Last week I wrote about my return to sharing an apartment after living alone. Moving in with unknown roommates or renting out a spare bedroom can be daunting, but can save a fistful of cash. Here are 10 tips to increase your chances of finding a shared apartment or home with a roommate you can actually live with.
1. Think Beyond Craigslist – While I have found many roommates and apartments on Craigslist, the free service does have some limitations – mostly because it is free. Many advertisers will never get back to you, and ads do not have standard information so that you can easily compare several listings.
Consider supplementing your search with a service like Roommates.com for a few dollars. When both parties pay a few dollars, the quality of communication goes way up.
2. Plan Ahead – I have found myself looking for a place to live with mere weeks before I needed to move. When it feels like the first of the month is a ticking bomb, you’re more likely to settle for a place or roommates. Leave yourself at least a month, preferably two, to scout out any apartment, but especially a shared pad.
3. Be Safe; Trust First Impressions – Even if you are getting desperate, never agree to move into a place – or with roommates – who make you uncomfortable or gave you a bad vibe the first time you saw them. If you need a place to live and it seems like you are running out of options, crash with friends or family to give yourself more time (there is nothing wrong with it so long as you are grateful and don’t overstay your welcome).
4. Look in June, September, or January – Even if you don’t want to room with college or grad students, the number of student renters seems to drive the entire rental (and roommate) housing market. You will have the most options if you look for a place when school’s out, in June, or just beginning, in either September or January. Beware, however, that you will also have more competition for open spots.
5. Grab Coffee – When moving in with roommates, getting to know your prospective roomie(s) is as important as checking out closest space. Ask to grab coffee. You don’t have to start down the road of great friendship, but consider it a bad sign if you can’t hold a conversation for fifteen or twenty minutes.
6. Ask to Meet the Landlord – If the landlord of a potential shared apartment or house doesn’t live there, ask the current occupants for his or her number. Why? First, you want to make sure the landlord is cool with a new occupant (or else find yourself booted unexpectedly). You also want to get a feel for how the landlord might respond to problems in the apartment, whether or not you will be expected to sign onto the lease, and whether you might be able to stay in the apartment should the current roommates move out.
7. Always Get a Second Look – While first impressions can be powerful, a second look before agreeing to move is always smart. You will be amazed by things you notice on a second visit that you might have overlooked the first time. For example, perhaps you got excited by the new kitchen appliances, but missed the week’s worth of dirty dishes in the sink.
8. Ask for References – Especially if you are renting out space in your home to a roommate, don’t be shy about asking for references, even if they are only from a friend, coworker, or past roommate. Obviously, if a prospect balks at the idea, that’s a major red flag!
9. Put it in Writing – Especially with many shared living situations originating on Craigslist, shared living space arrangements tend to be made very casually. While it can be convenient for roommates to do without the formalities of a lease or deposit, some kind of written agreement is prudent. Even if it’s a scribble on a note pad like: “I, Bob, am renting this room to Joe for $400 per month plus half of the household utilities. Move out terms: 30 days notice.” Written contracts are an important memory aid, not necessarily a display of mistrust.
10. Set Expectations – Settled on a new shared living space? Congratulations! You’re on your way to living frugally and responsibly. Before moving in, talk to your roommate(s) about essential expectations. How will the rent and utilities be divided and paid? Who is responsible for cleaning common areas of the home? Are guests and social events OK? These are issues that get sticky between roommates down the road. The sooner you get on the same page with your roommate(s), the better an experience you will have.
Have you had good experiences finding strangers to live with? Bad ones? Please share!