I lived on my own for 17 years, before getting priced out of my Williamsburg home, two years ago. Thus, with the site, a new PR and social media business to run and two start-ups plus a foundation to build, it was easier on my purse strings to go the roommate route. According to the Huffington Post, I was not alone.
More than a million single women 40 and older live with a roommate who is not a relative.- Huffington Post
While my latest roommate situation ended in heartbreak, I still maintain that if you ask the right questions before going in and are careful about your boundaries, you can find some truly great places and terrific people to share a roof with.
Here are some tips for picking the right person:
1. Note references to partying in ads or conversations because an alcohol or drug problem can be hard to live with, particularly if you are not the primary leaseholder.
Alcoholics and drug addicts have one thing in common – they are irrational and will make erratic decisions that can place your mental sanity, inner peace, and your home in jeopardy. In my case, there was a constant stream of strange men brought in from bars, some of whom were left in our home, stove tops left on, animals neglected, a barrage of nasty incoherent notes (see above) and general mood swings that made the home an emotional nightmare. I was once not spoken to for six whole weeks! I later found out from our neighbors that the last roomie had suffered the same abuse at this woman’s hands. This is the sort of chaos you can expect if you live with an alcoholic or substance abuser, so save yourself the agony. These types will leave you emotionally exhausted and ready for Al-Anon and are not worth your inner peace.
2. Ask about noise since there is nothing worse than wanting to relax after a long day and having tons of loud neighbors or party people in your space.
In my last place, while I asked the roomie about her habits, she conveniently failed to mention that there was an illegal after hours spot right next door that got into full swing at 4 every morning and went till 10am! I hastily had that shut down but had I not, it would’ve been a living hell. In addition, I made the mistake of not noticing that there was a train line a mere half a block away. I spent a year drowning that out with a Dohm. So always ask about noise or pay the price in sleep later.
3. Note how potential roomies talk about and treat their pets.
I love all animals. But I went to view one apartment where the dog, while a wonderful creature, was chewing up its owner’s socks. This spelled t-r-o-u-b-l-e. A badly trained dog, that doesn’t listen to its owner, also will not listen to you. And witnessing, it chewing her socks made me envision my Laboutins gnarled beyond recognition! Who wants to have to play Ceasar Milan to someone else’s dog?
In addition, make sure that your roomie is a responsible pet owner. There is nothing worse than watching animals be abused and/or neglected by owners, who are never home or attentive and are too selfish to appreciate your care for them. If you smell the cat box, it’s the sign of a bad pet owner! Best to have your own.
4. Pick someone as close to your own personality as possible.
My last roommate was my complete opposite, which I initially found charming, but ultimately ended in tears. Find out upfront how a potential roommate feels about everything from late payments (hey, it happens to everyone, especially if you run a client based business or freelance) to sharing kitchen stuff to bathroom habits. I tend to work 17-hours a day almost 7 days a week, so I need a laid-back, quiet, stress free existence. A nine-to-fiver, who is an evening and weekend party warrior, doesn’t work for me. In addition, like every other editor I know, I have a room full of stuff in organized clutter. So people who are major neatniks don’t work for me. Identify your living style and make sure that it will mesh with your roommate’s, to avoid problems later on.
5. Carefully consider the layout of the apartment and imagine how you and the roommate will cohabitate in it.
I found one apartment that was really beautiful and in a great neighborhood, but the bedrooms were joined in a railroad style. I seriously considered it because the rooms had separate entrances. But then I re-thought it. Even though the entrances were separate, two beings would be living right on top of each other in adjoined rooms. And as I tend to work till 2am sometimes with the TV on, every noise would be heard. The best shares are apartments where the rooms are at opposite ends of the apartment with the kitchen and living room in the middle. Look for these, so you are not on top of each other.
6. Unless you are right out of college, avoid living with more than one person.
My search unveiled tons of really beautiful places. But they were being shared by 3 to 5 people! While it may be tempting to consider these sort of arrangements just to have the locale, I advise against it. Living with more than one person will be chaotic and is best left behind once you are over 30.
I know I certainly don’t want to be sharing a bathroom or a kitchen with tons of people. The very thought grosses me out!
7. Trust your gut and beware of weirdos. If it feels wrong, skip it!
There was an ad on Craigslist that raised flags as soon as I saw it! First warning sign was that it was posted a gabillion times, a sure sign that the person posting had issues or was desperate. But as my move out date was growing nearer and I hadn’t found a space, I decided to check this out. BIG MISTAKE!
The guy on the other end of the phone made Liberace seem straight! He was loud, bitchy, self absorbed and overly taken with himself. I knew from that one call that I could never live with his outsized personality. But somehow I rationalized that I should still go see the apartment since it looked big and inexpensive by NY standards. Well, I was in no way prepared for what came next!
The skinny: We trekked, (thank God a new friend was with me) all the way up to Inwood, to see this place even though I was pretty much already decided on the apartment I ultimately picked. We were running late, so I was met with tons of text and phone queries by the Craigslist weirdo.
When I finally arrived, I was totally spooked by the strange looking man who answered the door. “The Silence Of The Lambs” came immediately to mind! With a long thin ponytail that stopped mid-back and a high-pitched voice, this guy just felt strange. I was afraid to come in and definite that at no time would I let him get behind me!
Upon entering, the vibe got weirder. The apartment walls were adorned with all kinds of demons and daggers, which he explained away as his geeky Dungeons and Dragons obsession. He kept insisting that I tell him things about myself, but I was trying to get in and out, as soon as humanly possible. He became visibly annoyed when I refused to “sit with him and get to know each other.”
As I was scurrying out, he insisted he needed to show me the spare room, which creeped me out to the max! In another Silence of The Lambs twist, when he opened the door (where I was sure there were gonna be the dead bodies of other potential roomies) a sewing machine sat prominently on the table. A friend later commented that maybe that was where is sewed his skins!
I will NEVER AGAIN not trust my gut. While the story cracks everyone up, this guy had potential serial killer written all over him from that first phone call. Going into that situation alone was a truly stupid and unsafe thing to do.
8. And finally, no matter how much you care about a roommate, remember this is a temporary situation and this person is not your new bestie.
It can be tempting to be seduced by a new roommate into feeling like you are now instant best friends, especially if they seem cool. But it’s a bit like sleeping with a guy on the first date, it usually will end badly. While you are living together, you and your roommate are not joined in matrimony, so avoid being overly giving.
I learned this the hard way when I immediately spilled heart and soul to a roommate, telling her my Life story, giving daily updates on every detail of my work and personal Life and gifting her with hundreds of dollars worth of items. When she turned on me and gave up our home, I initially felt kicked in the gut and betrayed. But realized that she had never really reciprocated and just wanted someone to help her pay the bills.
You have your friends to spoil and confide in. Keep a certain amount of personal distance between you and your new roomie until you really know that she deserves to experience all the wonder of you.
Fortunately, I just found a great sublet where I will barely see the roomie as he lives around the corner with his girlfriend and he loves cats, so my new adventure begins this weekend! Stay tuned.
Epilogue: A week in and there were some unforeseen events, so I add these couple of tips:
A) If you are subletting, make sure the person actually makes room for your belongings. I moved in and there was not enough space made for my stuff, so I ended up having to put a ton of things in storage.
B) Make sure the building isn’t populated by trustefarian hipsters! While many landlords, especially in Brooklyn, are looking for young, white kids with guarantoring parents, they are actually the worst tenants to move into a building. They tend to be loud, arrogant, and completely disrespectful to the building, their neighbors, and the neighborhood because they are in no way invested or interested in making a home yet. So make sure to meet the neighbors and make absolutely sure they are WORKING PROFESSIONALS. No trust fund kids and on the other end of the spectrum no people, who are poor and at home. Both types tend to be loud and obnoxious as neighbors.