Finding a roommate: beyond Craigslist edition
May 23, 2012 5:21 AM   Subscribe

Where/how to find a good roommate?

I'm looking for a roommate for July 1st, so I've been posting ads on Craigslist for the last few weeks. I've gotten an okay number of responses, and a lot of scammers, resulting in five people coming to see the place, and one being seriously interested. But.... I haven't really connected with any of the people I've met or emailed, leaving me wondering, isn't there a better way?

All of my friends/family have stable living situations, so someone I know isn't an option. How else can I find a good roommate? Someone who has at least a little in common with me (younger, liberal, artsy/weird, relaxed?)

So I guess I'm asking, are there other sites I can post on, other ways to find potential roommates, any strategies I'm overlooking? I'd prefer not to spend money for an ad. I also don't think trying to meet people/make new friends is a viable suggestion here. I have a little over a month to find someone who can make a committment to move in. What are your brilliant suggestions?

Complicating factor: The house is a mess. My current rommates' clutter is everywhere, and things are arranged in and ugly and impractical way. I try to clean up before I show it to anyone, but my current roommates aren't moving out until June 30th. Which obviously doesn't give me a chance to show the house as it is going to be, without their crap everywhere. I explain that most of the stuff isn't mine, and that it's going to be completely redecorated, but I think the way it looks now is what makes an impression.

This is in Milwaukee if it matters.
posted by catatethebird to Human Relations (10 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I think your problem may be that you're looking too early. You say that you've already been looking for "a couple weeks," but when I was looking for roommates, if I had a July 1st start date I'd be only just now starting the search.

Try re-posting on Craigslist now, now that it's closer to the date, and see what happens. As for the roommate clutter - can you talk to them about trying to rein it in a bit? Not, like, move tables out of the room or anything, but rein in the magazines and shoes and stuff?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:48 AM on May 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

Here's what I'd do: I'd head on down to the Cream City Collective and post a flyer on their bulletin board. (I've never been there, but I've been to a LOT of infoshops and they all have bulletin boards.) What's more, I would take note of the locations advertised on flyers there and see if I could post my own flyers. You should be looking for cheap, student/radical/hipster coffee shops, used bookstores, whatever library branch people hang out at, record stores, student hang-outs generally.

That's how we used to find housemates back before the interwebs!

Now, the folks who show up will probably be more interested in cheapness than in perfection, so the housemates' clutter won't be a problem. You are probably looking for a college punk/grad-school punk type - someone who has a job and is reliable, but also an activist or artist. (There are lots of people in the radical scene who live places for a few months as cheaply as possible, work casually, do a little travel, do a little couch-surfing - those folks have their own scene well adapted to that type of life and rent-paying, but you don't want to end up with one as a housemate in error because you'll just have to start looking all over again later.)

So, when you meet folks, interview them! Also, ask for a deposit. (I never used to do this and I still waive it if it seems warranted). I ask for about $150 deposit rather than a full month, because lots of folks I would enjoy living with are pretty poor and the full month is a lot.

Take some time with the interviews and don't ignore bad feelings - every bad housemate situation I've ever had was the result of ignoring my doubts. You can almost always tell what problems you'll have with a person in twenty minutes of current housemates, who are delightful, were transparently introverted people who would not be super motivated around the house, for example, but it was also obvious that they were reliable and not messy.
posted by Frowner at 5:54 AM on May 23, 2012 [2 favorites]

(Also, you're welcome to memail me if you have questions about young/weird housmate issues. I've known them all, as the poet said.)
posted by Frowner at 5:55 AM on May 23, 2012

You would have been looking a bit too soon for Chicago. Keep trying CL.

I've heard from friends who have used CL for finding roommates they rarely really clicked with the people they ended up with right off the bat. It was more like "okay, this person seems alright and doesn't creep me out" which may or may not develop into something more friend-like -- or not.
posted by sm1tten at 7:18 AM on May 23, 2012

I found my roommates in Milwaukee (five years ago, to be fair) on Craigslist. It wouldn't have occurred to me to look anywhere else.

Having been through, oh, six or seven rounds of CL roommates in a few different cities - you have to talk to a lot of people. It sucks and it's time-consuming, but it's the only way to find someone compatible. (You can help with this a little bit by having a reasonably detailed - WITH PICTURES - post on Craigslist. You can even ask some questions and only interview people whose answers seem reasonable/not nutty.)

Also, I know you want to feel that connection with your future roommates, but do keep an open mind. Our last two roommates were not obviously compatible with us, but it turned out awesome:

1) A very, very neat, clean-cut, relatively conservative military guy (we are lefty slobs) who was also the nicest person in the universe, loved cooking and good beer, and was an extremely pleasant, responsible roommate

2) A semi-employed artsy stoner guy (we are decidedly not artsy and don't smoke) who liked the same movies and video games as us, didn't cook at all (so didn't get in our way/mess up the kitchen), and was chill and drama-free

We picked both of these people because everyone else we interviewed was crazy, and though these guys didn't seem like our future BFFs and we didn't "connect" with them in an obvious way, they seemed like they would pay the rent on time. Which they did. They also turned out to be very nice roommates. We haven't kept in touch or anything, but they were both great people to live with.

And uh...maybe do try to pick up the place a little bit. I know it's your roommates' stuff, but can you, like, put it all in a box and shove it in a closet? I know that slobtown-during-interviews was a red flag for me - what's the place going to look like when they're NOT trying to attract new roommates?
posted by goodbyewaffles at 7:37 AM on May 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

Re: the clutter. People will understand, but try to make your plans for the common areas as concrete as possible. It might sound silly, but I'd also tidy up your own room, and then point it out in passing as part of the house tour. That would subtly go a long way in convincing me that your plans to improve the common areas are valid.
posted by susanvance at 7:38 AM on May 23, 2012 [2 favorites]

Over the last decade or so, I've lived in about 8-9 different shared housing situations. Most were found through friends of friends.

So I would try posting your listing on Facebook, and maybe also email your friends and family and see if they know anyone who's looking. Your friends may all have places, but that doesn't mean they don't know anyone who's looking!
posted by lunasol at 7:42 AM on May 23, 2012 [2 favorites]

Agree with the Facebook suggestion.

Another idea: if you live near a hospital, call their HR dept and get on their housing list for med students completing their residencies. A friend did this for years with much success and the roommates were rarely ever home except to sleep.

Animal shelters also sometimes keep lists of people who are pet-friendly.
posted by AnOrigamiLife at 8:48 AM on May 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

I would recommend that once you've got your roommate list down to a short-list, that you consider some things:

1. You want your roommate to be financially secure. If someone is having issues ponying up for First, Last, Security as well as any utility deposits, no matter what kind of mench they are, they are not for you.

2. You want someone who can deal with your level of neatness-slobiness. If your current situation is making you crazy, you'll need to express that with any roommates, if you don't mind it, then you'll need to tell a prospective roommate that it's cool with you.

3. Have a written roommate agreement. I watch too damn much People's Court to know that there are certain things you want in writing:

a. Noise levels and time frames. If you have a 9-5, you want to make it damn clear that all of those girls playing Quarters are going to be out of the living room by 11:30 on school nights.

b. Who pays what. If you're splitting the utilities, write it down, if one person pays cable but the other pays electric, write it down.

c. Expectations on cleanliness in public spaces. Again, after you've covered it in a conversation, don't be afraid to write it down. If you've agreed that you'll clean the joint once a week, make a note of it.

d. Overnight guests. Is it cool with you for your roommate to bring home a screamer so she can keep you up all night? Do you want to put a cap on the number of nights this can happen? Write it down.

4. Have the Landlord hold the security deposits and have the Landlord have the roommate sign the lease. You'll likely still need to pay the rent in a lump sum. Both (or all of you) should pay with Money Orders. Don't give someone cash to write the check. If your Landlord insists on one check, then have your roommates pay you in Money Orders or cash. If cash, keep a little notebook, where you write it down, give your roommate a receipt and where you both sign every month that a certain amount was given and received.

5. Take pictures of the place as it is the day your roommate starts living with you, upload them to The Cloud. Print them out and have him or her sign them the day they move in.

6. Download a Punch List and have roommate note any issues with the place on move-in day, provide a copy to the landlord, keep one for your file. This protects EVERYONE against being charged for stuff that breaks or gets trashed in the future.

7. Pets. Are you likely to get a pet? Is your roommate? Are they allowed. Decide now how you're dealing with it because at some point it's going to come up.

8. Drugs. Are you okay with recreational use? Totally NOT okay? Again, it needs to be in writing.

The idea is to set the expectations up front, and not have any nasty surprises on either end. Now, you may think I'm an anal-retentive nightmare, but live and learn, I've had awesome roommates who are still my best friends after 25 years, and I've been stuck with a 3 bedroom townhouse when someone moved out on me after two months.

Protect yourself, protect yourself, protect yourself.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 9:19 AM on May 23, 2012 [4 favorites]

Are you a college grad and if so do you have some sort of alumni listserv/message board/Facebook page/anything of that nature that allows housing postings? I have gotten hugely dependent on mine and don't know how to accomplish anything without it anymore.
posted by naoko at 10:29 AM on May 23, 2012

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