In my opinion, a good roommate should be like a good wine—full of spontaneous flavor and yet mature enough to actually have some depth.
Unfortunately, though, finding that perfect person isn’t as easy as picking a delicious bottle of wine. Assuming you have the option to be picky (and aren’t, say, being assigned a dorm-mate, in which case, good luck and may the odds be ever in your favor), it’s important not jump into a living situation that’s not right for you.
So, how do you make the right choice? It’s all about having a smart game plan going into the search. Following these steps can mean the difference between spending the next year enduring screaming and slammed doors and enjoying booze-and-bonding movie marathon nights.
1. Figure Out Your Deal Breakers
Tolerant as you may be, each of us has a few things we just won’t put up with—for example, I would immediately disqualify someone for being a Nickelback fan, a non-reader, or a puppy hater. Maybe you won’t live with a smoker, or can’t stand a roommate who invites out-of-town friends over to crash on a regular basis.
Whatever your deal breakers are, identifying them should be the first part of your roommate-search process. It’ll keep you from being swayed by the wrong situations, and (hopefully) prevent you from being miserable two months into a 12-month lease.
Equally important, though somewhat less controlling, are your general preferences—things you’d like to find in a roommate, but that aren’t automatic disqualifiers if they’re not met. Ask yourself things like: What gender roommate do you prefer? Age range? If you’re a student, do you want to live with another student, or would you prefer someone with the stability of a career? Would you prefer a morning person or a night owl? Do you think you’re up for living with a friend? (I don’t recommend it, but it’s your call.)
2. Connect With Potential Roommates
Now that you have your perfect (and not-so-perfect) roommates in mind, it’s time to start the search. How you choose to connect with the right group of candidates is up to you, but the more avenues your utilize, the better your chances of finding the right person.
Tell your friends, your yoga classmates, your dentist, heck, tell everyone who you think might know someone in your same situation. The fastest approach is to post on your social media pages that you’re in search of a roommate and ask your friends to spread the word.
And don’t immediately discount roommate-finding websites. When I moved to Chicago for college, I found the most amazing roommates through Craigslist. The three of us lived together throughout the rest of school, and two of us went on to be roommates after college as well. The reason I found lifelong friends and not cannibalistic serial killers? I stuck to my deal breakers, trusted my intuition, and used a lot of common sense.
3. Meet Up
Found a few worthy candidates? Great! Now it’s time to meet in person. If you don’t know much (or anything) about the person, opt to meet in a public place, and bring someone with you for moral support if need be. Don’t let potential roommates come to where you live without meeting them first and deciding they’re safe and normal—it’s not worth it.
Come prepared with a list of questions you’d like to ask the person, but also try to keep the meeting friendly and natural. During my search for a college roommate in Chicago, I met with one girl whose spare room I was interested in moving into. What I thought was going to be 30 minutes or so of getting to know each other over a cup of coffee turned out to be her grilling me with a list of interview questions at her kitchen table. It was off-putting, aggressive, and unnatural—and we could have gotten a much better feel of each other if we’d just sat around and chatted. I emailed her as soon as I got home letting her know it just wasn’t going to work.
Now, assuming your potential roommate is a nice, normal person, you’ll want to talk about your expectations for the living situation. Do you have the same expectations about guests staying over at the apartment? What are your attitudes towards chores and cleanliness? What about sharing food? Does your maybe-rooomie have a significant other who’s expecting to be your third roommate (or vice versa)? If you’ll both be moving into a new place together (versus you moving in to his or her existing place), talk through what you’re looking for, and make sure your expectations are aligned.
If you’re on the same page, that’s a good sign, but it’s not everything—you also have to listen to what your gut is telling you. Are you getting positive energy from this person? Sketchy vibes you just can’t place? Deciding whether someone’s a good match can sometimes be as simply as just evaluating how you feel when you’re with them (remember, this is the person you’ll be coming home to every night!). If you get good vibes, continue the conversation. If you get bad vibes, be polite and get on your way.
4. Be Financially Savvy
Obviously, finances are a big part of the roommate decision. So, even if you think you’ve found your perfect match, be smart and ask him or her for a credit check before talking seriously about moving in together. (For fairness sake, do your own credit check, too.) Employment is not a guarantee these days, and it is up to you to decide whether you feel comfortable taking on a roommate who isn’t working. Someone may be unemployed and still make a great roommate, but financial responsibility (read: the ability to pay the bills) is what matters most.
Choosing a roommate is a big decision. Put the proper amount of time and care into it (no rushing), and always listen to what your gut is telling you. And if you do end up living with someone you don’t get along with, take action—there’s always a way out, and peace of mind is more important than a lost security deposit.
Otherwise, let the movie marathons ensue.