How to avoid choosing a bad roommate
After a weekend getaway to Pittsburgh years ago, Julia returned to her Chicago apartment to find clothing, liquor bottles and sex toys cluttering her living room.
A giant candle had burned a hole in her carpet, she said, and a naked stranger was sleeping in her bed.
“I told my roommate I was going to take my dog for a walk and would be back in an hour, and during that time, if she could clean up, de-sheet my bed and get rid of the guy, I would greatly appreciate it,” said Julia, then 23, now 36, who lives in a northwestern suburb of Chicago and asked that her last name be withheld for privacy concerns.
According to a December Zillow analysis, 30 percent of unmarried adults between the ages of 23 and 65 are living with others — either roommates or relatives — which is a jump from 21 percent in 2005. When it comes to young people ages 23 to 29, more than half live in doubled-up households. So the question of who we live with, and how we find them, is perhaps more germane than ever.
Find your match: Having a bad roommate at some point is almost like a rite of passage. But it may soon be one for the history books. Not long ago, options for finding a roommate were limited: asking around, scouring Craigslist, seeking out flyers on bulletin boards. But today, there are plenty of websites dedicated to helping renters find roommates, allowing you to create a detailed profile of yourself and essentially “swipe right” when you think you’ve identified a compatible match.
If it sounds a lot like dating … it is.
“It works similar to Tinder, but it’s not an anonymous site,” said Rany Burstein, CEO and co-founder of Diggz, a roommate-finding site that launched in 2015 and has more than 100,000 users throughout the country. Diggz launched in Chicago in April 2017, where it currently has a few thousand users and plans to expand. Akin to dating apps, if interest among two renters is “mutual, you can chat and share social media,” Burstein said.
These roommate-finding sites cater to various demographics — again, like dating apps — some target homeowners aiming to rent out a room, others are for those who want older roommates or college housemates.
A couple of years ago, Nancy MacLean, a 61-year-old piano and voice teacher from Lafayette, Colorado, said she spent four months on Craigslist and another roommate site — and had more than 50 encounters with potential renters – before she met her perfect, albeit unexpected, match on Silvernest.com. The site primarily caters to baby boomers and empty nesters looking to share a house.
“He was about as far away from what I expected,” MacLean said, as night from day. Her match? A 28-year-old, tattooed former Marine with long locks. And they got on swimmingly.
Wariness: Still, while more people may be seeking roommates, many are wary of living with a complete stranger.
“There is a clear demand in the marketplace for helpful resources that aid roommate decisions, and renters today put a high priority on trust,” said Joey Campbell, director of content for RentPath, a digital marketing company for the rental industry. Campbell cited “a wide range of horror stories in the media about the pitfalls of using anonymous online services to find housing.”
That’s why Silvernest, which has been active for two years, promises to vet potential roommates before anyone unpacks their suitcases via a five-point background check, complete with an eviction history. Other sites also involve background checks to some degree, but checks may come at an added cost.
Once a user is cleared after the background check, the following step is the profile. Potential roommates fill out details ranging from their faith to whether they mind living with a smoker. Finally, an algorithm matches potential roommates.
For MacLean, things moved fairly quickly. One month into her roommate search through Silvernest, she found her younger match.
Communication: They met in person, she said, and she peppered him with many more questions before he moved into her home.
“We talked about rules like keeping the house clean, the shared spaces … whether he wanted to cook and eat with me — some people might not want to,” MacLean said. “He did, and we became fabulous kitchen partners.”
The pair lived together for 11/2 years, until MacLean got married and her roommate moved in with his girlfriend.
“I think we will be lifelong friends,” she said. “It was an exceptional situation.”
Talking honestly about living styles is key to finding a compatible roommate, said Navish Jain, founder of Cirtru, a recently formed room- and roommate-finding site for professionals and students.
The ideal roommate might not boil down to similar age or background. Instead, seek out someone like-minded, Jain said, one whose lifestyle most closely resembles yours.
“Set your preferences — eating, drinking, smoking, profession — to match theirs,” he said. “If you’re working, you should be with someone who is working the same hours. If you’re studying, you’d want a student.”
The key is to find a roommate who would keep similar hours and habits that you do, Jain said.
Sometimes the old-fashioned route — mutual friends — does the trick.
Jordan Zaplatosch sought someone with a complementary routine when she searched for a roommate on Facebook. Through a few degrees of separation — a former college roommate had a friend who had a friend who was looking for a roommate — she found a match.
They exchanged texts and discussed their lifestyles to make sure they were a fit.
“We figured out that both of us enjoy shopping, trying new restaurants and bars, and relaxing nights with movies and wine,” said Zaplatosch, a 24-year-old public relations specialist in Chicago. “We also talked about each having large groups of friends, and both of us love hosting parties, so that was an important selling point.”
Today, after living together for 11/2 years, they are best friends.
Deal breakers: When thinking about a compatible roommate, it’s also keenly important to consider deal breakers.
Zaplatosch said she and her roommate, Barrett McBride, agreed that parties and guests were totally fine, but these are numbers eight and 11 on the list of roommate deal breakers on the RentHoop app, said Paul Burke, the Los Angeles-based founder and CEO. RentHoop is another roommate finder, active in California and Washington.
And according to a 2017 poll of 1,500 people by RentCafe, slightly over 20 percent of respondents said the biggest roommate offense was not paying rent; another 20 percent pointed to a disinterest in friendship as an egregious offense.
There’s also something to be said about roommate professions. The RentCafe poll found that at least 50 percent of the time, men argue with flatmates in legal fields, marketing and advertising, and construction. Women, on the other hand, tend to quarrel with roommates who work in manufacturing, transportation and warehousing, tech and journalism more than 60 percent of the time.
Roommate compatibility, like romance, can’t always be predicted. But in both arenas, it helps to know what you want — and who you’re getting.