Roommates: How to Look For Them and How to Pick One

"How to Find roommates" with succulent background

I have lived away from my parents for over two years now. In this period, I have had seven roommates. Only two of them were insufferable. The two I have now are pretty nasty, but they are getting better (at a snail’s pace). Regardless, they are leaving soon and I’m going to start the roommate search process up again.

I found four of my roommates on craigslist. I have had two female roommates, two roommates over the age of 30, and one that was a foreign exchange student. The roommates I did not find on craigslist were connected to me by current or previous roommates.

Of my current roommates, one is my brother and we both went to high school with the other.

Using craigslist to find a roommate or housemate is a crap shoot. You have to be very specific in your ad, selective in who you respond to, and know what you are looking for so you make the best choice in person you will be living with.

My roommates pay rent to me on a month to month contract basis. I do not do leases or long term contracts because they are not flexible. If  a roommate or I decides the situation is not ideal or a good fit, it’s easy to get out of the situation. I am able to do this because my parents own the house. My mother and I both share landlord responsibilities. This means I do the roommate search and selection, as well as collect rent and take care of the property.

Depending on your situation, there are multiple ways to find roommates. I will always lean towards craigslist, but I have used other routes (unsuccessfully). Before looking for a roommate, know what you can and can’t do in your contract with your landlord. Will a roommate have to sign a contract with them too? Can you sublet with the roommate? Talk to your landlord before you start a search for a roommate. Some landlords prefer to select roommates for you. Be aware of your limitations.
If you choose craigslist, you will need an account which is pretty easy to set up and you won’t get annoying emails from craigslist. Craigslist also has settings to protect you from the creepies, make sure you use them. Craigslist also has a few apps that are pretty useful.

After creating your account, you will need to create an ad for a roommate. The process is very simple and straightforward.

In your ad, you will need to indicate some important things.

  1. Describe the situation. Are you a student? Who are you looking for? Do you have any preferences towards male, female, students, etc. (but don’t be an asshole, and don’t actually discriminate against anyone in your ad).
  2. Describe yourself a little, it’s a little like online dating
  3. How far is it from local landmarks?
  4. Are pets allowed? Are certain pets allowed?
  5. Is smoking allowed? What about other substances?
  6. How much the rent is and whether it month to month, paid in advance, etc.
  7. How much the deposit is (and whether it is refundable or not). Generally the deposit is the same as one month’s rent
  8. Whether utilities or other things (internet, cable) are included.
  9. Who are you looking for? (cleanliness, fun, loves cats?)
  10. Provide images of the room, the bathroom, the kitchen, and other common areas

What not to put in an ad

  1. The address
  2. Your phone number
  3. Your email
  4. Any identifying information
  5. Discriminatory language
  6. Information that is misleading or against predetermined rules with the landlord (ie. if you aren’t allowed to smoke on the property, don’t say smoking is allowed).

After you have had your ad up, you will probably get responses. Some of them will be legitimate, many will be scams. Follow your instincts and don’t respond to anything that makes you uncomfortable or seems shady. You are not obligated to respond to anyone who responds to your ad.

The scam I encountered

“Hi, my name is ___, I am interested in your room for rent. I am overseas right now/time is tight (any other reason that implies they cannot meet with you). Can I send you a money order for the room”

They will probably ask for the full amount of the rent so they can send you a check or a money order. These are pretty easy to spot because they are usually full of typos, misspellings, and grammatical errors. They feel skeevy right off the bat. Do not fall victim to these, it can be dangerous and cost you a lot of money.

Now there are instances where this is legit. I had a roommate from out of the country and could not meet with me before moving it. We did a skype interview and that was enough to prove he was a real person that was genuinely looking for somewhere to live for school. We also had many email correspondents and I did not respond until the second time he answered my ad and had already put up his own ad. I was being careful and was following the “how to know you aren’t being catfished by a predator” rule of ask them to skype first.

People to avoid

Avoid anybody who seems sketchy. Google every person who responds to your ad. I don’t bother if they don’t provide a full name. If they check out and look like someone I want to meet with, I will respond with my full name so they can check me out too. I only do this if I am sure I want to move further into the process. I once got a response from someone providing her full name and right away asked me when she could move in. I felt taken aback at this point, I googled her name, and found that she had been arrested twice, once for assault, and again for burglary. Her response set off some red flags and I’m glad I googled her. I’m also wary of people who don’t “exist” online. If they don’t have any social media presence or some form of digital trail, I do not consider them.

I once had a woman respond to an ad that was highly detailed about herself and it felt like target advertising, it was weird and I couldn’t find her online. I deleted her response, after sending it to my parents for them to check it out.

I will also stop looking if I don’t like their online content. If someone’s Facebook showcases a lifestyle that is incompatible with mine or they say nasty things about people on their profiles, I will move on.

The interview

Ask questions that are important to you. Ask about their habits and tendencies. Don’t ask them if they have clean habits, ask them what a kind of cleaning habits they have? What does a clean room look like to them? You want them to describe their habits, not tell you what you want to hear. Even if cleanliness really isn’t that important to you, it might be for them and that could cause problems later on. This strategy works with most questions you may have.

There are some that are best asked right out, like “what is your sleeping schedule like?” or “how often do you, or will you like to have friends over?” Ask them about their hobbies. Get to know this person. A roommate interview is a lot like a first date. Keep in mind that this should be a conversation, provide information for them too. You’re not the only one making a decision, they are making a decision on whether they want to live with you too.

If you have a roommate and are looking for another one that you will both be living with together, that roommate should be included in the selection process. If your current roommate is leaving and you trust their opinion, you might include them in the search for a new one.

If I like and feel comfortable with someone after the interview, I will invite them to “check out” the house. I only get this far if I am sure this person is a “finalist.”

Selection

Really think critically about the people you meet and interview. If they say something that makes you uncomfortable or seems like a red flag, its okay to stop there with them and keep looking.

I interviewed someone with my brother that seemed promising. We were looking for someone to take the third room until the next August (we had already committed to another roommate to move in then). He was working on his masters program in the area. We both liked him, even invited him to look at the house. While he was at the house, I asked him how long he had to finish his graduate program. He said “it could take two months, but I have four years to get it done and my ADD makes it hard to focus and I will probably take the full four years.” This was all it took for me to change my mind about him. This statement said to me that he would have to find somewhere else to live when the other roommate was going to move in, and he was not motivated to complete something important in his life, and that he was probably a lazy person (using a disorder as an excuse, I have a disorder that makes me unmotivated, but it’s never an excuse to not do something in a timely manner). I turned him down a few days later and then connected with someone else who was looking for a six month stay and was perfect for the time period we had and we really enjoyed living with.

Keep in mind, some people will lie to your face or omit specific things they know you won’t want to know. I had someone fail to tell me that they were a smoker. They answered a “no smoking” ad as a smoker and did not disclose that they were in fact, a smoker. They lived with me for two months and it was hell. Sadly, in this situation, there was no way to avoid this. You need to be prepared for things like this. If it hadn’t been a month to month contract, It would have been incredibly difficult to get out of the situation.

How to reject someone

If you interview someone and decide not to choose them for a roommate, you should let them know. Don’t ghost someone or leave them hanging in this situation because they are looking for somewhere to to stay and they need to know if they need to continue looking.

The best strategy I have used to reject someone is telling them I selected someone else. Most people expect that they are not the only person in line for the room. Some people will want to know why they weren’t selected and you can be as honest as you want. You might tell them everything that made you not choose them, or you could tell them that you didn’t feel like it would have been a good fit. You are under no obligation to explain why you didn’t select someone.

I hope these tips are useful. The process can be long and hard, or incredibly easy. Every time I go through this process, it’s different. I’ve gotten lucky, and I have had an empty room for months. Timing is important too. If you live in a college town, or near a university, pay attention to when students are in town or going to be looking for places to live. There are so many things to consider, and I included the most important ones for me.

I will write a follow up blog to this one on how to be a good roommate, because nothing is worse than having a roommate that drives you insane, or to be the bad roommate and not know why no one wants to live with you.

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