10 days until rent is due!
August 20, 2011 9:44 AM   Subscribe

I have been very happily living in a 3BR apt in Seattle (lower queen anne) with a couple for almost 2 years, and today they're moving out to a house together. In 10 days rent is due. I have posted on craigslist for new roommates to move in. I've asked a few friends to help me screen people, but I'm still freaking out because I'm extremely nervous about choosing new roommates! I really like being close friends with my roommates, so this feels like dating. I'd love any advice & experiences you could share!

Part of my anxiety is that I'm just generally unhappy that my living situation is changing. I feel very disrupted, almost everything in the common areas was theirs, so this joint is becoming rapidly unfurnished. I don't just want to pick a roommate based on their furniture or pets (although right now I've kind of got my heart set on the guy with the great dane!)

My apartment has a lot going for it, it's very inexpensive, in a great location, and pet friendly.

Would it be a good idea to set up speed-dating, and have people come over to meet & see the apartment in 20 minute intervals all day tomorrow?

I don't know exactly what I want in roommates, definitely non-smokers who don't use drugs. I'm not sure what else to ask people or say. I have NO IDEA how to describe my level of cleanliness. I think I'm clean, but my exiting roommate was more clean and tended to keep this place in very nice condition so I didn't actually clean all that much.

I'm a single lesbian. My CL posting does say that and specify "queer friendly" roommates wanted. Best case scenario is to have two fabulous gay male roommates, but so far that's not happening. :) (I did also post my listing to a small seattle lesbian facebook group and got a few responses from there, too.) But I'm not sure what it would be like to live with straight dudes. The majority of people who have responded to my CL post have been men. Several have been people out of town who are moving to Seattle very soon. One girl offered to pay September rent to hold it for an October move in. Her emails have been delightful but it's probably a bad idea to agree to have someone move in who I can't even meet first, right?

Also, I have a week long trip planned September 7th, and I'm a little nervous to go out of town with strangers living in my apartment!

Okay kind people, talk me off the ledge. Please & thank you!
posted by palegirl to Human Relations (19 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I also feel responsible for creating a dynamic between two strangers who don't get a vote about each other. Maybe I'll be able to choose one person and then involve them in selecting the second? Is that a good idea or a bad one? This is all so crazy!
posted by palegirl at 9:49 AM on August 20, 2011

I hope the folks moving out gave you reasonable notice? If not, I would ask them to pitch in for another month or half a month (?) so you can have some breathing room and not feel rushed to choose. Meeting potential roommates more than once would be nice!

Other than that, you can ask for references (previous roommates). And if you meet someone who has a dog, and you like the dog, and the person has a good relationship with their dog, that would help put my mind at ease, personally. :) Good luck!
posted by Glinn at 9:55 AM on August 20, 2011

Since roommate is a big deal. It has long term effect on your life. I feel that you should not rush to have a stranger living in your apartment. Take more time to screen the crowd. Do speed-dating thing for a weekend, then choose.
posted by akomom at 10:09 AM on August 20, 2011

It's totally understandable to be stressed out and unsettled when your living situation is changing. Setting up times for people to come and see the apartment in person sounds like a good idea. And I would definitely specify that you like to be friends with your roommates, otherwise you're setting yourself up for disappointment if you wind up living with people who prefer a "ships in the night" approach to co-housing. If you do set up meetings, just leave the apartment as it is--don't do a major cleaning. You want to give them an idea of what it's going to be like on a day-to-day basis. (I will warn you that some people who come to these interviews may try to show up early. Prepare yourself for this phenomenon however you see fit. My former roommates and I automatically wrote off people who couldn't stick to their appointment time, but we also had 100 responses for one room. YMMV.)

Have you had to interview potential roommates before? Did you end up with any great ones? If you did, try to remember what about them struck you as great.

Many people would disagree with this, but you can also try to set up a three (six?) month trial period with new roomies to see if things are working out for all parties involved. Sometimes you just can't know until you live with someone.
posted by corey flood at 10:12 AM on August 20, 2011

I've written about this before here, but I'm going to recommend that you look at the housemate situation as a business arrangement, not a bunch of friends living together.

I've done the housemate thing a lot—with old friends and with strangers. When you're doing it with friends, it can go great or it can torpedo a friendship. When you do it with strangers, you're not asking "do I like this person" you're asking "will this person pay the rent on time, be reasonably tidy and quiet?" and those matter more for your long-term sanity. Probably the worst housemate I had was someone who came into the house wanting to have a friendly arrangement rather than a business arrangement. In theory that was fine, but the fact that he failed on the other basic-housemate points meant that he felt I was betraying our [nonexistent] friendship by calling him out on it. The best housemate I had kept to himself—we barely socialized at all—but he was always clean, quiet, and paid his share of the bills on the first.

So, tl;dr: having friendly roommates is great, but only as a lagniappe on top of having responsible roommates.
posted by adamrice at 10:15 AM on August 20, 2011 [4 favorites]

How would a trial period work?!

I *have* interviewed and selected a roommate once before and it was a disaster, she wound up being kind of SWF and made me really uncomfortable. I thought I was choosing well and I really wasn't. Which is a big part of why I'm so anxious this time.

I agree that roommates have to pay their bills on time, but is there really any way to know if they're going to fail at that?
posted by palegirl at 10:18 AM on August 20, 2011

A little tip from Income Property's Scott McGillavray: Check out the potential roommate/renter's car interior when they come to meet you. It's a good indication of how they'll keep the room/apartment.
posted by NoraCharles at 10:20 AM on August 20, 2011

Interview them some amount like a job interview, do they have stable work, stable history? Call a reference or two. Also I think you're overreaching in the hope that a roommie will also be a best buddy, just can't predict that stuff.

Look for stable good responsible folk, as opposed to "woo cool to hang with once or twice"
posted by sammyo at 10:23 AM on August 20, 2011

Budget yourself more than 20 minutes to meet folks, even if you tell them it'll only be 20 minutes. It's really hard to get a read on someone that quickly, in part because it's important for you both to transition out of "interview mode" and into "we're normal strangers talking to each other." That way you both stop trying to make a good impression and start trying to relate to one another as hopefully-compatible humans. Try to set up one interview an hour, and hang out and drink tea with them for a little while if they seem worth getting to know. It'll take a much longer time, but it'll also make weeding out the chumps a much simpler process (and make getting to know you much easier on their end).

I wouldn't agree to anything more than a 1-2mo trial period because by then I'd like to settle into a new place and make it "mine," as in start thinking longer term, whatever that means to me. Remember that for some people, 6 months or a year IS a full tenancy; not everyone lives in the same house for three years! After a month or so, you and the "on trial" roommate have a house meeting and talk about how well you live together, and whether they're planning on staying/you're planning on asking them to stay. You don't have to beat around the bush about asking them to leave, but if you're on the fence you do need to be forthright yet sweet with them so they won't feel affronted if you tell them to wash their goddamn dishes more often. If it's personality differences, that's a much easier quandary in some ways.

In the meanwhile, it's totally reasonable to expect your current housemates to give you thirty days notice, and to pay rent for that period so you can find new housemates without a panicked scramble. Also, you might ask your current roommates to help you with the interview process, since you're all comfortable together and "get" one another's personalities enough that they'll have insight into good roommates for you.
posted by soviet sleepover at 10:36 AM on August 20, 2011

You're right that it's like dating. There are some people you'll click with and some you won't, and you won't know until you meet them, probably more than once. It's a tiring process that's worth putting in the energy to do right. The good news is that once you find the right people, sharing a place can be wonderful -- you're adding people to your circle rather than losing them. So back away from the ledge. :)

Here's some thoughts, coming at this from the direction of more of a large, co-op house:

- If you can possibly float a month's rent on your own, or get the former roommates to chip in, or sublet for a month, you should be willing to wait to find the right person. This will have a bigger effect on your happiness than most anything else you could spend the money on. Don't pick a roommate you're not thrilled about for financial reasons, unless they're really really urgent financial reasons. Finding one person this month and getting their help to find the next person could also work out well.

- It's fine to be assertive about what you're looking for, in terms of compatible values. And although I encourage you to be open to anything, this is kind of like dating too -- if it turns out you're really most comfortable living with queer women, for example, don't lie to yourself about it, because it won't help anyone.

- If you're doing any more advertising, it helps to be really clear about who you are and what you're looking for. Our ads (for a larger house) are two paragraphs about the house itself and four or five about who we are and how we want to live. People who aren't excited about that when they contact us don't get an interview.

- In terms of getting to know people, you might do the 20-minute-whirlwind like you suggested, and then invite the best prospects back one at a time for dinner, maybe with your current housemates or someone else who can give you a second opinion.

- A few questions you could ask (just brainstorming):

* what do you look for from a roommate situation? (answers like, "I keep to myself and live and let live" would be fine for some people but a warning sign for you, if you're looking for something more friendly)
* what kind of schedule do you keep?
* do you cook a lot? what do you like to cook? (this would be a big deal for me but you may not care)
* do you like having a TV on? music? (same)
* what kind of events do you like to host at your house? drinking parties? board game nights? dinner parties? are you interested in hosting shared events?
* what do you do for work? (I'm not exactly sure how to delicately approach financial stability, but it would be good to know if money is going to be a problem. It might be that just asking straight out is a better option.)
* what do you like doing in your time off? (this could just be a way to start a chat and see if you click, but might also tell you if they're going to constantly be on the couch, or if they're going to never be home, or if they're into things you find energizing, or so on)
* how would you feel about coming home and finding I have a few friends over? what kind of advance warning do you want of things going on? are you comfortable with having guests stay on the couch occasionally?
* do you have a partner or someone who would be staying over frequently? (if so you might want to meet them too)
* what are dealbreakers for you in a living situation? (this is one approach, but there may be others -- you're trying to see if people need a lot of order and predictability, or are able to roll with the little things that come up)
* have you lived with roommates before? can you tell me about a situation where you had to solve a conflict with a roommate?
* what's your approach to cleaning kitchens and bathrooms? how often do you do it? (or other ways to get specific -- you're right that everyone considers themselves "clean", from the dirty hippie houses to the Martha Stewart houses)
* how long are you hoping to stay for?

Obviously that's kind of an insane list. No need to get overwhelmed, just use it to spark some ideas about what's important to you to figure out.

Here's hoping you find that perfect couple you're dreaming of. (But, I'm a straight dude, and I'm cool, man, so don't cross anyone off just yet ...)
posted by jhc at 10:58 AM on August 20, 2011 [3 favorites]

I just went through this twice (!) in my shared house. Incidentally, I disagree that it's always best to treat roommates like a business relationship. That might be better for some people, but I personally find it weird and awkward to live with a polite stranger.

Of course, anyone who moves in at this point will be a stranger at first. That's ok. You can't guarantee that you'll find somebody compatible, but you can do a few things to improve your odds.

- Make your craigslist ad as personal as possible. Talk about yourself, your hobbies, your personality, how you like to interact with roommates. Ask respondents to tell you about themselves in their response. I know you've already placed an ad and have respondents, but edit your ad and ask people who have contacted you to tell them about themselves if they haven't done so already.

- Pick the 5 or 6 people you have the best feeling about. Don't worry about cutting people - this is your home. You can only interview so many people, so just pick the ones that seem the best.

- Have them each come over for at least 30 minutes, an hour if you can swing it. Do it back to back if you have to, but be aware that this will make for a VERY draining day (this is what we did last time at my house, and at the end of the day, I - total extrovert - was absolutely limp).

Here's the list of questions we asked during our last round (in addition to the "do you have any furniture? what hours do you keep? are you a vegetarian?" type questions?"):

What are you looking for in a housing situation?
How have you dealt with conflict in past living situations?
What do you like to do for fun?
Do you have any dealbreakers in a living situation?

You would be SHOCKED at how much you can learn about people with questions like this. When we were interviewing, we were looking for people who could answer these questions with some self-awareness. It's worked out pretty well for us.

- Definitely ask for landlord/roommate references. This will help you weed out the chronic non-bill-payers.

- Pick the two people you felt most comfortable with. If you felt at ease talking to someone in your living room, then chances are good you'll be decent as roommates. If it's uncomfortable or awkward, then it's not the right fit. Like dating!

Oh finally, about this:

Also, I have a week long trip planned September 7th, and I'm a little nervous to go out of town with strangers living in my apartment!

I totally understand this, but you have to remember that it will be their apartment too. They're not just boarders renting a room, they're roommates renting an apartment (unless you want the former situation, in which case it's your responsibility to make that clear). Secure your valuables and trust that if you screened people well, they won't do anything bad.
posted by lunasol at 11:04 AM on August 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

Maybe I'll be able to choose one person and then involve them in selecting the second? Is that a good idea or a bad one?

This is a really good idea if you can do it!

Also, remember that the SWF situation you had before is a fluke. Most bad roommate situations are more along the lines of "has loud sex" or "never does their chores." Annoying, but not the end of the world!
posted by lunasol at 11:08 AM on August 20, 2011

We actually had a bad roommate in here for a little while, she was a friend and the friendship went sour, and when she and her girlfriend decided they didn't like us anymore they started having daily loud sex when the rest of us were home. It was so passive aggressive! Ugh.

Thanks everyone for the advice so far, it's very helpful. I've been writing back to all the emails asking more pre-screening questions.
posted by palegirl at 11:14 AM on August 20, 2011

You're overwhelmed, and setting priorities will help.

1. Basics. Prospective roomies have income for rent (check references).
Ask them what chores they hate, and what they like to do. You want roommates who will do their share of cleaning. Ask them when they get up & go to bed, and what music they like. Money, cleaning and noise are the most contentious roommate issues.

2. Ask interview questions that will get them talking. You want to live with people who have similar values, similar lifestyles. Answer JHC's questions for yourself. If you are a socialist with strong feelings about recycling, you might not enjoy someone who thinks Reagan was the best Pres ever, and could care less whether citrus peels are compostable, and vice versa. I agree with lunasol that you should make your posting very personal, to weed out people who have really different lifestyles.

3. Do phone screenings, then in person interviews with the people who sound the best. There's some risk here, but check references, and plunge ahead.

The trip - are your friends near enough that they could stop by and check on things, just for your peace of mind? Good luck, I know it's hard to lose your great roommates, but you may be surprised to make some terrific new friends.
posted by theora55 at 11:26 AM on August 20, 2011

Unlike you and lunasol, I prefer the Polite Stranger approach. If a friendship develops, great, but I would feel weird about going into a roommate situation with someone I've just met where the expectation seems to be that it's not just a room, it's a social relationship. If you want to screen people like me out, definitely bring that up at the interview; I don't think it necessarily needs to be in the ad, but it does need to be mentioned.

(This is a helpful AskMe, BTW - I'm thinking about renting out one of my rooms but haven't figured out how to market it.)
posted by catlet at 11:39 AM on August 20, 2011

Questions to ask and answer:

How introverted/extroverted are they? Do they like having friends over a lot? Would they assume that it's okay to have a few friends over without asking you, or would they/you prefer letting each other know when possible?

Are they morning or night people?

How do they feel about music/TV being on in common spaces when they are trying to work?

Will you have to share bathroom space at all? If so, definitely ask about their morning routine and how long they will need shower time, etc.

Ask how they are about kitchen cleanliness. Will they or you freak out if dishes get left overnight?

Ask THEM how they feel about being friends, not just roommates. If you don't feel like they want to be semi-social with you while they're home, you definitely won't be able to force that.

How will they prefer to split bills? Would they rather have a monthly meeting where you sit down and work it out, or take turns each month, etc.? How will you ensure that your bills get paid on time?

Are they or you vegetarian? If so, how do you all feel about cooking meat in the house?

I met my last roommate via Craigslist, and I never met her face-to-face until we moved in. I got a good enough vibe from her from email and phone conversations. Our emails were articulate, warm, had personal details so we were able to find things in common before we even met, and established (via these questions) that we were both sane, able-to-compromise people.

Much like dating someone, I just had a good feeling from emailing her that I didn't get from anyone else, that we would be able to get along. And we did. I lived with her 2 years and we were always happy to have someone to talk to when we came home. The biggest thing I looked for was really the gut feeling that both of us would just talk to each other if there was a problem instead of pushing it aside.
posted by nakedmolerats at 12:28 PM on August 20, 2011

Don't freak out about living with straight people! Some of them can be totally fantastic about the queer thing.

My current roommate is a straight girl with absolutely 0 queer friends. We were both a little anxious as to how it would work out as at the time I was identifying as a lesbian. She ended up being really fantastic about my queerness and I would bring girlfriends home and we'd all hang out on the couch eating ice cream and watch terrible movies. She then stood by me when I began to transition to male.

Like everyone else says, budget yourself more than 20 minutes so you can get to know them a little more. Be very very clear that you expect a friendship out of this otherwise you're likely to end up with a conflict down the line. My roommate and I aren't friends but we aren't "ships in the night" either, which is a good dynamic in a 2 bedroom.

Go with your gut - if you feel weird around someone but they look good on paper, don't feel obligated to choose them! Absolutely get references etc.

Maybe you can talk about them to one of your friends after the interviews in order to run your opinion by a second person. I find it helpful to write up a quick email to my friend and have them point out things that I may not be seeing (ex: You seem to speak really positively about Person A but you didn't mention anything about their schedule/habits/cooking preferences. What's up with that?). It also takes a bit of the immediate pressure off of you.
posted by buteo at 3:48 PM on August 20, 2011

If yours is the posting I think it is (saw it on CL while cruising rentals), I'm now truly sad that the unit only has one bathroom. (fireoyster Jr. takes looong showers)
posted by fireoyster at 4:08 PM on August 20, 2011

Update! I have one girl moving into the small bedroom on Monday! She's going to be playing roller derby on my league, so it feels like good karma to offer her the place. And she and I will decide together on the third roommate. Yay!
posted by palegirl at 4:31 PM on August 20, 2011

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