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Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Singlutionary's Guide to Finding Awesome Roommates

When I lived in San Francisco, (a city where people rent closets for $400/mo and have multiple roommates just to get by) I decided it was time for me to "grow up" and have my own apartment. I was 24 and dead set that I would live alone and that I would live alone for the rest of my life.

I did live alone that year and then I lived alone again when I moved to my current city.

And then I bought my house. Most of the time now I have 3 roommates. And instead of being something I tolerate, it is something I am massively grateful for. My roommates put up the chickens when I can't get home before dark, they share food and advice and sympathy. We also share in the excitement of the chicken's first eggs or the garden's first sprouts. My roommates have helped me to mop up toilet overflow, given me rides and loaned me money (when no bank in their right mind would loan me a cent).

It is also my roommate who is letting me tag along during her wedding preparations in India. I will see all of the traditions in preparing for the wedding ceremony.

And it is another roommate who built my chicken coop, sourcing all the materials for free with the promise that, oneday, she would have all the free eggs she could dream of.

Not only are these folks my roommates, they are my family, my support system, my friends. They offer me new experiences, new concepts and help with the most basic and most necessary parts of life. They offer their company at the grocery store.

How do you find roommates like these? Honestly, I think it is part magic. But the other part goes like this:

1. Be Comfortable with Strangers
I've rented to people I know and I've rented to friends of friends. These have often been the folks that I had MORE difficulty with as roommates. The best roommates are the ones that I didn't know before I moved in. I think it is easier to BEGIN a relationship as roommates (or in my case roommates AND landlord/tenant) than to begin as friends and change the dynamic along the way. Also, because I don't start out being friends with my roommates, the friendship is a bonus. I don't expect them to be my friend at first and they don't expect that of me, so if we aren't kindred spirits, its no big deal -- as long as we keep the kitchen clean.

2. Be Honest About What You Want
You need to be honest with YOURSELF about what you want from a roommate and how you like living your life. If your favorite part of the day is coming home after work to a quiet house, then you DO NOT want a super social person who will have friends over all the time. Really think about your lifestyle, write it down and be ready to articulate it to a stranger. It may be more important to find someone with a similar expectation for how the home is used than to find someone who also likes to swim or eat at your favorite restaurant. The better you can articulate who you are, the more likely the right person will be attracted to your advertisement. Also, you need to be honest if you meet someone and you KNOW it will not be a good fit. For example, when people come to meet me and look at the house, and they ask if they can have friends over, I say: "This isn't a house where we have people over very often-- it just gets too crowded". This gives people the opportunity to weed themselves out if they wouldn't be a good fit.

3. Trust Your Gut (This Should be Number One)
You are allowing this person into your home. The wrong person could wreak havoc on your life. So trust your gut, not only to weed out the bad eggs, but to hone in on the good ones. Make sure the person fits your criteria but is also someone you feel comfortable with. If something doesn't sit right with you DO NOT ACCEPT THEM as a roommate, even if it makes you feel prejudiced or judgemental. I always feel bad when I reject someone. I feel like I should "give everyone a chance". But this is YOUR HOME and some caution is in order.

4. Require a Deposit and Charge What You're Worth
It doesn't matter if it is your house or if you're the main lease holder. If the person is going to be using your stuff and your the person who manages the household, charge a deposit. I charge deposits, not because I expect people to ruin things -- I have never had to keep a deposit -- but because responsible, reasonable people expect to pay a deposit and they have the money to do so. It can be as little as $50 but it is symbolic of the value of your things and the trust that you are putting into them to NOT ruin them.

Also, don't under charge. If you charge too little, people will wonder "what is wrong with it". Don't charge too much either but set a reasonable price and stick too it. If you get desperate and lower your price, you'll get a desperate roommate. If it is a tough time of year and you feel that you need to offer an incentive -- offer a discount on the first month's rent ONLY. This is better than bringing down the price (and the perceived value).

5. Love One Another
This goes without saying, but you're going to get better roommates and have better relationships if you're a good communicator and if you communicate with love. I hate to be cheesy but that is a fact. Don't be a drama queen or king. When your new roommate doesn't clean her hair out of the bathroom drain don't pitch a fit or get your panties in a bunch. It is NO BIG DEAL. Just say next time you see her (in a nice casual tone): "Oh, by the way, when you're done washing your hair, will you be sure to clean it out of the drain." People need to know when they're doing something wrong so that they can fix it. The worst thing you can do is decide that someone is a douche bag because they did something minor and they don't even know what they did! Yes, maybe they should know that leaving a drain full of hair is totally gross. But maybe she was super busy and forgot. Or maybe she forgot her towel because she just moved into a new place and is all scatterbrained and had to run from the bathroom naked to her room and that is why she forgot.


And that is it!

As far as advertising goes, this will vary a bit by region but I have had plenty of success on craigslist. There are a lot of flakes on there but I write a long advertisement about the room and about how straight laced I am and about how clean the house is, etc. The flakes are too flakey to respond. I also state the deposit on the post which eliminates another group of flakes.

Any other advice? Any roommate success stories?

As singles, roommate are often a big part of our lives so share your stories and your roommate love.

*Stevi, I am just waiting for you to write about Manette!



3 comments:

Special K said...

Sometimes...okay, 2-3 times a week, I think: maybe it is time for a room-mate...but can I have one for just a month and then be on my own again? How would I go about setting that up over here? The point of life is to allow yourself an opening to be impacted by others...right? Do you have a list of signs that YOU SHOULD NOT get a roomate?

Tina T said...

I have never really been a roommate person, but I think that you put together a great list. Your list actually illustrates why so many of us find it hard to live with people, there are an awful lot of parameters that need to match.

Luckily, I don't have any problem sharing a house with my husband. Of course he spent 6 years on a submarine in the Navy, so one wacky wife wasn't a big deal for a guy who could share close quarters with 100 guys.

Mikki said...

when i first moved out of my ex's house and ventured out on my own i had to get a roommate.
i found roommates.com and met my future roommate Bill. he ended up being the best roommate ive ever had (including all bfs)
And just like you said, he set expectations up front, even something as simple as "feel free to use some of my milk if needed but if its empty replace it" and there was more than one morning that i needed milk for cereal and i was out.
4 years later we still keep in touch and he teases me all the time that i never should have moved out for a boy *sigh* story of my life.

I get by on bills, barely, and like special k said, multiple times a week i tell myself i need a roommate. The problem is im in a 1bdr and i cant move to a 2bdr til i find the roommate, and everytime ive tried to find one, they want to move in immediately and i need 30+ days notice :(
If its meant to be ill find one..........