Choosing and Using a Roommate-Matching Service

Roommates can keep each other company while getting acquainted with new surroundings.

Some people would prefer the simplicity of using a roommate finding service to digging up a roommate on their own. If you live in a medium to large city, you should be able to find one or more roommate matching services.

Most roommate finding services will be advertised in the Yellow Pages (an indication that the service is at least six months old). It’s also a good idea to con tact your local chamber of commerce or the Better Business Bureau to see if the service is a member. If so, should you have any difficulties with the service later, you can sometimes get them to use pressure on your behalf. Research shows that up to 50 percent of the roommate matching services are out of business their first year; so always look for longevity.

Word of mouth is especially good in this type of service industry. Ask friends and acquaintances if they or anyone they know has had success with a service. It’s even possible to find a respectable ser vice and arrange to have a couple of roommate living situations waiting for you when you move into a new city. Admittedly, this is risky business, but it’s not impossible to pull off. For this type of plan you’d undoubtedly want to use a service that

(a) has been in business for a reasonable amount of time,

(b) generally requires in-office interviews, and

(c) does a reasonable job of screening, including checking references (yours too).

It’s then possible that when you arrive in town you can go directly to the service’s office and arrange to meet a few potential roommates for final interviews. You should have a place to live almost immediately. A good roommate service can do this for you often for less than $100.

Peggy Beltran Scheuer, of the fourteen-year-old Los Angeles-based House-Mates Unlimited, re called, “We once had three guys come in who were desperate to find places by 6 P.M. We were able to place all of them on a weekly basis that same day.”

There are other suggestions you should follow when choosing your roommate matching service. Here’s what Linda Carrol, owner of the four-year-old Women’s Roommate Referrals, Inc., in New York City, recommends:

1. Call the Better Business Bureau to find out if there are unresolved complaints about services you’re considering.

2. Contact the city licensing bureau or the business licensing bureau. If you are still not satisfied, contact the information desk at your local city hail and tell them you want to see if a particular roommate finding service is properly licensed.

3. When you contact a service, make sure you deter mine how their service works. Some roommate ser vices actually only act as a listing service. They may take the name of virtually anyone who walks in the door, doing little, if any, screening. Some fail to note what clients are looking for; these listings only waste time—you’ll be calling the wrong listing for your specific needs.

4. Find out how careful the service is about the ac curacy of the information that’s kept on file. Ask how often the files are updated. Stay away from ser vices that don’t actually meet their clients in person. Some services take most, if not all, of their listings by phone, or from roommate listings in the paper. This doesn’t allow for proper screening.

5. Fees range anywhere from $65 to over $125, al though it depends upon the competition and the area and size of the city. Fees are usually paid by anyone using the service, whether they already have an apartment or not. In certain cities, such as New York, some real estate brokers will charge as much as a month’s rent after a roommate match is made. This happens even though the roommate moving in won’t generally have his name added to the lease. Don’t overpay. Make sure you’re going to receive your money’s worth and get your name on the lease, and ask about any refund policies or guarantees.

6. Visit each roommate matching service you’re interested in. Find out what their policies are, and ask what information they require. Most services don’t have the time to check references, but if you find one that does, it’s usually worth the higher fee because of the quality of the people you’ll be matched with. Most good matching services will have you fill out fact or information sheets about your likes and dislikes, etc. Although these are often matched up by personnel—not computers—be mindful of how you answer the questions. You don’t want to be too literal in your answers, or it could foul up your matches.

7. Ask for the names of two or three previous clients and contact them to find out how satisfied they were.

8. When you visit the service, also make note of the number of phone lines and employees. You really need two or more people to run an office properly. And the more phone lines the better, because when you call back for listings, you’ll want to be able to get through.

9. The proper roommate matching service can save you lots of time and money. But don’t simply choose the biggest ad in the phone directory. You need to shop as carefully for your roommate finding service as you would for your actual roommate. It will be worth the extra work in the long run.

When you are looking for a prospective service, also check the classified ad sections of your local paper. Generally, they’ll be listed under the headings “Roommates” or “Houses/Apartments To Share.” Keep in mind also the different specialized services, such as the previously mentioned Women’s Room mate Referrals in New York City, Gay Roommates in San Francisco, or Christian Oasis in Washington, D.C.

10. Remember that a good service will supply you with a fair number of reasonably selective and screened potential roommates. But even with a ser vice, the final job of screening, interviewing, and choosing is all yours. Even with the help of a good service, be sure to follow the recommendations in Section 1.

Points to Remember

1. You can find out about roommate finding services through ads in the Yellow Pages directory (an indication the service is at least six months old), in the classified ad section of your local newspaper, and, best of all, through word of mouth from friends, friends of friends, and acquaintances. Ask around.

2. Contact the local Better Business Bureau regarding services you’re interested in to see if there are any outstanding complaints. Also contact the local Chamber of Commerce to see if the service is a member. This would be a good sign, since you can often use the Chamber to apply pressure if you have problems later.

3. A good service should be able to find you a room mate living situation at least for a brief period, say a week or so, the same day you walk in the door. In larger cities it may take up to two or three weeks.

4. Make sure you understand what a service is offering you for your money. Some services act only as a listing service, doing little, if any screening of clients. Keep away from this type. To really help with the matching process, they should take down enough information about the needs of each client. Make sure the service meets all clients in person.

5. Before paying your fee, make sure you feel you’re going to receive your money’s worth. Ask about any refund policies or guarantees.

6. Make sure you actually visit the offices of any roommate service you are considering. Make sure they have at least two staff members and enough phone lines to handle the phone traffic, Make sure they advertise or do enough promotion to ensure that there is a substantial pool of potential match- ups. If possible, find out the usual length of time, for a match-up. Be careful how you fill in the questionnaire.

7. Ask for the names of two or more satisfied clients you may call. Contact them regarding how they liked the service.

8. You may find that there is a matching service which caters to a specific group that interests you, such as Christians, women, or gays. If it meets the other criteria for choosing a service, give it a try.

9. Even with the best roommate matching service in the world, the final job of screening, interviewing, and choosing a roommate is all yours.

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