I remember my first experience living with someone outside my family. It was my first year of college, and I was so excited to be taking on a new adventure. Before I could move into the dorms, I sat down at my computer to complete my "roommate matching profile."
Submit. And that was it. I was ready for the university's algorithms to match me with the perfect roommate and future best friend.
It doesn't take a psychic to know what's coming next...I did not find the perfect roommate nor did I find my future best friend. Although I did find out how long a bucket of chicken lasts sitting next to someone's bed (spoiler: not long.)
Thankfully, though, my experience with my first roommate helped me figure out what I was looking for (and NOT looking for) with my next potential roommate and probably vice versa.
Why is housemate compatibility important?
Living with roommates or housemates can make or break your living experience. If you're living in your dream apartment but really dislike the person(s) you're sharing it with, then will it feel like home? Probably not.
Doing your due diligence while on your search for a new roommate can help you create mutually respectful ground rules and create roommate agreements that make sense for your individual living situation. Best of all, effort in your search can find areas of compatibility or incompatibility your potential housemate.
Compatibility doesn't mean that you and your new roommate are the same or have to become future best friends. You can love different things, be personality opposites, and choose to spend your time differently. What's important is that you share the same thoughts and opinions about what will allow you to live your best life at home.
So you've found potential housemates ... now what?
Before you commit to anything, ask them to grab a coffee if they're living in the same area or for a video chat. The goal of your chat is to ask the potential housemate a series of important questions to evaluate if they're a good match for you and identify any red flags or deal-breakers before you start living together.
The Interview, it doesn't have to be scary
Interviewing a potential roomie can be as anxiety-ridden as interviewing for a job. After all, the outcome of this roommate interview could be the person you're sharing a living space and roommate relationship with. Preparing for this interview could be as simple as collecting a list of questions that are important to you in a good roommate. These questions will be helpful to identify common interests and living themes, ultimately determining the right match for you.
Question 1: "What does clean mean to you?"
Being a clean person is completely subjective. To prevent future disputes, you and your future roomie need to be on the same page about what you consider "clean." Consider:
- Do you mind a little clutter?
- Are you 100% against dishes left in the sink?
- How often do you take out the trash?
- Do you have a schedule for cleaning the house — especially common areas like the kitchen and living room — or do you prefer that it be cleaned as you go?
Question 2: "Speaking of cleaning, how do you feel about chores and what are your expectations of chores?"
Some people love to do dishes. I'm not saying I'm one of them, but I know they exist. While you should be willing to do any chore (#adulting), finding a housemate that likes — or doesn't mind — to do chores you can't stand could help you find balance in your household. (Shoutout to my former roommate Emily for washing probably every dish we ever used without complaint. You a real one.) You can ask specifically:
- How do you feel that chores and housework should be split?
- How would you like to be addressed about housework and chores?
- What does your chore schedule look like?
- What are some chores that you hate to do?
- Are there any chores that you love to do?
- If cleaning is not your thing, would you be willing to pitch in for a cleaning service?
Question 3: "What's your work and weekday schedule?"
If you get up at 8 a.m. every day, you're going to struggle if you have to share a bathroom with someone else who also gets up at 8 a.m. and is trying to shower at the same time you are. If you get up at 8 a.m., but your potential housemate is a traveling nurse who's on a night shift work schedule, your opposite schedules might create some tension since someone will always be sleeping. And if they're a digital nomad or working for a fully remote company (hi, Faros!), acknowledge that they could be spending a LOT of time in the house.
Question 4: "Do you have pets?"
Some people have had bad experiences with pets in the past, might be severely allergic, or might absolutely love all animals. Knowing if your potential housemate has a pet could help you immediately decide "yes" or "no" for that person.
Question 5: "How do you feel about guests and visitors?"
Some people prefer their homes to be an escape from the outside world where they can find peace and quiet, while others have an open-door policy and want to entertain friends every night of the week. Significant others and visitors who stay more than a few days also deserve a talking point. While some roommates are supportive of overnight guests, others may not be as excited to share their home with someone other than their roommate. Figuring out which type of person you are and how often you want guests — whether your own or your housemate's — will play a big role in how you get along with each other.
Question 6: "What's your preferred home temperature?"
Do you like the temperature of your place to resemble Antarctica on a "warm" day, or are you more of a 74º type of renter? A thermostat war is one of the most passive-aggressive and common types of feuds between housemates. Finding someone compatible with your temperature needs will help you avoid conflicts with your housemates (and also avoid potentially high energy bills).
Question 7: "Do you consider yourself an early bird or a night owl"?
If your idea of a good time is a late-night murder mystery marathon, your worst nightmare might be waking up at the break of dawn to your roommate bouncing around with their morning cup of joe, singing Disney songs and talking to woodland creatures. Some people want to live with people whose habits match theirs, while others enjoy living with their habitual opposite.
Question 8: "What do your weekends look like?"
Since we're talking about lifestyle habits, your weekend habits are important to your relationship with your housemates, too. Consider:
- What do you do on the weekends? (Raging, etc?)
- Do you smoke marijuana or cigarettes? If so, how often?
- Do you drink? If so, how often?
- What do you prefer to do in your free time?
- Are you into video games? If so, what type?
- What does "alone time" look like for you?
Question 9: "Have you been arrested before? Do you have a criminal record?"
Okay, I know. This is awkward. But if it's important to you, you need to ask. Having that nagging thought at the back of your mind causing you to worry will not enable you to live comfortably in a new place. Like a good relationship, be honest and be up front about why you want to know. And if you have a record, be upfront about that, too.
Question 10: "What are your individual pet peeves?"
Much like asking about how a person handles conflict, asking what bothers them will help you determine if they're a good fit. If you are irked when people leave cupboard doors open or dirty dishes in the sink, maybe your potential housemate is too. Something that seriously irks you might not bother them at all ... but you won't know about it unless you ask.
Don't know where to start when asking about pet peeves? Start with this list.
Questions now, happiness later
Living with a housemate or two (or five if you live in San Francisco) doesn't have to be a nightmare. The key to having the dream living situation is being able to communicate with them and talk about needs and wants when it comes to your home. These questions for potential housemates and roommates are a great place for you to start the conversations that can guide the rest of your stay together (or let you know if you immediately need to decline them).