The Student Apartment Hunting Guide (Part 3: Finding and Keeping Good Roommates)

Hello critters! Welcome to the third and final installment of the Student Apartment Hunting Guide. In the first installment, we looked at ways to search for your new home, and reviewed the process of securing housing start-to-finish; in the second installment we discussed advice for viewing your potential apartment in order to ensure minimal annoyances/problems down the line. If you’ve followed these steps and taken a gander at the supplementary sources, then chances are you’ve found yourself a super-sweet pad and are already itching to hang up your posters, unpack your queen-size mattress, and stock the cupboards with your THIRTY FIVE TEA MUGS (I’m looking at you Rachel).

Not so fast though! If you’re a student looking to find housing off-campus, chances are also high that you’re going to be sharing the space with roommates. Believe it or not, the roommate selection process is almost more important than finding an apartment in the first place. No matter how nice the living quarters are, living there is gonna suck if the people you’re sharing space with aren’t on the same page. So save yourself the long, drawn-out agonies of repeated roommate interventions and pick your housing buddies carefully!

Finding Good Roommates: General Tips

1. Good friends are not the same as good roommates.

Get it straight from the start. The qualities you want in a friend don’t necessarily overlap with the qualities you want in a roommate–they constitute two different kinds of relationships. It’s totally possible to have friends that you jive with in a housing environment, but don’t make the mistake of assuming that just because you’re pals you can co-own a space together.

roommates1

2. Check their references.

…which is just a way of saying, ask any mutual friends about whether they think you and your potential roommate/s could vibe together. Make sure to ask people you trust to be straightforward–the last thing you need is for someone to encourage you into a bad decision! (When Rachel first asked me if I would agree to let Carisa live with us, I quite literally asked Rachel to “sell the idea of her to me”. It worked.)

3. If you don’t know them very well, time to start learning.

If you’re an asthmatic, you don’t want to move in with someone who smokes in the house. If you’re an introvert, you might not appreciate roommates who throw raucous parties every weekend. If you like to blast your music while doing chores, make sure it’s music they won’t hate. In general, get as clear a picture as you can of the person you’re considering–after all, you’re going to find out about all of it sooner or later.

In the same vein, the best time to figure out whether your friends will make for good roommates is before you move in, not after. And conversely, it’s also the best time to make sure your seemingly-qualified roommate is also, y’know, a person you can stand to be around. Below is the 100% unaltered list of questions Carisa and I (who barely knew each other) shot back and forth before being sold on each other as a) people with whom we’d get along and b) roommates with whom we could cohabit happily. Behold:

The Roommate Interrogation List

  1. Top five favourite books!
  2. Deep space or deep sea?
  3. Do you like to sing (regardless of whether you’re any good at it)?
  4. What d’you think happens when we die?
  5. Favourite teas!
  6. Favourite genre of music?
  7. What makes you laugh the most?
  8. What is your biggest pet peeve?
  9. What would be your superpower?
  10. Favourite animal?
  11. What are your more-than-pet-peeves (as in, what genuinely upsets you as opposed to just annoying you)?
  12. If you could teach a course on anything in the world, what would it be?
  13. In the same vein: something you want to learn that you haven’t had the chance to pursue yet.
  14. Favourite and least favourite household chore!
  15. 5 qualities you find attractive in a person!
  16. If you could travel anywhere in the world and not worry about expenses or lodgings where would you go?
  17. What is your passion?
  18. Best and worst gift ever received?
  19. What is your favourite form of art?
  20. What *does* the fox say??

roommates2

As far as questionnaires go, it’s not very sober or austere, but it managed to balance out a) general personality questions with b) heavier philosophical quandaries and, of course, c) practical lifestyle preferences. Feel free to chop and change and rearrange as you need–this is only meant to boost your thinking about what kind of questions you want to ask!

So You’ve Found Some Roommates: Now What?

It’s one thing to find a few darlings and fantasize together about all the cute craft nights and movie marathons and baking sessions you’re going to have together–it’s another to make sure everyone is doing their chores, all the bills are being paid on time, and nobody is harbouring resentment for anybody else. Once you’ve found some good roommates, how do you keep everyone happy?

The short answer is this: constant communication. My roommates and I have created several channels of communication which we check daily, in addition to monthly house meetings where larger issues are mediated and finances are calculated and sorted. Because of our commitment to effective, open-minded communication, I can say 100% honestly that we’ve never had serious problems with each other, and we’ve never resorted to passive-aggressiveness to get our messages across.

Here are five of our Best Practices for Happy Roommates:

1. Sort and schedule your chores, formally and officially, day one.

The number one complaint I’ve heard from friends about their roommates is that they don’t do their chores.

roommates3

To avoid this, sit down together and decide who is going to be responsible for what chores. (Some people do a ‘chore wheel’, where different members of the house are responsible for different chores on different weeks, but Rachel and Carisa and I found that, seeing as we all had favourite chores that all happen to be different, we just stuck with what we liked/are best at.)

Another good idea is to collectively decide on a ‘chore day’. We aim to do all our chores on Sundays, although we’ll notify each other if we need to push it back a day. It might be tough given everyone’s schedule, but I would hugely recommend it because it gives you an excuse to all hang out while you’re cleaning your space together. That makes it more fun!

2. Establish regular house meetings, and treat them like business.

The house meeting is a hugely under-valued tool. It enables you to set aside time to review your living space and conditions, to negotiate changes in how things are run, to announce anything that your roommates need to know well in advance, to bring up small grievances before they turn into big grievances, to organize splitting the bills–the possibilities are endless. I would highly recommend organizing the point/s of your meeting ahead of time. We have a whiteboard where we’ll write an agenda of things to discuss and then work through them one by one.

3. Create ways to connect on-the-go.

We’ve got ourselves a Facebook group chat where we let everyone know our whereabouts, or notify the house about postponing chores, or ask what kind of fancy cheese everyone wants from the Metro. (Seriously.) We also have a whiteboard in the living room (beside the communal calendar), a chalkboard in the kitchen, and a plethora of Post-It notes that are used intermittently. Anything goes!

4. Have the money talk and have it early. (And shamelessly.)

Economic differences exist amongst you and your peers. You won’t know it unless and until they tell you. Without getting into specifics, my roommates and I are actually pretty spread across the scale of financial security, so we need to take that into account when we make choices that affect the whole apartment and everybody living in it. (This is why, for instance, we changed how we were splitting the grocery bill. More on that in a moment.) Moreover, you need to stop being squeamish about discussing money with friends/peers/colleagues anyway–you’re paying bills now. It’s in your best interest to be frank about finances.

5. Define how the food’s going to be split up.

The other most common lament I’ve heard is that they have no idea what food belongs to whom–as a result, they end up going hungry when there’s plenty of food in the house. (Which is ridiculous.) Create a system for understanding who can eat what, and make sure everyone’s up to date on it.

Note: your system is allowed to change! At the beginning, we thought it made sense to just all go buy groceries and split the bill evenly between us. Later on at our house meeting it was brought up that a) people have different financial resources and b) not everyone eats equal amounts of the same things (and not everyone eats the same amount, period). So we switched it to a half-and-half system: we have a list of “common food” that’s up on our chalkboard, which everybody splits the cost of, and everything else counts as “special items” which are property of the buyer and can be eaten upon request. It’s worked like a charm ever since!

No matter what your systems are, make sure everybody agrees on them, and check in regularly to see what needs adjusting. It might take a couple of months, but sooner or later you’ll have a flourishing home environment! (And plenty of time for movie marathons and bake sessions on the side.)


So ends the Student Apartment Hunting Guide series. Let me know what you found useful, or if you think I missed anything–this is the kind of conversation that can go on for days, and of course, the more experience you gather, the better at it you’ll be.

Bonne chance, and happy hunting!

~Sisi

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