Searching for the perfect roommate is like looking for a needle in a haystack (or, more accurately, looking for hay in a needle stack). Finding the right one is a glorious victory of gladiator-esque proportion. Conversely, finding the wrong one can be a living nightmare. 

For example:

Ad reads: Responsible and neat young professional seeks roommate to share a charming Williamsburg flat with in-unit laundry, no broker’s fee, and all one block from a combination Whole Foods/subway stop.*

Reality: Oh. Your ad didn’t mention your fascination with Anime Incest movies and your nightly death-metal band practices in the living-room. 

DO NOT LET THIS HAPPEN TO YOU. While the process of finding a place to live is stressful and the temptation of latching on to the first place and roommate that you can “live with” is great, you do not have to settle. Remember: you want to “live in a place,” not “live with a place.” Below are some handy tips to consider when searching for your next roommate. 

1. Don’t rely on a Siren’s Song. Find out if you are compatible people. 
Great suggestion. Should I also make sure to breathe air and drink water?

 Yes, it seems obvious. But it is an all-too frequent story where someone stumbles upon the perfect place at the perfect price but quickly learns that it’s not the perfect person…after signing a year-long lease. It is important to do your homework beforehand. 

 Start with an informal chat online. The internet is a blessing in this regard. Engage in some smalltalk with him/her about their job, the place, what they look for in a roommate, etc. If this works out, set up a time to meet IN A VERY PUBLIC PLACE to have a longer chat and look over the possibilities of living together. Think coffee shops and cafes, not at a remote location in the woods by a shallow (and freshly dug) grave. If the chat goes well and you have a good feeling, start talking about the possibility of moving in together. This is the time to ask those essential questions about cleanliness, company, and comments/concerns. 

Do NOT move in with unanswered questions about your compatibility as roommates. No one likes a surprise when it comes to discovering your roommate likes walking around nude or is a very passionate member of an underground Neo-Nazi movement. Ask the tough questions. It’ll always pay off. 

2. Know when to hold em and know when to fold em. Identify your deal-breakers early. 

Can’t stand a smoker? Like to throw-down on 420?  Don’t love animals but could live with the right beagle? List out what’s a deal-breaker before speaking to a person. Know what is going to put you off and save yourself a headache later. Have a set list of non- negotiable “musts”  about cleanliness, privacy, sleeping hours, dietary restrictions, etc. It’s better to make it clear before going in that pets are a no-no rather than revealing it only after Patches used your Macbook as a toilet. 

3. Know the people to avoid and check their references to be sure.

There are red-alerts when looking for roommates. The following are just a few to run (don’t walk) away from when it comes to living together. 

The “Eve Harrington”

“Well, my last roommate said horrible things about me because she was unstable.

“My last roommate and I didn’t get a long because he didn’t like my girlfriend and made a big deal any time she came over.”

“My last roommate just didn’t like me for some reason. He was always out to get me.”

This roommate has lots of stories about why previous situations didn’t work out and it never seems to be his/her fault (hint: it often times is). ALWAYS make sure to ask a potential roommate about their previous roommate and try your best to contact that roommate and hear things from his/her perspective. Maybe the previous roommate was a hot-water-using, late-rent paying sociopath. Maybe.

The “Closeted Bigot”

Laws prohibit housing discrimination (doesn’t mean it doesn’t still happen). Know going in to the process that people who post discriminatory ads are breaking the law. However, many people will feel more comfortable telling you in person the kind of people they won’t rent to if they think you don’t fit that demographic. For example, while searching for an apartment, a prospective roommate told me that he didn’t rent to “blacks or Mexicans so there was no need to worry about [your] things getting stolen” 

Needless to say, that potential roommate quickly went to a “no-way-in hell” ex-potential roommate. 

If this person is bigoted enough to refuse renting to entire groups of people based off of some idiotic prejudice, you are better off walking away. 

The Busybody 

There are appropriate and inappropriate questions to ask during a roommate interview. Have a clear line about what’s appropriate and what is not. Your potential roommate has no business asking a total stranger about religious or political views. You have a right to privacy and your own life. If you feel this person is crossing a line with his/her questions, avoid him/her and save yourself a year with an intrusive roommate. 

The Plain Old Psychopath 

We aren’t talking about Norman Bates here. However, it is important to recognize right away if there’s a chance that your roommate will try to steal locks of your hair while you sleep. Bad vibes? Irrational statements? Sudden mood swings? Inability to make eye contact? All of these are red flags. 

The World’s Smallest Violin Player

Emphasis on player.

If s/he starts in about not being able to split first month’s rent or deposits until after they’re due (insinuating that you will be the proud owner of that financial burden), leave immediately. Odds are, this person is searching for an all-day sucker, not a roommate. 

4. Write (and read) the “fine print.”

Draft and sign a roommate agreement BEFORE moving in. Make sure you BOTH have included stipulations and conditions that will ensure you’re both happy. Furthermore, making sure that everyone has agreed to the rules establishes confidence in the health and happiness of your living environment and your relationship with your roommate. It may be tedious, but this document is worth its weight in gold.

If you need a sample or template, click on the link below. 


5. Go into it with a good attitude and a willingness to meet new people. 

While there is no “fool-proof” solution to finding a great roommate, common sense is always your first line of defense. Go with your instincts and use your brain. If something seems like an issue in the beginning, odds are it won’t go away. Even if you have a great feeling about a roommate and don’t see anything coming between you, it always helps to establish everything in the beginning so that there are no surprises later. 

Above all, just remember the wonderful feeling that comes from finding a great match and coming home each day knowing that you are happy and compatible with the person with whom you share a home.

Happy Hunting!

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