There are few things that can strike fear into the heart of an independent adult: first dates, using power tools for the first time, wardrobe malfunctions, and being forced to find a roommate. That new roommate problem can be a big one. Choose the wrong roommate and that person can wreak havoc on nearly every part of your life. Find the right roommate and you could live in a bubble of nirvana (until one of you moves on).
Of course, not all roommates are from hell which is why we end up living with a roommate. The other reason is that it makes financial sense. For a homeowner who wants to tackle the cost of owning property, living with a roommate can really help the monthly budget. Living with a roommate is a blend of convenience and financial security (and usually removes the necessity of selling and moving in with family members).
Because finding the right roommate is so important, it’s crucial that you take your time and invest time and energy into the search. Consider the type of person you want to live with and the type of person who will help bring out the best in you. Then use these five tips to help find that individual.
Tip #1: Ask friends
Here’s the really positive thing about pursuing current friends as potential roommates: you already know them. You know the extroverts and the introverts. If you’ve seen their living arrangements, you likely have a good sense of who is tidy and who is not. You know who has a steady income and who struggles to maintain employment.
“The very first thing you should do when you’re looking for a roommate: Turn to social media.”
If you don’t want to randomly ask friends consider turning to social media. Twitter and particularly Facebook or Instagram are great ways to see which friends are in need of new housing arrangements. “The very first thing you should do when you’re looking for a roommate: Turn to social media. Think of Facebook, Twitter and Instagram as big bulletin boards to post your own classified ads,” writes Kim Mazzuca, President and CEO of 10,000 Degrees, for an article on Forbes.
Before posting a need for a roommate on any social media channel, it’s important to think about how you’ll respond to friends who answer, but you don’t want to live with as a roommate. Remember, while a friend as a roommate can be awesome, it also poses a greater risk of a termination in a friendship. If the situation doesn’t work out, you may not just lose a roommate, but also a friend. Tread carefully.
Tip #2: Go online
Thanks largely to the Internet, finding the right house is now easier as is finding a roommate. Consider using the following sites to get maximum exposure for your roommate request:
Tip #3: Interview potential roommates
When you find individuals who appear to be a good match, it’s still crucial that you interview them, and ask them some important questions. The answers to these questions will have a direct bearing on how likely this person will respect the roommate deal. The answers will also help you weed out totally inappropriate candidates. Consider these eight questions to help find a roommate:
- What do they do for a living? One of the most likely and serious points of future conflict between you and a roommate will be finances. Knowing what their financial situation looks like is an important step in ensuring they can uphold their financial commitment.
- Where have they lived? Their past living arrangements will no doubt shed light on what kind of roommate they will be in the future. Do they have any experience living with a roommate? Have they bounced around a lot? Is there any evidence that past housing arrangements ended on bad terms?
- What are their housing preferences? Some people have specific ideas about the kind of space they want to live in. For others, both traditional homes and housing alternatives are options, because it’s about finding the space that works best, whatever that ends up looking like.
- Do they have references? Make sure they can provide contact information for fairly objective individuals who will vouch for them. You’ve never met this person, so you need confirmation that what they say is true. Expect at least three references. Then call those references. Ask the references questions about how they know the person, how they get on with the person and how they would describe the person.
- What’s their credit score? A credit score is kind of like a financial version of a personal reference. It’s going to give you a pretty good idea about whether or not this is the type of person who pays their bills on time. If you are counting on a roommate paying you on time so that you can pay your mortgage on time, it may well be worth the effort to run a credit check in advance. A good tip is to require any applicant to provide their own credit score. That way, the potential roommate will be responsible for obtaining their own score (free for them) rather than you having to pay $15 or more for each credit check.
- Who pays for what? Before committing, it’s important to figure out whether you and a potential roommate have similar expectations about who will be paying for what. Ask the potential roommate how they would like to divide up utility, service and other household expenses. If their answers seem out of whack with your own ideas, then the partnership might not be a good fit.
- Would you share interests? While you may be tempted to believe that you and your future roommate are going to peacefully co-exist, you have to be ready to accept that sharing space is often more complicated than that. Find out what type of hobbies or interests a potential roommate may have — if it’s a pursuit that doesn’t fit with your lifestyle, move on. Of course, finding out you have shared interests may mean you’ll have things in common to talk about. It’s the foundation of most friendships, and while friendship may not be the end goal, it will certainly make things more enjoyable.
- What about pets? If pets are already in the equation, or if either of you hope to get a pet, you need to talk about it beforehand. The type of pet can impact where you live (some condo buildings have bylaws against certain pets) or you may find out that one of you has allergies. Additionally, some people are uncomfortable around certain types of pets and won’t be okay living with one.
Tip #4: Do a background check
For a further layer of security, consider looking into a potential roommate’s background to see if there is any pertinent information they are not disclosing. Use these strategies to do a background check:
Google: Google is your first line of defence. Quite literally, search Google by typing in a person’s name. What results come up? The number of results are irrelevant unless there are no results at all (consider this a big red flag). Instead, assess the type of results that come up and what they say about the person.
Public records: Most criminal records are public. If you believe an individual may have a record, it’s just a matter of finding the right government entity to search. One quick way is to type in the person’s name in Canlii.org, the Canadian legal site that records all public-domain court cases and decisions.
Social Media: Though far from an official background check, investigating a person’s social media platforms (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.) can provide valuable information. You can see a person’s employment history, note how they generally spend their time and observe how they deal with conflict or drama in their day-to-day life.
If someone has some type of criminal activity in their background, you’re likely just a few Internet searches away from seeing the details.
Tip #5: Get everything in writing
So, all goes well and you find a roommate that’s a great fit, now it’s time to make sure things don’t go south. The one thing that will save you from additional difficulties is getting everything in writing. A record of what was agreed upon will serve to keep all parties honest in the face of conflict.
What should you get in writing? As the homeowner, you are also the landlord. Consider signing an “official” lease with your new tenant. This lease should cover the responsibilities of both you, the landlord, and the new tenant. This should include: What jobs, tasks or costs you are responsible for (such as emergency repairs or snow removal costs) and all jobs, tasks or costs the roommate is responsible for (rent is due on the 1st of every month, they split the monthly hydro bill, etc.). The more detailed your lease, the less chance for conflict and confusion.
While few people look forward to the task of finding a roommate, the good news is you’ve never had so many tools to help with the process. Approach the task with an optimistic mindset, think critically about both your needs and your limits as a roommate, and be as upfront with your own roommates as possible. With any luck, you’ll find not only the right person but also embark on a new and rewarding friendship.