There is, in my opinion, no relationship so tumultuous as the roommate relationship. It is complicated, often fickle. One second you are laughing together over a shared bottle of wine, the next you’re leaving snarky messages taped to the fridge “reminding” each other to do the freaking dishes!
Roommates deal with the same problems as married couples – lifestyle habits, finances, who is using all the hot water in the shower – but with the decided disadvantage that roommates don’t have to love each other for better or for worse. And when it comes to living together, lots of times it is worse.
There are two scenarios when looking for a roommate: attempting to fill a vacant spot in your apartment, or looking to move in with someone. Let’s deal with the former, first.
1. Know what you want
Seriously consider what you are looking for in a roommate. Do you want a new pal to hit the town with, or someone who stays out of the way? Do you want a co-host for your all-night ragers, or someone who prefers quiet nights in his and/or her room?
Think it through, jot down some notes. Then begin your search.
2. Be specific in advertising
Sure, you may come across as a little bit Type A, but having a specific Roommate Wanted ad will help you filter through all the random applicants just looking for a place to crash. Include what you are looking for in:
- Expectations (about rent, about sharing, about visitors, about “overnight visitors”, about drinking, about cooking exotic-smelling cuisine – the list goes on)
Perhaps you are really easy going, a come-what-may, weird-food-smells-and-big-mess-don’t-bother-me kind of person. Go ahead and include that in your ad, but be warned: the less you care, the greater the possibility of an ant infestation.
3. Make the interview a conversation
A face to face interview is the only real chance you have to see if you and your new roommate jive together. Make it longer than 15 minutes and talk about things more than the standard “are you neat or are you messy?” See if they can hold a conversation, a real one, about travelling or about a movie or a book or a Dungeons and Dragons character. Because there is really nothing worse than when you’re both in the kitchen making dinner and no one says a peep.
If your potential roommate can’t meet you face-to-face (perhaps they are moving from out of town), do something more than a phone interview. No one is the real deal on the phone. Try a video chat – it’s still awkward, but it’s a heck of a lot better than the phone.
4. Ask for references
Don’t be shy about asking for vouchers of character, income, cleanliness, weird habits, etc. Ask for employer information, old roommates’ email addresses and ex-landlords’ contact info. Don’t give up until you feel as though you have an honest picture of what this roommate is going to be like.
5. Hold them to the agree-upon expectations
There is nothing as spectacularly pent up as a mano a mano roommate confrontation, and it’s better to nip quirks and annoyances in the bud. If not, one carton of milk is going to spoil and the two of you will be in an all-and-out brawl. Make it clear what you expect from your roommate from the get-go, and hold him and/or her to it.
It should be noted that living with someone is a compromise, not a paying guest following your house rules. Unless you own the apartment, you and your new roomie after equal share. It’s about working together and adjusting to each other’s lives and schedules, so take a deep breath and take it easy. It’s just a carton of milk, right?
What if I’m the One Being Interviewed?
Shop around. It might seem like the interviewer has the upper hand, but you’re the one that has the other half of their rent. Look around until you find the apartment and person that will be best for you. Then make sure you’re just as nice as possible. People like nice.