Recipe for prospective roommate emotional state demi-glace
May 20, 2011 12:31 PM   Subscribe

Looking for a new flat mate and now any tips or advice that help make the call on a person's character in a short space of time just that little bit better?

I was looking through some old questions with the roommate tag and a few things jumped out at me that I hadn't considered in choosing a new person to live with.

One suggestion was to meet people in a neutral location before even letting them come and see the place. Do people do that? I am not one to be physically intimidated or worry to much about people casing my place for a robbery. I live at the top of a very old set of stairs in central Edinburgh with Abloy locks and most burglaries are out in the burbs. I thought perhaps I was missing something from this? Does the neutral location mean it's easier for you to judge whether you will click? Luckily for myself am in the envious situation of having a nice and cheap place so people will automatically want to live there even without considering whether it would be a good match personality wise. This is my most important factor besides paying the rent and bills on time.

A second consideration is living with a couple. I know if this could be cracked then there would probably be no divorce in the world but how do you know whether a couple is going to be a 'problem' pair? Anyone have any hints or help drawn from anecdotes about horrific experiences?

I have lived with in flat shares on and off for 10 years so have plenty of experience with the weird and wonderful. I currently live with my best pal (who is remaining in the flat - it's the 3rd room being let) and have done so for the last couple years which is great. I was just hoping I could add more methodology to my normal judgement - gut feeling, as to reach that optimum balance you get from a great flat share.

I've got some people coming to look tomorrow and have staggered out the viewings an hour apart. That way if there is someone I think I can get along with there is time to sit down, have a cup of tea and see how we would get along. Also I am not going to make any immediate decisions, when I have done this process before I narrow it down to a short-list then have them back individually to talk more.

Obviously there are the standard list of questions about smoking and the like which I will ask. If anyone has anything else outlandish you would like me to put forth to prospective tennants then let me know and I will update the thread with a Q and A. I'm not looking for a roommate as a social experience but I have lived with enough people to know it is much better if you can go out for a beer now and then.

Thanks in advance!

Here is a picture of the room for anyone interested
posted by camerasforeyes to Human Relations (18 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
One caveat is that if you're renting a room and are considering both singles and couples for the room, you need to figure out NOW whether you are offering them utilities at flat rate or a higher rate for the couple. After all, two people, even sharing a room, take up more water and electricity than just one person.

So if you're offering the room for a set amount of money, utilities included, you need to determine now, before you rent, if a couple is going to pay more than a single and exactly how much more. Likewise, if utilities are separate, you need to determine if you're splitting bills by bedroom or by person.

Have you asked for references? Just ask for an employer (to affirm that they have one and can thus afford the rent), a previous landlord, and one more. People who have nothing to hide will happily provide those things.

The best questions for determining intentions is asking the prospective tenant, "Why do you want to live here?" Then just listen. Weirdos will out themselves.

Don't forget to get the tenancy agreements in writing and notarize, and don't forget to obtain a security deposit.
posted by juniperesque at 12:39 PM on May 20, 2011

Are pets allowed in the building? As much of a pet lover as I am, I probably wouldn't want to live with someone else's pets unless I knew how well they took care of them. I lived with this girl who had a bunny, and yes it was adorable but she never cleaned the cage and when she moved out there was bunny pee everywhere! Pets create a lot of dirt/smell if they're not cleaned up after properly, and I wouldn't want to add that to the mix.
posted by radioamy at 1:06 PM on May 20, 2011

I use my brown belt in goolge-fu, people are easy to find online these days and I live in a small enough place that I can usually 6 degree most people, to someone I know, or at least know of

at the meeting, just like a job interview, appropriate manners, too many questions or too few, being too friendly, or too cold, being high or drunk and goodbye and promptness, is always a good indicator, if you cant show up on time for something that's in your best interest, you wont be on time with my rent.
posted by kanemano at 1:08 PM on May 20, 2011

A friend of mine was renting a room with friends and they were looking for a new housemate. Their house is really reasonable and in a cool area of town so there was a bit of competition. They had made appointments like you did but since a lot of the people wanted the place and it was a Saturday, people from the first appointment hung around, as did people from the subsequent appointments, so it was really hard to screen the people at the end because the earlier people never left. So you may want a plan to get people to leave and prevent them from just hanging out.

Also, what about checking them out on social networks - Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn?
posted by kat518 at 1:10 PM on May 20, 2011

Why would you choose to rent to a couple? Twice the risk. Financially you don't have to, so avoid it unless you are really really sure.
posted by jbenben at 1:13 PM on May 20, 2011

My good friend just rented a new space. She was surprised (and very much pleased) to find that the thoughtful homeowner had written a comprehensive agreement- not just about utilities and rent costs. It's very specific, saying how many guests are allowed how late, when the food in the fridge would be tossed if it got old, and what would happen if there ended up being conflicting personalities. It's pretty much a list of house rules that everyone lives by. Even though it's month-to-month, it very much makes my friend feel more secure about living with a stranger.

It sounds super anal, but in every rented room i've ever been in (oh, new york living)- the more up front and clear the communication about expectations are- the more harmonious the situation.

If you have a basic list of practical expectations handy you can go through each one according to how important each is to you. Letting them know if you really need the kitchen to be clean after each use, or it's going to drive you nuts if they have six people in their room four times a week will help you and them avoid living with incompatable people.
posted by Blisterlips at 1:19 PM on May 20, 2011 [3 favorites]

Oh, I want that room! Will you take a couple with 8 cats?

Anyway, meet them at a cafe and sit with them for a bit, like 1/2 hour or more and talk about what you your interests and the way you approach life. It sounds odd, but if you are introspective and quiet and they are party animals it is nice to know. Then you can talk about their philosophy of house sharing. Do they consider the whole house theirs? How about food? Cleaning? You can then tell them what you expect from a housemate. If you tell them what you want upfront, it can backfire on you. They may agree to everything, with no intention of actually abiding by your rules, just to get the room. I and friends have experienced this.
posted by fifilaru at 1:32 PM on May 20, 2011

When I was looking for a place to live, I think I would've felt put out if the prospective roommate asked me to meet somewhere that wasn't the house. I was visiting a lot of places and wouldn't necessarily have the time to meet up with someone without even getting to see if I might like the apartment. You say that anyone would want to live in your place, but I think it might be only fair to let the other person size up what they'd be getting, too.

In the apartments I looked at, roommates met people at the house. Some of them scheduled appointments, but I agree with the previous poster that sometimes those could run overlong and make it hard to get an accurate assessment of people who came after. You could tell the early people that you have another appointment coming in, though, and politely ask them to leave.

Maybe you could email back and forth with people before they come, if you want to get a better idea of what they're like. When I was looking at places (mostly in New York, via Craigslist) I would often email a bit before actually coming to look at a place, to see if we seemed like a good fit.
posted by mlle valentine at 1:38 PM on May 20, 2011

Best answer: Ask them to tell you about their worst roommate and WHY that roommate was the worst. And then maybe if you have time, their best roommate and why that roommate was the best.

My worst roommate never paid rent on time, the one utility in his name was shut off because it turned out he never paid it, he was stinky, he never cleaned anything, and one time I caught him eating my thrown-away-hours-before moldy strawberries out of the trash can in the middle of the night. This shows that I value things like, oh, being responsible with regard to rent and communal property. And not eating garbage.

Very few people can take a step back and give an honest assessment of themselves. But everyone likes dishing on people they don't like. It's an easy way to get info. Finding out what potential roommates like and dislike about their previous roommates gives you insight into how they are as a roommate and what their priorities are.
posted by phunniemee at 1:44 PM on May 20, 2011 [8 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks for all these tips! I've been using the resources available to me to delve deeper into their backgrounds, it's pretty much the first thing I do when receiving a note of interest. Even looking at their email address tells you a lot. I should have mentioned that above.

I think the general consensus with renting to a couple is pushing me to say no to more than single occupancy. It is probably more hassle than it's worth. I would have normally said no right off the bat but they are from Spain here trying to learn english and I thought I would give them a chance..

What a great answer phunniemee!
Very few people can take a step back and give an honest assessment of themselves. But everyone likes dishing on people they don't like. It's an easy way to get info. Finding out what potential roommates like and dislike about their previous roommates gives you insight into how they are as a roommate and what their priorities are.
It has all the elements of the dreaded 'what is your biggest flaw' question at an job interview without it being too pushy and yet still being very revealing. Hopefully there will be some decent anecdotes I can add to this thread after a few 'interviews'.
posted by camerasforeyes at 1:52 PM on May 20, 2011

Good luck! Also, since your current roommate is your best pal, it could be very easy for a new person to feel left out. (A couple wouldn't necessarily feel that way.) But you should definitely make that dynamic known to prospective tenants.
posted by cyndigo at 1:55 PM on May 20, 2011

People argue about housekeeping and bills. Ask them what chores they do, and what chores they don't do. Ask them for a copy of their phone bill - is it up-to-date? Character? much more subjective.
posted by theora55 at 2:03 PM on May 20, 2011

Having had oodles of roommates in my life...

I mostly have a list of deal breakers that I ask if people can live with, and if they aren't otherwise skeezy I let them move in.

Deal breakers for me off the top of my head: Smoking, drugs, regular drunkenness, fragrances, bug spray, TV in the common spaces, working at home (they NEVER leave so I never get time to myself, and they can be starved for company when I want to avoid humanity after work), quiet after about 9:30. How much socializing do they do? Is it compatible? I eat meat. Are they okay with that?

Other than those- we aren't best friends. We just have to not hate each other. So far it's worked well, with one exception who discovered he liked being drunk and late night noise more than he'd thought he did.
posted by small_ruminant at 2:32 PM on May 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

I like telling about the worst roommate. You should tell about your worst roommates, as well, which will let them know what you want and what your boundaries are. I did this right up front with my current roommate. I said something like, "X roommate threw up on the floor all the time because she was a drunk and didn't clean it up. X roommate went into my room without permission all the time. X roommate was super clingy and got bitchy with me for not hanging out with her. Are you going to do these things? I won't live with someone who does."

It was kind of off putting but I didn't care anymore, because I'd had those bad experiences and I wanted to make sure those things didn't happen again.
posted by amodelcitizen at 2:37 PM on May 20, 2011

Best answer: Love phunniemee's suggestion.

- why rent to a couple if you can afford to rent to a single person?
- meet at the flat. They need to see the place before they decide they're interested, and they don't want to waste time meeting people that they may like and then get to the flat and realise that it's not what they're looking for. Insisting on this may put off some people who know that they're good housemates and can get another place without the hassle - and they're the people you want as a housemate!

- you and your flatmate need to be clear about what the house rules are. Is there a kitty for loo roll / dishwashing liquid? How are bills paid? How do you allocate chores? Be upfront about this to avoid issues later.
- also, think about what you're comfortable with and what you're not - stuff around late night parties, how often people stay over, neatness / cleanliness levels, how much you socialise with each other outside the house etc
- with these things, ask them how they feel before telling them how you feel. Otherwise you may find that they agree in order to get the room...

Ultimately, gut feel is all you have to go on. So be friendly and have a cup of tea to enable you to have a relaxed conversation to get to know them and give your gut a chance. Ask about their social life, their work, the usual... If it feels like a conversation rather than an interview, you'll find out more information AND get a better feel for how it will be living with them. And they'll like you more as well (remember this is a two way interview - they have to like you guys as well...)

Good luck!
posted by finding.perdita at 4:32 PM on May 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: My giant list of questions to ask potential flatmates includes asking, straight-up:

Which locks do you like to lock when you are at home alone? Or when you leave?

How often do you date? Are you planning on bringing anyone over to have sex or sleep over? Should flatmates tell each other in advance if they anticipate bringing a date home? Is it okay to have sex with a date when your flatmate is home?

Do you want your home to be a place to socialize? to study? just to sleep?

Do you want me to be a friend or just a flatmate? Will you depend on me for all your social activity? Are you generally outgoing or introverted? If you are not very talkative with me in the kitchen or living room, does that mean you are unhappy with me?

Good luck!
posted by brainwane at 4:14 AM on May 21, 2011 [3 favorites]

Definitely have your current flatmate take part in the interview, and maybe one or two former ones, or friends who know you in that context. Compare notes later - more eyes and ears, and all that.
I always described what were the important goals and or issues for me/us to a prospective housemate (do we share food vs. keeping separates, ditto meals, kitchen and bathrooms kept clean, what expenses do we share, ... ) and ask how that fit the kind of situation they were looking for. People tended to self-select, and the discussion helped us decide.
posted by TruncatedTiller at 5:01 AM on May 21, 2011

Do you need a permanent flatmate? Why not offer that beautiful room on AirBnB? That way if you get anyone you don't really like, they won't be there for long. And the money is paid in advance.
posted by Joleta at 8:11 PM on May 21, 2011

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