How do you find a sane and compatible housemate from Craigslist?
January 27, 2013 4:39 PM   Subscribe

I've been offered first dibs on renting a super nice house. Unfortunately I need to find at least 1 and ideally 2 people to rent it with me. Just asking around my network if they know anyone hasn't worked out. I'm pretty sure Craigslist is the next best option...what should put in my post, and ask potential people in person, to weed out the crazies?

I've answered ads looking for housemates with mixed success. The last time I tried it was a disaster (and the subject of my first ask post). I've lived alone since, partially because I don't entirely trust my judgement about these things anymore. I'm also trying to avoid sounding like a nutcase myself by making an overly detailed and perhaps ALL CAPS list of requirements for potential housemates. My city (Asheville NC) has a lot of young professionals sharing houses, but also a lot of wilder and weirder folks who aren't my target audience.
posted by genmonster to Human Relations (21 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
The best part of being the one with the lease is that you're in charge. You can throw them out with need be, and that avoids a lot of power struggle (and also gives you an out).

Figure out the kind of living situation you want (unfortunately your other Ask doesn't explain why things fell apart so hard to offer guidance without more info. Do you want a quiet studier who is in bed by 10pm? An outgoing situation where you have friends over lots? How clean would they need to be? Any particular things that drive you nuts (TV on all the time is my personal "can't stand")? Make a list and have it ready to go when you interview people.
posted by zug at 4:47 PM on January 27, 2013

Don't ask if they're 'clean.' Everyone says they're clean in a roommate interview. Hell, I say it and I can be a total goddamn slob sometimes. Instead, ask them more specific questions, like "how easygoing are you about leaving the dishes in the sink for a day or two" or "how often do you think a bathroom should be cleaned" or "what are your thoughts on leaving personal items on the couch" or whatever. You might get something slightly closer to an honest answer that way.

And ask what kind of roommate relationship is ideal for them- best buddies, people who occasionally watch a movie together but don't really hang out, people who are friendly but that's it, or people who basically never speak to each other. Don't tell them what kind of person YOU are- ask them first.

Actually I think this holds true for everything you might want to know. They want your apartment- if you tell them what you want in a roommate, they will pretend to be your ideal roommate. Just make them explain who they are and then decide if you can deal with it or not.
posted by showbiz_liz at 4:50 PM on January 27, 2013 [22 favorites]

Drop some subtle reference to things (eg. pop culture, literature) you're into in your housing ad and see who picks up on it.
posted by mannequito at 4:51 PM on January 27, 2013

As someone who has found roommates on Craigslist by responding to ads in the past, here's what I look for.

The ad should be written in normal conversational language with the best spelling and grammar you can muster. Don't use Classified Ad speak or abbreviate too much. Try to convey something of yourself in the ad, since I'm going to be living with you and want to know that you're normal and friendly and such.

You're on the right track about lists of requirements. Anytime I see an ad which seems to be more about all the things I'm not allowed to do rather than useful information about the space, my prospective roommate(s), etc, I move on. I mean, feel free to mention the obvious stuff like "non-smoking apartment" or whatever, but if you want to rant about how often I can have overnight guests, no thanks. That's stuff you should talk about (in a friendly tone, of course) when you're meeting face to face.

Photos are always appreciated, especially photos of the bedrooms themselves so I know what you mean by "the smaller room" or "large walk-in closet" or the like.

In my experience, when you write an ad, a lot of the weeding out of incompatible people happens when you meet face to face rather than in tailoring your ad. Read the responses intuitively and try to imagine what kind of person wrote it. When you meet with people, that's the time to talk about shared living standards and rules they'll need to know about. Obviously if someone shows up to look at the place and you know you could never get along, just don't ask them to move in. They probably took one look at you and realized they could never get along with you, either.
posted by Sara C. at 4:51 PM on January 27, 2013 [4 favorites]

There's definitely an element of luck that plays into the overall equation of roommate compatibility, but that being said, there are obviously other factors in your control that you can manage to maximize a successful search.

In my current scenario, I found my roommate through Craigslist and it's been fantastic. I posted a looking for ad and just responded to the people who messaged me. These are the key things that I purposely focused on in my ad:

1. I made sure to write a long, detailed description of what kinds of traits I was looking for. I think you might want to reconsider your fear of coming off as a nutcase by having a long description. If anything, it boosts your chances of success because you're being clear and communicative. You're also setting expectations on what you want from a roommate and what you can offer. Just try to be as specific as possible and if you'd like, you could also have a list of questions that

2. GRAMMAR, GRAMMAR, GRAMMAR. And punctuation. And spelling. And capitalization. Everything needs to be as close to perfect as possible. At least that was the criteria I set for myself when I was searching for a roommate as I think that proper writing skills serve as a proxy for other desirable characteristics in a person.

3. Meet up with the person if possible and grab a coffee/beer with them to determine compatibility. Granted, you'll both probably be wearing your best behavior pants, but still. It counts and further lowers the odds of your finding a shitty (read: incompatible) roommate.

4. Be smart in how you assess the emails people send you. You will have put in a lot of effort into your post if you take my approach, and in my case, I thusly expected a similar level of effort from the people who reached out to me. I got emails ranging from 'yo when u movin to ___city___?' to the lengthy ass email that my current roommate sent me.

Wait..shit.. were you asking for advice on how to enter the world of online dating? Oh wells, same guidelines!
posted by 6spd at 4:57 PM on January 27, 2013 [2 favorites]

Be super honest about your lifestyle. Everyone says that they're "pretty chill but like to party sometimes". Be specific. If it's a nice place you can probably afford to be choosy.

Also, make a short list and have follow-up interviews. The best roommate situation I've had was with a girl I found on Craigslist who I met up with 2-3 times before we agreed to move in together. The first meeting can be a little awkward and stilted and following up lets you get a bit more comfortable.
posted by no regrets, coyote at 4:59 PM on January 27, 2013

Being really honest with yourself and in the craigslist ad on your acceptable level of messiness is really important. it's easy to fool yourself about how well you think you will be able to handle it, but the reality is that if you are super neat, there is no way you will be able to live in a house with slobs.

Having questions ready for them makes things go smoothly, i prefer questions about their schedules, such as "when do you generally wake up and when do you go to bed", their interests, food preferences (whether they are veg, vegan, meateater), and throw in a few random ones to see how they react. My favorites are "what do you prefer, star wars or star trek?", "if you could be a superhero, who would you be?" and "if you could have a superpower, would you choose flight or invisibility?". I feel like answering the totally random and unpredictable questions shows a lot about the person and how they deal with unpredictable things. Plus it's really funny! My favorite all time response to the star wars/star trek question was "" It was great!
posted by ruhroh at 5:00 PM on January 27, 2013

a weeder question I've been asked and thought was useful:

"if you've ordered a pizza and are eating it with your guests, and your roommate comes home while you guys are hanging out on the living room, what do you do?

(Some options: say "hey man have some pizza"? Have them pay you back later for what they ate? Not say anything, assume they'll find their own food? Not say anything, after all this is your hangout with your friends?)

I'd also ask "how do you feel about notes as a communication method?"
posted by fingersandtoes at 5:24 PM on January 27, 2013 [4 favorites]

You could include "looking for two other young professionals" in the ad; to me it implies a certain lifestyle expectation of normal-ish hours, no crippling substance abuse, baseline shit-together-having. And then it's natural to ask about the potential roommate's job when you meet.

Without knowing the problems during your prior experience... If there are two bathrooms, considering claiming one for yourself and leaving the other to be shared between your two roommates. See what they think of hiring a bi-weekly maid service (kitchen focused?) and splitting the cost for the sake of harmony.
posted by ecsh at 5:26 PM on January 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

The best part of being the one with the lease is that you're in charge. You can throw them out with need be, and that avoids a lot of power struggle

This is almost certainly not true. I don't know what the law is like in NC, but in general a second tenant not named on the/your lease is subleasing from you, and even in the absence of a written agreement they will still have rights as a tenant. You won't be able to literally throw them out.
posted by pullayup at 5:47 PM on January 27, 2013 [3 favorites]

No one here has mentioned references. Do people not do that? It's been so long since I had a roommate, and I've never lived with total strangers. But I always check references for someone I'm going to work with, checking references for someone you plan to live with seems like it could be a good idea. Two glowing recommendations for someone as being normal and sane seems good. I think it's also reasonable to run a credit check on someone, and require some proof of employment if you are going to be needing their share of the rent.
posted by tk at 5:54 PM on January 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

My boyfriend and I have both found roommates on Craigslist (when we weren't living together).

His method: He's lived in various communal/group housing. He has a good gut instinct about people. He meets a couple of potential roommates (like on a coffee date), and then chooses the one who seems sane, easy to get along with, and has a reason to want to be there (e.g. the apartment is close to his job, he's single and happy to share).

My method: I own my house. I ask for an official application, and run credit/background checks and call employers and all references, including previous roommates and landlords. I then make a list of rules that are more of an "ideal" situation than a "bare minimum situation." (e.g. I say "no smoking on premises" but actually I don't care if there is smoking outside as long as there are no cigarette butts. But this way, my roommate who smokes will make sure to keep everything clean.) I also make sure that my roommate has a reason to want to be my roommate.

I make them sign a contract (from, which costs ~$25), which says exactly when late rent is late, and what the late fee is, and how we will communicate, etc, just in the case this person has never studied up on it for some reason.

Both my boyfriend and I have had good luck with roommates. (Now we're each others'.) They weren't our best friends, but they were definitely friends.
posted by ethidda at 5:55 PM on January 27, 2013 [2 favorites]

If you want to weed out Asheville hippies, put a line like "looking for a working professional aged X to Y" and only respond to people who specifically mention their age and employment in their email to you "Hi, I'm a 26 year old male administrative assistant" or whatever.
posted by emd3737 at 6:15 PM on January 27, 2013

Clarify your policy on casual drug use (i.e. marijuana), and make sure you're compatible on overnight guest policy.
posted by availablelight at 6:29 PM on January 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

Don't use all caps. It's a pain to read, and makes you come off as overly aggressive and possibly not pleasant to live with.

Do, however, make your posting as detailed as possible. It won't make you seem like a nutcase, I promise. As someone who has apartment hunted on CL many, many, times, I personally appreciate detailed ads. It helps me weed out incompatible living situations before the interview stage.

Things that should be in the ad:

1. A brief bio of yourself. I'm always annoyed by posters who expect me to tell them all about myself in my response, but have said nary a word about themselves.

2. Details about the apartment. Size of the room, rent, utilities, living room/bathroom/kitchen set-up (Ex: Will they be sharing a bathroom? If so, with how many people? Is there a living room, or is it one of those living-room-has-been-converted-into-a-bedroom sort of deals?) Are pets allowed?

3. Include pictures. (These days, a lack of photos just feels lazy to me--surely someone, somewhere, has a camera you can borrow.)

4. What you are looking for in a housemate. Try to avoid generic terms--for example, instead of saying "clean" say what clean means to you--no dishes in the sink ever? No dishes in the sink for over 24 hours? If you haven't done it in your bio, here's a chance to talk about the kind of schedule you're on, and what kind of schedule they are ideally on. Specify what your drug/alcohol requirements are (no smoking, smoking outside okay, no 420, 420 friendly, don't bring the party home, etc). As others have said, try to avoid ranting about what the roommates shouldn't do. Frame things positively, when you can.

5. Give some guidelines about what you want to see in a response--this will help you weed people out before even making it to the interview stage. Questions could include: What do you do on an average weeknight? Average weekend? What are your interests? What are you looking for in a living situation? Again, anything that will help you decide who it's worth interviewing. (In the past, I've said "please respond with at least 7 sentences about yourself"--anyone that didn't follow my guidelines just got deleted.)

Nthing doing this with the best grammar and punctuation possible, and then paying attention to who responds in kind. Those that do are more likely to take you seriously.

In the interview:

1. Sit them down while you talk. This will help them relax (and maybe give more honest answers).
2. Go back over some of the questions you asked in the ad (to make sure their answers are consistent). But if you can, try to make it as much of a conversation as possible, instead of you just firing questions at them. This will help you evaluate how well you click. Ask ice breakers, such as what their favorite books/movies/music/etc.
3. Ask why they are moving.
4. Ask them about prior living situations. What has worked for them in the past? Have they had any nightmare roommate situations?
5. What is their housecleaning philosophy?
6. What are their food policies? Never touch my food? Feel free to use something of mine, as long as you replace it? Buy certain products (butter, eggs, whatever) communally? This is a good one to ask them before saying your policy, so that they can't just say what they think you want to hear.
7. Lay out your significant other policy. This will help with later drama.
8. Ask them if they have any questions for you.

As much as you can, just try to relax and be yourself.

Er. That's probably enough of a novel for now. Good luck!
posted by tan_coul at 6:29 PM on January 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'm reinforcing showbiz_liz; ask behavioral questions like they do in job interviews

The easy wording is, "Tell me about a time that...something." For example, "Tell me about a time that a roommate really got on your nerves."

It sounds corny but these kinds of questions can be completely disarming. The stories that people share will blow you away. =)

I would identify four or five categories that you want to rank the potential roommate on. So just to make some up, you may want to find out about cleanliness, maturity, sleep habits, paying bills, and how they react in an emergency.

So maybe two of those are useful, two are mandatory and one is somewhere in between. The point is that you aren't looking for the world's most perfect roommate (off the charts in every category), you're seeking a sane roommate that has a history of keeping things clean and paying their bills. So make up questions that let you gauge your potential roommate on each category.

Finally, don't talk yourself into a new roommate. When the right one shows up you'll be thinking that this is great and when can they move in?

Best luck.
posted by deanj at 6:51 PM on January 27, 2013

My husband found his best friend this way, so this can turn out okay!He spent a couple hours interviewing, got a credit check and verification of employment, and picked the guy he clicked with(they both like the Simpsons), sort of like a date in that way I guess!
posted by bananafish at 6:38 AM on January 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

Insist on references and speaking with past roommates.
posted by the foreground at 9:22 AM on January 28, 2013

pullayup - I have quite a bit of landlording experience, both as a owner sharing my house and a traditional landlord situation. Of course you can throw people out, it happens all the time.

You can't ignore the proper legal process and expect them to leave with no notice and change the locks, but you absolutely can set up a month to month lease with them that specifies 30 days notice to leave and then give them 30 days notice if it isn't working out. Legally, it's pretty straightforward and not very hard to stay on the right side of the law.
posted by zug at 12:32 PM on January 28, 2013

emd3737, stating an age range in the ad would violate federal fair housing laws in the US, and is also against craigslist policies.

There is nothing to stop you from only replying to people who say things in their response that you like though! Someone with reasonable expectations for being a roommate should realize they need to describe a bit about themselves in the initial contact. One caveat -- you'll get emails from people claiming to be out of the country and trying to find a place to move into immediately on their return -- actual potential roommates are likely to be a little bit less forthcoming on details.
posted by yohko at 1:42 PM on January 28, 2013

Re stating an age range -- for roommates, it's absolutely not against the law to "discriminate" on the basis of age. You're allowed to choose whoever you want, on pretty much any basis. (Though obviously it's gross and weird and awful to be blatant about the degree to which protected categories inform your decision.) I'm not sure about Craigslist policy, but I've seen plenty of ads that very heavily suggest a desired age range without explicitly stating numbers.

For example, I've seen ads that say things like "we're all grad students at U Whatever and are looking for someone around the same age" or "Wanted: MATURE professional".
posted by Sara C. at 1:53 PM on January 28, 2013

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