Questions for prospective flatmates
October 26, 2010 6:48 PM   Subscribe

What do I need to ask to decide if I want to live with you? (And you with me?)

Imagine I've turned up on the doorstep to check out the spare room... it's nice, place is tidy, location is good, I can live in this house... now what do I ask to find out if I can live with you?

Bonus round: What should I tell you about me (seeing you must want to know about my personality and quirks too)?

I've read the various threads on the kind of things one needs to discuss in order to have a smooth running house, but I need the kind of questions to ask before we get to that point! The kind of probing questions that will help me figure out whether temperaments and habits and other such important things are compatible. I realise that knowing kitchen habits and methods of bill payment are good clues, but there must be questions that give better insight!
posted by liss to Human Relations (20 answers total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
I've gone through several sets of housemates and various housing situations since college. There is really no question that I've found that wasn't made totally useless by social desirability bias. There is nothing quite as good as spending a few hours at the house, as long as if you're friends with someone already in the house.
posted by Nomyte at 6:53 PM on October 26, 2010

Sex noise. Do you make it, are you ok with hearing it.

Frequency of (any kind of) visitors, see also: length of stay.

Honest cleaning habits; willingness to chip in for housekeeper.

Tendency to 'share' food vs expecting that the last bowl of my favorite ice cream will be in the freezer after I've had a crappy day at work.

Musical tastes.

Dinner parties, do we have them? If 'we' don't, and you do, am I expected to vacate?

If you're bringing a pet, am I cleaning up after it?

Cable, Internet, landline, other bills: how are we splitting them? I want to see the bills, others are ok to have a monthly flat bill rate.

Parking, am I paying for a space on top of my rent? Are the neighbors pissy about spaces, is this a house with on street parking, or an apt complex w assigned spots?

What kinds of foods do you cook? (if you're frying smelt every Thursday, I at least want to know in advance) if you don't cook at all, will you be expecting me to feed you all the goddamned time? (if yes, we can work something out, I'm sure.)

Why is your previous roommate moving out?

Why are you living in this neighborhood? ('it's close to all the bars' is very different from 'I love the Saturday farmers market')

That's all I can think of on my way back to my house tonight.
posted by bilabial at 7:05 PM on October 26, 2010 [6 favorites]

I'd like to know what your working/sleeping hours are (the truth!), how you spend your time, what foods you like to eat and cook, how often you see yourself using the house for socializing versus relaxing, how you communicate your needs and when you are upset about something, etc.

I was a Resident Advisor in college and one thing I was required to have all my rooms do was fill out a roommate agreement that attempted to flesh out all of the above questions and more to help residents get to know their roommates and suitemates so that down the line they would know how to deal with each other when problems arose. Obviously half of my residents were goofballs who didn't take the thing seriously, but the ones who did had markedly better living experiences. I can send you a copy if you want; there are some pretty good icebreakers on there.
posted by patronuscharms at 7:05 PM on October 26, 2010

And yes, seconding importance of recognizing socially desirable answer vs honest answers. Take a cue from sociologists; ask some questions 2 different ways. People let their guards down.

Also: be honest in your 'roommate wanted' write up. Admitting that your boyfriend stays over 4 nights a week (or whatever) is better for everyone in the long run.
posted by bilabial at 7:09 PM on October 26, 2010

1. What did you do last weekend?
2. What kind of hours do you keep, on both the weekdays and the weekends?
3. What are your expectations about significant others? Parties?
4. Do you cook a lot? Watch TV a lot? Spend a lot of time out of the house?
5. Do you have friends over a lot? What are your expectations about having visitors in general?
6. Is there a pet anywhere? Would I be expected to help care for the pet?

I'll come back later with more, but those are the questions I wish I had asked my last roommate.
posted by punchtothehead at 7:10 PM on October 26, 2010

Heavy boozer or do lots of drugs?
posted by Postroad at 7:27 PM on October 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

"Are you going to keep hard drugs in the house?"
posted by griphus at 7:39 PM on October 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

What time do you go to bed and what time do you leave the house in the morning?
posted by gillianr at 7:42 PM on October 26, 2010

The most successful roommate situation that I ever had was one where we both had the same tolerance for disorder without verging into being total slobs. We were both grad students in the same program so I'd known her for a year before we moved in together and knew some of the basics. I knew that I wouldn't have to worry about her having all night raving parties and we shared the same friends. But the thing that worked out was that we both let things slide when we were heavy into end of the semester paper mode, but we would both get to the point where we couldn't stand it anymore (not that it ever got really, truly horrible) and start cleaning at the same time without anything being said or without one guilting the other. It always happened spontaneously and without discussion or one person taking on all the work and being a martyr about it.

I'm not sure if I would have thought to ask about neatness beforehand, because I'm not anal about it (and I'm not so much of a slob that I would have thought to bring that up either).t I guess we were really lucky it just worked out. So maybe you should either ask or make some sort of statement about your preferences such as always keep the common areas clean and don't leave dirty dishes lying around (or whatever your particular deal breakers are with regard to housecleaning). I have another friend who had to have her own bathroom because she cleaned it EVERY NIGHT, but realized that it would be unrealistic to expect that of a roommate.
posted by kaybdc at 8:13 PM on October 26, 2010

I've been in NYC going on 6 years, and my fifth roommate is moving in this weekend. I can honestly say that (for me) it's a gut feeling thing. I ignored my gut last time because said roommate was good on paper, and it was a nightmare on multiple levels.

These are things I usually discuss with people when they come to check out the room though (or what I talked about when I checked out rooms when I was apt hunting):

- What we each do, the fact that we're able to pay rent/bills
- how much messiness we can tolerate/neatness we expect
- what the neighbors are like (loud? annoyed if we have a few people over? chill and helpful?)
- neighborhood amenities (grocery, laundry, transit distances)
- is the landlord/super attentive?
- how we feel about overnight guests (pretty much everyone is like "a GF/BF 1-2 times a week ain't no thing" and "out of town friend is cool occasionally" but it's always good to confirm)

Honestly, the good roommates I've had the ones I'm still friendly with today are the ones that I just had a good conversation with when we met. All of those conversations evolved from, "ok, here's the bedroom, and this is the closet, bla bla bla," to talking about pop music or that restaurant or that movie that just came out. It's really weird trying to figure out in 15-20 minutes if you'd be ok living with someone, so if you're able to break through that weirdness and actually have a real conversation with someone, you're set.
posted by AlisonM at 8:25 PM on October 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

I don't think there's any way to cover social questions to any real satisfaction. Either you get along or you don't. There are certain things that need to be discussed, along the lines of what bilabial said. How are bills/utilities handled? Are there amenities associated with the space like a backyard or free parking? What is the household approach to parties and guests? Pets? Noise? Drugs? Household chores?

Beyond that, in my opinion you either click or you don't. One issue that has happened in my current situation is that I ended up moving into a three bedroom apartment that had two rooms free at that time. Which meant I only got to meet the one pre-existing roommate when I looked at the place. I adore said roommate. The other girl, who was looking at apartments at the same time as me? Annoys the shit out of me. Which was something I couldn't possibly have known at the time. I'm pretty sure now that I will NEVER move into another apartment without meeting ALL roommates first.
posted by Sara C. at 8:26 PM on October 26, 2010

Would you be renting out just the spare bedroom or would you be a tenant like the others?
Make sure that that's crystal clear! Although my name was on the lease and I paid half the rent, my last roommate (who'd been living there before I moved in) seemed to be convinced that the entire apartment was hers (minus my bedroom) and she'd have meltdowns and throw fits if I dared to do anything outside of my room, like warming food in the microwave.

Since others are already living there, ask about their rules. All of them. It sucks to move into somewhere and the current tenants have all these rigid, unreasonable rules that they didn't bother to share with you until after you've moved in.

Cleaning is definitely an issue that should be addressed. People's comfort level vary significantly. I seriously regret that I didn't take a good look inside the [very moldy] fridge before moving in.
posted by Neekee at 9:02 PM on October 26, 2010

Do you smoke?
Do you drink a lot?
How do you feel about drugs? Which ones? (heavy drinkers/druggers are almost always quickly apparent).


Do you have boyfriend/Girlfriend? How often will they be staying over?

Are you cool with sharing:
a) cooking utensils
b) staples
c) electricity/phone/internet etc?

I think also, the key thing to remember with housemates, is not just what they answer to the questions, but how they answer them. You want answers that evince tranquility, flexibility, generosity, respect for boundaries and others, and un-judgement. You would be astonished at the answers people can provide and still manage to embody those crucial qualities.

There is no substitute for chitchat. Movies, politics, hobbies. Always listen to your gut.

The smoking/drinking/drugs questions are the most paramount followed by tidiness levels - but it's very hard to gauge tidiness prior to moving in; people are great at pretending they are tidy or not uptight about stuff. If you're not students, check out their personal grooming as an innaccurate guide.

Thus spake a guy who's been in >15 share houses. I do not miss those days.
posted by smoke at 9:33 PM on October 26, 2010

Are you the kind of roommate that wants to be friends with your other roommate(s), or is it practically a business relationship?

I really prefer the former, and whenever I've looked for roommates, I've always made this very clear, and have come away with a couple of the closest friendships I've ever had because of it. I'd be really sad to have a roommate that didn't want to hang out or mix social circles to a certain degree. It's good to make that kind of thing clear early on.
posted by mostly vowels at 9:40 PM on October 26, 2010

I swear I'm going to use this question, word for word, the next time I need to find a roommate:

There is a carpet cleaner that has sat in the closet for a year. To you, cleaning up the apartment means a) using it to clean the carpet b) throwing/giving it away.

In other words, cleanliness and neatness are two different but related ideas that get conflated a lot. Make sure you find out about both of them.
posted by oreofuchi at 11:28 PM on October 26, 2010

I don't have a lot of experience with roommates, so take this for what it's worth, but I wonder if you'd get some more realistic answers if you subtly worked in some of those job-interview style questions such as "so tell me about the best/worst roommate you've ever had?" Many people love to rant and tell their stories, so you might pick up a lot of good info about how you'll fit with each other. Some people's idea of a worst roommate is going to be "this asshole who kept eating my food" and someone else's is going to be "this guy who was a total nutcase about anyone touching his food." If you find yourself sympathizing with the "worst roommate" rather than the person you are interviewing, you'll know you're probably not a good fit.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 1:45 AM on October 27, 2010 [1 favorite]

All good suggestions above. From a security point of view: Have you ever been broken into? Have any of your neighbours? Do you feel safe getting home on your own late at night?

Tough to get an honest answer on, but worth trying, based on my previous experience: If you're the one moving in, find out how long the others are planning to stay. I once moved into a share to find out the person I'd got on well with was moving out a month later, leaving me with the others who were meh. I also moved in somewhere else, absolutely loved it, and 9 months later the other five people (who held the lease) gave notice after living there for years, leaving me house hunting again.

It's an extreme outlier, but finding out in advance whether your potential flatmate has a form of Tourettes that results in them screaming and shouting uncontrollably in the night would save you from the hell that was my last-but-one sharing experience!
posted by penguin pie at 3:25 AM on October 27, 2010

"Are you a light sleeper?" (This becomes important if you are keeping separate hours due to work, social life, school, etc. Tiptoeing around your own place really sucks).

"When you cook, do you clean-up-as-you-go, or do it all later?" (A kitchen full of meal-prep stuff can drive certain people crazy).

"Cleaning vs. clutter: How do you feel about those two issues?" (There is a big difference between the two. I despise clutter but often forget to sweep/dust and scrub the bathtub or the toilet).

nth-ing the "tell me about your best/worst roommate" as well as "do you feel that roommates should be best buds and hang out together, or do you prefer the business-type relationship".
posted by sundrop at 6:35 AM on October 27, 2010

I have always picked people to move into my place (and places to live) based solely on personality. I like people who are confident, warm, not snarky, and who have had roommates before.

I have a relatively high tolerance for disorder, noise, etc. but absolutely hate living around people who are too shy/conflict avoidant/whatever to talk to me about problems. Likewise, I need to be able to approach them with any problems I might have with them.

So to me, personality is the big thing and if they're messy, whatever.

It really depends on what YOU need, though. If cleanliness is very important to you, then that would be something to look for, as an example.
posted by the young rope-rider at 9:30 AM on October 27, 2010

After years of roommates, I whittled down my list to:

-Noise: What kind? How late? No TV in the common room. And do you play electric guitar when you're drunk at 2am?

-Cleanliness: Keep the common areas clean. Don't keep things that attract vermin in the private areas

-Guests: How many? how often?

-Scents: No smoking of any kind in the house, very little incense, potpouris or roomspray

A lot of these are just for simplicity and open to negotiation later, though I don't say that. I

I don't hate all incense but explaining why the crappy rasta stuff off Telegraph bugs me but half a stick of Japanese doesn't is too complicated.

Watching TV once in a while wouldn't bug me, but coming home everyday to the common area overrun by a sitcom/football game is torture. (And EVERYONE watches more TV than they say they do.)
posted by small_ruminant at 12:54 PM on October 27, 2010

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