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Having a roommate is a great way to save money, not just on the rent, but also on other bills. Apart from helping your finances, sharing your home with a friendly and caring person has many more advantages. You can cook together, share household chores, and your roommate can take care of the apartment when you travel.
Having shared apartments and houses for most of my life, I can tell you a thing or two about what to look for in a roommate. I may even slip in some advice for how you can become a great roommate yourself!
Where To Search
Unless you already know a bunch of great people who want to move in with you (or vice versa), the best place to find a roommate is of course the Internet. Depending on where you live, there will be different websites to find rooms or roommates available to you. Your best guide for all local sources is Google.
One website that is very popular in the US, UK, Germany, Canada, Australia, and 15 more countries around the world is EasyRoommate. Find a room/mate in a few easy steps and automatically sign up during the process. On the main website, choose the destination country and your language in the top right. Then select whether you need or have a room and the area and city you are looking in.
On the following pages you can fill in more details to specify your search, including maximum rent, moving date, details about your preferred roommate and yourself. Among other details, you will fill in your name, phone number, email address, and a password. In other words, this is an integrated sign-up form that will subsequently be used to match you with a room/mate.
EasyRoommate is very intuitive to use, but it has one major drawback: when you first joining as a basic member (free), only people with a premium membership can read your emails or can contact you. However, the cost for a premium membership is reasonable and membership options range from a few days up to one month. It’s a small investment, especially if you are trying to rent out a room.
If EasyRoommate doesn’t work for you, there are many alternatives. Personally, I recommend CraigsList, which I have successfully used myself to find rooms. Residents in the US, UK, and Canada can use Roomster, a free service that has been around since 2003. If you reside in the UK, have a look at Spareroom, which is (one of) the biggest flatshare websites in the UK. They also match up roommates in New York. For a room in Germany, try WG-Gesucht (website available in English). To find US college roommates based on your personality, try RoomSurf (reviewed here)
Finally, if you just want to try out sharing an apartment or won’t stay longer than a few weeks or months, find a place through AirBnB (reviewed here). For very short stays on a very tight budget, you may also look into CouchSurfing (reviewed here). Can you recommend more resources? Please add them in the comments section!
What To Look For
Frankly, it is not so important where you search, but rather how. To find a great roommate, you first have to understand how you live and what you are looking for in a roommate. Here are a few examples of what you should be clear about:
- Do you smoke and do you mind if others smoke at home?
- Are you a strict vegetarian and are you OK with any type of food in the fridge?
- Do you enjoy a lively community and meeting new people or do you prefer to live in a quiet and peaceful place?
- Do you play an instrument and are you OK with loud music?
- Do you prefer to be by yourself or do you want to hang out as much as possible?
- What are your pet peeves and what should others know about you before choosing to live with you?
Make an honest list of your best and worst roommate-relevant habits, including cooking, cleaning, noise etc. Now imagine your roommate had these same habits. Could you live with yourself? Or try another exercise. Describe your perfect roommate. If you were expected to be like this, could you live up to these expectations? The lesson here is that nobody is perfect. However, if you are willing to adapt and find someone who is also flexible, chances are you become perfect for each other.
The key is to figure out what you can and cannot tolerate, then rigorously screen potential roommates. Be explicit, ask tough questions, and share about yourself so both of you have a chance to see whether you’re compatible. This is not about finding someone you like, but literally about finding someone you can live with.
If you are renting out a room, you are taking the financial risk, so do your homework. You may want to run a credit check, ask about their income (make sure they can afford the rent), ask for references from previous roommates or landlords, and do a Google search for the candidate’s name. Once you have found potential roommates, be clear about rules, conditions, and expectations, and make sure you all agree. Here are some points to cover:
- Deposit: How much, when and how is it due, when and how will it be returned?
- Rent: How much, what is included, when and how is it due?
- Utilities: What is extra to the rent and how much is it?
- Space: What rooms and appliances are shared and what is private, which room are you renting, is there storage space available in shared rooms, for example kitchen cupboards?
- Chores: Who does what and what is the schedule? This can include various cleaning chores, taking out the trash, watering plants, grocery shopping, and cooking.
- Noise: When are quiet times?
- Overnight guests: Is it OK for friends to stay over night occasionally or regularly?
- Moving: How much notice must be given and do you have to find a substitute?
Put the details and conditions down in a roommate agreement that both you and your new roommate sign. If things go wrong, you can come back to this agreement. Remember to be patient and lead by example. Only few people are truly rude or lazy and most people respond very well to kindness and good deeds. Chances are your roommate didn’t realize their behavior was bothering you, that it was their turn to buy toilet paper or that the kitchen needed cleaning. Relax, let go, and try to be nice and helpful before bitching about rules. It makes life easier.
What experiences have you had with roommates and what mistakes would you never make again?