married to Nigel for 22 years and moved to Bellingham with him to be closer to his work.
Linda also has a son from her first marriage, Neil McGourty, who lives in Bellingham.
Helpful husbands: Fay, who has undergone arthroscopic knee surgery, and Linda say their husbands are wonderful around the house, especially since both women sometimes have back problems.
"The guys tell us they want to do all the vacuuming because of our back trouble," says Fay. "Around the house, we really laugh a lot."
Michelle Nolan is a Bellingham freelance writer.