Finding a Roommate on Your Own

The right roommate match can mean happy living anywhere.

Most people find a living companion through their own devices, or by utilizing some kind of roommate finding service.

Targeting Your Search

Frequently, when people are searching for room mates, they forget how easy it is to find exactly what they are looking for. Once you’ve decided on the type of roommate and living combination you’d like, you may decide to get even more specific in your search; perhaps you’d like to find roommates who are working in the same field you are or a similar one. Living with a fellow computer engineer, hair stylist, welder, or stripper might seem boring to some, but imagine how nice it would be to live with a person who knows exactly what your day was like. With the exception of the occasional professional jealousy, this kind of roommate match could be perfect.

But when it comes to sharing with an actual co worker, the general consensus from those inter viewed seemed to be “don’t.” Or, at the minimum, take precautions. Like an office love affair, sharing quarters with a coworker, especially someone from the same department can make life uncomfortable, even dangerous. Office politics can be stressful, and it’s no fun to have to watch constantly what you might say to your ever-present roommate for fear that it might come back to haunt you, or even get you fired.

But let’s say the idea of living with someone in the same or similar profession appeals to you; here as some suggestions on how to go about it.

1. Use organizations you know of or belong to, and make your desires known. Many professions have social or professional organizations, such as the Graphic Artists Society of Austin, Texas, or the Professional Boat-builder’s Club of Newport, Rhode Island. Tell people, even make an announcement at meetings, that you’re looking for a living companion. If there is a newspaper or newsletter for the organization, place a free notice or classified ad in it.

2. If you are a member of a union—say, the Retail Clerks Local 770, or United Auto Workers—they generally have publications where you can place your notice. If appropriate, you might make an announcement at a union meeting. Also, see if you can place a notice on the union hall bulletin board, if there is one.

3. Consider placing a notice or classified ad in the house organ of another company in the same or a similar field. But try not to choose a directly competing company. Beware of the potential office politics or industry politics—problems of professional jealousy may arise.

Even if you’d prefer not to live with someone within the same profession, you might still wish to target your search. Suppose you work as a book keeper but have always been fascinated by the law. You may decide to find a lawyer as a roommate. Or maybe you work as a secretary for an insurance company but have always been fascinated by the ballet; you might want to seek out a ballet or other professional dancer as a roommate. Sure it is calculating, but why not? If it bothers you, be honest in your face-to-face interviews. You’ll probably find a lot of potential roommates are either amused, flattered, or both. Picking a specific roommate this way can, of course, have an interesting and dramatic effect on your life. Suddenly, because of your friend, you’re meeting and becoming friendly with attorneys, dancers, actors or house painters.

And, assuming you’re single, even dating them! How calculating can you get? you ask. Well, why not? Even if you believe in reincarnation, you only get to live one life at a time, so have fun with it! If you’re really fascinated by actors, shoe salesmen, male strippers, hairdressers, airline stewardesses, artists, art curators, or whatever, find one for a roommate . . . it could change your life.

The Expanded Hunt

If you decide you don’t have any particular type of roommate’s profession in mind and would be satisfied with a simple, happy match, your job should be easier. Assuming you’ve chosen your living alternatives and have an idea of what kind of roommate you can survive with, it’s now time to put the word out. It’s like looking for a job. Tell friends, family, coworkers [ may have friends who need a room mate), fellow club members, people at parties, any one you trust to send you safe, potential roommates to interview.

You may want to try the classified section in a local or alternative newspaper. Before you run your own ad, you may wish to see what’s being offered. You’ll usually find the listings under the classifications “housing,” “roommates,” or “houses and apartments to share.” The ads are generally brief and to the point:

House in Lawndale Park area. Rm. needed for 1 bedrm. in 3 bedrm. house. $250/mo. 1st and last. Jay 555-1212.


Female nonsmoker wanted to share 2-bedrm. apt. Pets o.k. $300/mo. Utilities paid. Sally 555-1212.

Whether interviewing by phone in answer to an ad or taking phone calls in response to your own ad, make up five to ten brief questions based upon what you’re looking for. Here’s an example of what you might ask when you call:

1. What is the total sum the renter is expected to pay, including utilities, board, etc.?

2. Are first and last month’s rent required?

3. I’m allergic to dogs and cats—do you have any pets?

4. Do you smoke?

5. What kind of roommate are you looking for?

Remember, you don’t want to give anyone the third degree over the phone. An extended question- and-answer session can take place when you finally meet. But you do want to get a feeling about your potential roommate and whether or not there might be any major problems. If you are still interested after the initial phone interview, the next step is to arrange a face-to-face meeting, preferably in a public place—perhaps in a coffee shop, a restaurant, or a bar. You don’t want to go wandering into a strange apartment building or a part of the city that’s unfamiliar. If necessary, use the excuse that you’re very busy and would like to meet briefly first, before seeing the place.

The next best precaution is to go to the interview at a potential roommate’s residence, but bring along a friend—if you are a woman, it’s better to bring a male. Keep away from any potential roommate situation where the party won’t meet you in a public place or let you bring a friend to the interview.

When you get together, take along all the additional questions you have, written on 3 x 5 cards. As you talk to each other, see how you feel about this person. Are you comfortable with him or her? Can you imagine living with him? Do you feel he’d enjoy living with you? While you are formulating these impressions, you should be asking the questions from your 3 X 5 cards. After your discussion, be sure to jot down briefly what the answers to your questions are. Otherwise, you could wind up feeling like a Jell-O brain. Three or four roommate inter views, and you’ll be trying to recall who told you what.

There will be times during an interview when everything seems to be absolutely perfect. If after seeing the actual apartment or house you’ll be living in, you still feel the same way, there’s really no reason why you shouldn’t go ahead and take a chance. But no matter how good you feel about your potential new roomie at this time, it’s very wise to have a trial living-together period before you commit yourself to the long term. This is sometimes difficult to arrange, particularly if you must move immediately. But any trial period is better than none, even if it’s just for a weekend.

If you find that, for whatever reason, a trial period is simply impossible to set up, at least try to arrange your moving-in agreement so that you can leave by giving thirty days’ notice. This escape clause protects you—in the unlikely case you find yourself living with a modern Marquis de Sade. Get your agreement in writing; an excellent sample agreement appears in Section 4.

Running Your Own Ad

It obviously costs more to run an ad than to answer one, but there are advantages to being the advertiser. Depending on where you run it and what you say, you will be able to let the ad do your screening for you. As already mentioned, if you’ve decided upon a certain type of roommate, such as a dancer or student, by advertising in a college news paper or dance newsletter you’ll reach your potential roommate audience.

There are, however, some rules to follow when running your own roommate ad.

1. Please, please, please, spend the extra $20 or $30, and hire a competent answering service. Make sure you rent one of their existing phone numbers for the time that you’ll be looking for a roommate. For a reasonable fee, they will give you a phone number you can place in your ad. Make sure they ask callers for their names, numbers, and the best times to call back. It’s important to use an answering service because no matter what your ad says, it’s likely you’ll get some crank calls—if you are a woman, it’s almost guaranteed. You don’t want crank or obscene calls for the next six months, do you?

2. Although it’s still not recommended, if you have a very understanding boss, you might list your work phone number in your ad, though you still may get some crank calls, and you don’t necessarily want people to know where you work. It’s much better to use a work phone number as the back-up number you give to people you’ll be meeting. Don’t give out your house phone number to people you haven’t met Even then, be careful.

3. Don’t give out your home address to just any one, either. Meet in a public place first. When you do finally start having potential roommates over to see where you live, have another friend there, preferably male, when people drop by. Some burglars case apartments by using roommates ads. It doesn’t hurt to have a friend there when you interview. There is often safety in numbers. This is good advice whether you are male or female.

4. If all of these precautions seem like too much trouble, or like a lot of paranoia, you’re welcome to take your chances. If you live in a big city, you could use a roommate service (see Section 3, Choosing and Using a Roommate Matching Service). Other protective measures include keeping your roommate search to generally safe groups, such as any churches or clubs with which you may be affiliated, college housing directors’ offices, friends of friends, and friends of the family. If you use a reasonable amount of care along the way, you should find your self with a safe and sound roommate match.

When You Are the Huntee Rather Than the Hunter

All the previous advice still applies. Generally, when you are looking for one or more roommates to share your space, you are in the stronger position. You will probably want to maintain enough control over the residence so that, if things don’t work out, you won’t have to do the moving—you were there first, weren’t you? Protection begins with good relations between you and your landlord or apartment manager or superintendent. Try to keep any lease — whether it’s a month-to-month or a five-year—in your name alone; then you should be able to sublet to other roommates living with you. This would all be sorted out in a simple yet very important written agreement you should draw up between you and your roommate (see Section 4, Living Together Successfully). Books such as The Living Together Kit will give you more details. What you are doing is insuring that if things don’t work out between the two of you, you won’t have to move.

Points to Remember

1. Consider finding a roommate in the same or similar profession to yours, or in a profession that fascinates you.

2. If you don’t have a preference, be sure to open up your market. Tell friends, family, coworkers, fellow club members, people at parties, anyone you trust to send you an acceptable potential roommate. Treat your roommate search like a job hunt. Get the word out.

3. Pick between five and ten quick questions that you’ll want to ask when you do initial telephone screening of prospects. It will save time to find out if someone’s allergic to cats, for instance, before he or she comes over to meet you and Fluffy.

4. Hold your first meeting at a public place if at all possible. If it must occur at your residence, invite a friend to be present, preferably male. Be cautious.

5. Make up 3 X 5 cards with your questions on them for the face-to-face interview. Jot down brief answers or comments on the back of them. These will come in very handy later, when you are trying to make a decision.

6. Have a trial period before moving in for good, even if it’s just for a weekend, Make sure you can part with reasonable notice if things don’t work out.

7. When running your own ad, use an answering service’s trunk line to protect yourself from obscene or crank calls. It’s a small price to pay for the valuable screening it will provide.

8. Use your office number as a backup, if possible, and don’t give out your home phone number until you’ve had at least one face-to-face meeting with the prospect.

9. When you are already living in a place, you are generally in the stronger position. If you keep the lease in your name and merely sublet a room, your roommate will be the one to move out if things sour. You’ll want all this spelled out in your roommate agreement. Consult the sample agreement in section 4, as well as the books listed in the back.

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