Ah, roommates. Sometimes you can’t stand to live with them, but with rents and home costs these days it may be impossible to live without them. Since bunking up with a best friend is usually not a risk worth taking, most people looking for a roommate find themselves wondering where to start.
Worry not: The difference between a good roommate and a bad roommate is really just finding someone who is financially reliable and whose habits and co-living values align with your own. These are things you can discern from good questions, careful research, and smart timing. Here are nine tips for upping your odds of roommate compatibility.
1. Give yourself plenty of time to find the right person
Sometimes last-minute living adjustments have to be made — like when your current roommate gets a job and has to relocate quickly — but you should try to give yourself as much lead time as possible. That way, you can ask around and advertise for roommates, conduct multiple interviews, and have time to make what is a vitally important decision without feeling rushed. The amount of time you should set aside for the search may vary depending on where you live and what the rental market is like — finding a roommate in NYC will look a little different than in Chattanooga — but across the board, more time is better.
2. Figure out what’s important to you in a living situation
Like they say, one person’s ideal roommate is another’s nightmare. So, before you even start the search, think about which factors matter most. Here are a few examples – what’s important will depend on you:
- Have you been burned by a deadbeat roommate, making financial responsibility your top priority?
- Are you a vegetarian who would rather avoid the smell of cooking meat?
- Does a sink full of dishes really grind your gears?
- Is finding a cat or dog lover a must because you have a pet?
Write down your top five non-negotiables, then another five attributes that would be great but aren’t deal breakers (they love to bake, sweet!) and keep the list handy when chatting with any contenders. Having a strong handle on what’s important to you will ensure that you don’t choose someone with a major incompatibility, and making note of extra-nice elements can help you settle on the best fit if it comes down to a tie.
3. Use social media and online outreach to your advantage
Finally, a valid reason to spend time browsing social media. Facebook is a wonderful way to look for roommates, and most cities have multiple groups designated for apartment and roommate searching. Another option is to put a call out in groups that are non-housing specific but host a network of like-minded people. For instance, you might try a college class page, LGBTQ-friendly groups, your Nextdoor site, or a neighborhood association page.
Post in multiple groups, making sure to include rent amount and pictures of the apartment (if you already have one), a little bit about yourself, and a few factors that are important to you. You can also message people directly who say they’re looking for a new place, or even make a status on your own Facebook page (or Instagram, or Twitter) to see if any friends know of someone that could be a potential roommate for you.
Facebook in particular is convenient because you have the advantage of finding mutual friends and can learn a bit about potential roommates by poking around their profile. While Reddit and Craigslist use a more anonymous format for initial pre-screening, they cast a wide net and can be helpful sites for connecting with potential roomies.
Some sites and apps specialize in helping people find roommates. While they may charge a small fee, some offer extra services for helping you vet potential matches. Established roommate finders to try include:
Whatever method you use, remember to take precautions with anyone you’ve met online. Arrange your first meeting in a public place where you feel safe, and consider bringing a friend with you.
4. Ask friends and colleagues
You should always leverage your own social circles both offline and online. Let your friends know that you’re looking for a roommate and see if they know of anyone who’s also on the lookout or may be moving soon. Even if no one comes to mind right away, they can keep an ear to the ground and ask around for you. If you belong to a church, that can be a great place to connect with potential roommates. Putting the ask out to your colleagues is a smart idea, too. Many larger employers offer intranets or digital bulletin boards you can use to get the word out to a wider group of people. Not only is word of mouth a great organic way to locate a roommate, but if you find someone through a friend, you’ll already have something in common!
5. Get the finances in order
Renting an apartment with someone else means you’re jointly responsible for paying a substantial fee to the property owner each month — so you want to make sure any money questions are settled ahead of time. Important steps to cover include:
- Asking for income and employment information – how long have they worked for their current employwer?
- Deciding whose name will be on the lease and how you’ll handle rent payments.
- Requesting a credit check if they’re not on the lease.
- Determining how much each of you will pay toward rent. In many cases, an equal split makes sense, but factors such as square footage, direct access to a bathroom, a window with a view, or a walk-in closet could call for adjustments.
- Figuring out how you’ll divvy up utilities such as internet and electricity, as well as any other potentially shared expenses, like groceries.
- Setting up autopays whenever possible to go directly to your landlord, utilities, or you, if you’re the one who is making the payments.
It’s also important to talk about how everyone living in the apartment would secure funds to pay the rent if they lose their jobs. Even if you pay your part of rent and your roommate doesn’t, you’ll both be on the hook for meeting the full payment. You should also establish a mutual agreement about what happens if one of you needs to move out before the lease is up. For example, if one person is planning a move, they should give as much heads up as possible, and maybe they agree to continue paying rent on the room until an acceptable replacement roommate is found.
6. Ask good questions (and use your intuition)
If a conversation with a potential roommate feels kind of like a job interview, well, you’re doing it right. In addition to the finance-related questions we covered above, don’t be afraid to ask about their lifestyle and living habits. It’s better to find out now than later, and chances are they’re wondering the same things about you. Oh, they’re in a band and host practice twice a week? Good to know! They’re going to law school and need total peace and quiet? Duly noted.
It can seem weirdly intimate to jump right into queries about personal habits (what time of day do you like to shower?), but witnessing and working around those habits is the reality of living with someone. And, like a job interview, the conversation should be two-sided. Make sure you really listen to their answers and respond to their questions as truthfully as possible. You shouldn’t be focused on winning them over so much as making sure you’re a good fit for each other.
Here are some good questions to ask potential roommates:
- Why are you looking for a new roommate?
- What did you like and dislike about your last living situation?
- What are the five most important qualities you’re looking for in a roommate?
- Can you commit to a yearlong lease? Or, how long do you anticipate living here?
- What’s your daily work schedule like?
- Can you tell me about your cleaning habits?
- How often do you cook?
- When do you generally get up and go to bed?
- Do you prefer to shower in the morning or at night?
- How much time do you spend at home on average?
- What are your hobbies?
- How do you like to spend your weekends?
- How often do you tend to have visitors over? (If their significant other practically lives with them or they have big dinner parties most weekends, that’s good to know.)
- How social do you like to be with your roommates?
- Do you smoke?
- Do you have pets, or allergies to pets?
- Do you have any dietary restrictions I should be aware of?
- Do you have any accessibility concerns?
- Can you provide references?
7. In the time of COVID-19, ask even more questions
It’s only natural that, amid a worldwide pandemic, some new co-living and concerns about moving have arisen. As many are either staying put or moving out of cities and in with family in small towns, fewer people may be looking to swap places at the moment. So, you’ll want to give yourself even more time for the roommate search. Since you’ll probably be spending many more hours around this person than usual, you’ll both need to be extra aware and considerate of each other’s comfort levels. Interviews might be even more personal than normal, and you should consider asking a few extra questions, such as:
- How are you doing? Everyone could do with a check-in right now, and this is a nice way to ease into the conversation.
- Have you had COVID-19 or do you think you’ve been exposed? It’s considerate to let each other know if, say, your job puts you at high risk to exposure, so you can both take appropriate precautions.
- Do you work from home all or part of the time?
- How have you been social distancing? Regardless of the rules in your city, people can have vastly different attitudes and comfort levels about precautions. If they seldom wear a mask when going out or are hanging out with large groups of friends, while you’re taking maximum precautions, this isn’t a good match. Now more than ever, it’s crucial to be on the same page about a guest policy.
- Can we establish a regular cleaning schedule? Keeping a hygienic home is particularly important during this time.
- Would you be comfortable taking a FaceTime video tour, instead of an in-person tour? The fewer strangers parading through your pad, the better.
8. Decide on all the logistics before moving in together
Once you find someone you can see yourself living with, it’s tempting to breathe a sigh of relief and wait until moving day to cover more details. But for peace of mind and the smoothest possible transition, you’d do well to work out a few mundane details ahead of time. Here are a few questions to answer together, prior to move-in day:
- Furnishing the apartment: What do you have room for, and do either of you already have some furniture to bring? If one of you is already living in the apartment, should you do some decluttering to make room?
- Utilities: Whose name with the bills be in? Will you split them 50/50? Or, if one roommate has a TV in their room, or someone needs super-fast Wi-Fi for working from home, will you decide on a proportional division?
- The room: Who’s taking which room? And if the rooms aren’t identical, will each pay an adjusted rent for the size?
- Insurance: Renters insurance is a good idea whether or not you have a roommate. Talk to your agent about how to share a policy or if you should get your own.
9. Write and sign a roommate agreement
Now that you’ve gone through all the effort of asking the many, many questions and coming to an agreement on important topics with your new housemate, it’s time to put the highlights in writing. While it won’t be legally binding, having a document to refer back to makes good sense for renters of any age. That way, if wrinkles arise, you can iron them out by looking at the guidelines you established together, and talking it through from a common starting point. Who knows, the act of writing the agreement might even spark another conversation you wouldn’t have had otherwise.
Now that you have a tool belt to carefully vet a roommate who is both reliable and compatible, you’re ready to start your search. Even if there are a few bumps in the road, you’ll know you’ve started off on the right foot and can work it out together.
Sofia Rivera is a writer and property editor for Boston Magazine.