So you've done the prep. You've got your room ready, worked out how much to charge, placed an ad (on SpareRoom, naturally) and people are starting to message you about your room. Great. But what now? How do you know who will be the best roommate for you?
In many ways, this is the most difficult bit. But don't worry, we've put together a list of things to ask, every one of which has come from someone who's been in exactly the position you are.
Why are you moving?
It's a really simple question, but one that can potentially tell you a lot about someone.
"I like to try to understand why they are looking for a room. Is it for a job, a course, have they left a partner or apartment share, or left home? Why are they looking in my neighborhood?"
"If they respond with anything overly negative about their current apartment or roommate, then there might be a problem here".
"Ask what they understand about living with a homeowner versus living in an apartment share. Ensuring they understand the boundaries of living in someone else's house, but also the benefits (i.e. they don't have to worry about bills, cleaning and maintenance of the property etc)."
Where and how did you live before?
"What bugs you about living with other people? Describe some things that have happened and how you dealt with it".
"What did you not like about living in your previous two places?"
"Ask about where they are living now, or recently, what they like about it/don't like or what's worked well or not so well".
This one is always a recurring theme when we talk about roommates. On one level it's about being generally compatible, but there are also some really basic practicalities to consider, like...
"What time do you need the bathroom in the morning?"
"Working and leisure patterns - will they fit in in terms of when they're busy around the house or quietly working/absent?"
On a more general note...
"How do you spend your day? Do you have friends in the area?"
"I ask about their habits - what time are they up, out at work, back in, shower - so I can figure out if their habits will clash".
Another theme from the responses, which was more surprising, was related to pets and, more specifically, letting them make the decision!
"I once left it to the dog, when I had a dog. If people ignored the dog completely, they were the wrong fit. When the chosen roommate, who was great, asked how he'd got picked out, and I told him that he said hello to the dog, he thought it was hilarious that all his best behaviour and polite friendliness came second to being judged for dog manners!"
"As I have pets I introduce them on the day they visit, give the pet free rein and watch how they react. If they don't like pets it shows. I trust my dogs - if they don't like the person they don't get the room".
That leads us on nicely to other little things you can use to get a sense of whether someone's right or not. We'll use the term one of our users suggested, which is...
"It pays to be on the lookout for micro-behaviours. For example, if someone offers to take their shoes off before they look round, it's a fairly good sign that they will be respectful of your property. Also, if they've had a glass of water and take it through to the kitchen, they'll probably be tidy. If they leave it in the living area, more often than not they turn out to be fairly messy."
"I ask them to leave shoes out by the door. Depending how they leave their shoes, I know 99% whether that person is suitable as a roommate".
"I look at behavior when they come to look round. I open the door barefoot and see if they automatically remove their shoes or not, or ask if I would prefer shoes to be removed. I watch to see how much interest the person has towards the animals. My advert will say that the roommate would need to feed and give my cats water while I work away a few days most weeks. At least one cat will normally be indoors and after attention - does the potential roommate stroke them or ignore them?"
All these questions and approaches are designed to help you work out one thing - will they fit in? As one user puts it:
"They have to fit in with your lifestyle. Once you've committed it's hard to give someone their notice, so don't rush in choosing the right one. What are their working hours? Do you want just a roommate or a friend/company and a roommate, make your expectations clear from the start".
Here's some great advice on how to create the right environment to find out.
"Create a comfortable welcoming environment for an informal conversation to get to know your roommate and the roommate to know you. Everyone is different, a good roommate for you may not be so good for someone else. Know what's important to you and frame your questions around them, keep them open and friendly. Also know your red lines - what are you not willing to put up with? Then have a friendly conversation and check out the fit. And listen carefully, especially the non-verbal bits in the conversation. Ultimately, your gut will tell you the answer - if it just doesn't feel right, it probably isn't! Don't risk it".
Lots of people said they look for someone who's similar to them in some way. That's one of the most common tips.
"I always go for someone with something in common. I've made friends with lots of my roommates and we still meet up!"
But it's not your only option:
"Don't discount someone because they are not like you. After living with two roommates the same age and culture as me, I now have a Romanian roommate 30 years younger than me and we get on like a house on fire and I learn new things every day".
This is such an important area to cover. Every conversation you have up front about what you both expect is one future problem avoided. You might think your roommate has the same expectations as you, but you won't know till you check.
"I'm upfront about house rules and quite strict about cleaning. If they don't like it they aren't right. They must respect my house because it's cost me a lot of money!"
"Set clear expectations regarding cooking, cleaning, socializing, use of communal areas, timings in the bathroom. People don't normally mind rules, it's the inconsistent application that is the kicker".
So, you've met your prospective roommate, asked lots of questions and set some expectations. Now, how do you decide (especially if you can't delegate that to the dog!)? There's one phrase that came up again and again - gut feeling.
"It's a bit like an interview combined with a blind date, so trust your gut instincts".
"Gut feeling is valuable. Trust your intuition. I look at how many times they have rented, and reasons for leaving. Ask what they expect from the share. Do they have references? Are they able to meet the rent? Make it more of a conversation than an interview (they are also interviewing you). Try before you buy. Maybe invite them for dinner. That way you can tell if their chewing would drive you mad, and if they offer to wash up. Don't rush the decision. The right person will wait. Don't be pushed into deciding".