Choosing a roommate isn't exactly as important a decision as choosing a spouse, but the decision has similar ramifications in the short term: The way you live, work, eat, relax, and plan financially can be directly affected by the person with whom you live.
Although many renters (particularly younger ones) follow their initial impulse and live with friends, the qualities that make for a good drinking buddy may vary considerably from those that make for a good roommate. A solid interview process can help clear up a lot of future points of tension -- or reveal that an apparent match made in heaven, well, wasn't. Sometimes surprises are pleasant or easy to deal with... and sometimes they aren't.
"I lived with one roomie who neurotically turned on the TV to any channel the second he walked in the door," recalls Becky. "And another who listened to hip hop in the shower at 6am, and another who had a different girl come home every week. Everyone has their quirks - I bet someone is telling stories about me right now too," she laughed.
Here are ten questions to get you started.
Getting a sense of a person's working hours, habits, and income is good baseline for any interview. Asking about specific salary is generally seen as rude or off-putting, but you can get a sense of whether the apartment is a stretch or splurge, or well within budget for your prospective roommate. Roommates working in volatile careers -- commission-based sales, jobs that involve constant travel, etc. -- may be more likely to leave you in the lurch from a rent perspective.
It's hard for most renters to forecast beyond a year or two, but it's good to get a sense of what the apartment represents to them -- a temporary stopover? A stepping stone to a year or two out when he or she will get married? A long-term dream apartment that could be lived in for 10, 20 or more years? Making sure that a roommate is committed to staying for the duration of a lease is an important thing to nail down, and a co-signed lease protects you from a sudden change in plans.
It's a delicate question, but if you think you're getting a roommate and you end up getting one and a half or two, you may regret not having asked it. Laying down expectations and ground rules early can save heartache -- if you don't mind a boyfriend sleeping over five nights a week, so be it, but if that would be a significant problem, it's worth hashing out early.
Some roommates look for friendship, dining companionship, and a shoulder to cry on. Some just want to be left alone in their room. Getting a sense of where a roommate falls on the spectrum is a handy thing to know -- as is having a sense of your own desires in terms of a good living relationship.
Many inter-roommate disputes start over simple things -- utilities, food, and so on -- that can easily be figured out from the get-go. Find out what expenses a roommate will or won't be willing to share from the start, and know about this going into the relationship.
Pet allergies and noise from dogs can be a real obstacle to roommate harmony. Know your own boundaries in terms of companion animals, and make sure it's clear that getting a Rottweiler three months into the lease is not OK -- unless, of course, it is.
There are a number of arrangements that can work vis-a-vis food. Some roommates share everything at will and split grocery bills -- there are no receipts to hassle with and no concerns about "mine" versus "yours." Some roommates have completely different food supplies and stake out specific kitchen cabinets. And some share staples (milk, butter, flour, spices) but keep luxuries (steak, chocolate, frozen dinners) separate. Likewise, some people like to have a house meal once a week, (or three times a week, or even nightly!) and others don't particularly want to break bread with their roommates.
Asking this question is a good chance to get into how often a prospective roommate will want to have parties, and how well-attended / raucous they might be. It's also a chance to explore whether smoking, drinking, and/or drugs are a part of their lives, and whether that will cause conflict down the road.
If you're going into a situation where bedrooms need to be split up, it's important to set expectations early and figure out what bedroom goes to whom.
Finishing with an open-ended question gives a prospective roommate a chance to get anything extra off his or her chest, and often encourages a more free-flowing discussion about living together that can turn up valuable information for everyone involved.