Picking roommates is a bit different from picking a spouse, a pet, or a nice couch—it’s a giant leap into the great unknown. What are some questions to ask potential roommates to help you separate the special someone you can happily live with from all of the freaks and weirdos who will drive you nuts? After all, even if everything seems fine at first blush, once a person moves in, all kinds of unsavory habits might suddenly rear their head—and by then, you’re kind of stuck in the same apartment.
So, before signing on the dotted line with a stranger (or two), be sure to review this list of questions for screening purposes. It’s time to start talking! Trust us, you’ll be so glad you did.
1. Do you smoke?
Ah, the original pet peeve. Living with a smoker is a deal breaker for many people; hence, this is a staple question to ask potential roommates.
Marin King, a real estate agent at Keller Williams NYC who specializes in rental properties, says potential roommates should absolutely clear the air not only on whether they smoke, but also on where it’s allowed if it’s allowed. For instance, some might not take kindly to seeing ashtrays on the back porch, even if it’s outdoors.
2. Are you a morning person or a night person?
Night owls and early birds don’t tend to mix well as roommates. Because you’re on opposite sleep schedules, you might feel you always have to tiptoe around or hole up in your room. Research shows early risers and night people have different personality traits and behaviors that can make them clash worse than polka dots and plaid. (Fun, and not entirely surprising, fact: One study found that night owls, on average, consume more alcohol than morning people.)
3. What’s your work schedule?
Ideally your work schedules will be compatible, says Joe DeFilippo, a real estate agent and rental specialist with City Chic Real Estate, in Washington, DC. This is especially important if you’re going to be sharing a bathroom, because you want to have ample time to get ready in the morning. (Having a roommate who’s impatiently waiting for you to get out already isn’t a great setup.)
4. Do you have pets?
This question is huge and can indicate whether the two of you have any chance of being a good match. Hate cats? Allergic to dogs? Well, don’t live with a roommate who has one!
If you don’t mind having a four-legged friend around, though, you should still make sure your landlord allows pets, because many don’t.
5. Do you work from home?
Office dwellers might skip this question, but if you’ll be working from home, you should check to see whether you’d have the place to yourself. After all, one of the best things about working from home is that you have fewer distractions from co-workers, but your roommate could prove equally distracting, or even more so if he’s an oversharing chatterbox who likes to camp out all day in your apartment’s common areas.
6. What do you like to do on nights and weekends?
If you enjoy hosting game night and dinner parties, rooming with a homebody can cause problems. After all, you should be able to entertain friends at home without feeling like you’re invading your roommate’s privacy.
Asking this question can also help you gauge if your prospective roommate is a party animal who’s going to treat your apartment like a frat house. This question is a good way to gauge how much alone time you’ll be able to snag.
7. Have you ever had any issues with rent payments?
A landlord or property management company will usually look into each person’s rental history before approving a roommate, but you should still vet your roommate yourself. Why? Because if your roommate can’t pay his portion of the rent, you’re typically on the hook for paying his share.
So, if someone says she’s had trouble paying rent on time in the past—or has had other issues with a previous landlord (e.g., arguments, fines, eviction)—look for a roomie who is more drama-free.
8. Are you in a relationship?
If you don’t want an unofficial third roommate, you need to set clear expectations about how often romantic partners can sleep over. This can become a big issue if your roommate’s significant other is a constant presence in your apartment; at that point, the person should be paying rent!
9. What indoor temperature do you prefer?
This might seem minor, but plenty of folks living in close proximity have strong disagreements over who controls the thermostat. This issue can also present financial concerns—if the person in the next room likes to constantly blast the air conditioning during the summer, for example, you could be looking at a fatter utility bill.
10. How often do you clean?
This is a better approach than asking someone straight up, “Are you a clean person?”—because few people will admit to being a slob. If you’re someone who can’t fall asleep if there are dishes in the sink, make sure you find someone who’s the same way. If you’re both lazy cleaners (Hooray! You’re on the same page!), you could agree to split the cost of a professional cleaning service once a month. Chores no more!
11. Are you still friends with your old roommates?
The answer to this question can reveal so much. You certainly don’t have to become besties to be good roommates, but you do want someone who is pleasant and easy to spend time with. If your prospective co-tenant has had a long string of “bad roommates,” this could be a case of the pot calling the kettle black. So while you may not end up lifelong friends, living with someone who can at least be friendly may help you sidestep tiring drama.
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