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Is Getting a Roommate the Right Choice for Lowering Your Rent? 8 Things to Think About Before Cosigning a Lease

If you’re a renter, there’s a good chance your paycheck isn’t stretching as far as it used to—or even as far as it needs to for you to keep a roof over your head. According to an eye-opening recent report from Harvard, the rental market is less affordable than it’s ever been: Half of U.S. renters spend 30 percent of their income on rent, and almost 3 in 10 spend more than 50 percent.

            Jonas Bordo, CEO and cofounder of Dwellsy, says it’s no surprise that more cost-burdened renters of a certain age (i.e., those who predate Gen Z) are begrudgingly considering a solution they thought they’d left behind long ago: bunking up with a roommate.

            “In your early 20s, living with a roommate seems normal and expected—but when you’re a little older, it just feels different,” admits Bordo, coauthor along with Hannah Hildebolt of Everything You Need to Know About Renting But Didn’t Know to Ask: All the Insider Dirt to Help You Get the Best Deal and Avoid Disaster (Matt Holt, August 2023, ISBN: 978-1-6377439-2-8, $21.95). “We get set in our ways, and it can be tough to go from enjoying our own space to having to share. Still, if you approach it with the right mindset, you may find it’s not bad at all.”

            For example: You may find that pooling two (or more) incomes enables you to live in an apartment with more space or more amenities, or one that’s in a more desirable location. For the first time in a while, you might even be able to funnel some money toward savings, paying down debt, or—let’s get really crazy!—ordering an appetizer and a dessert with dinner!

            Still, don’t take the “Whom should I live with?” decision lightly. Carefully consider your needs, preferences, and non-negotiables before adding another person to your lease.  

           “Your quality of life is better when you and your roommate are compatible,” says Bordo. “You may even get some great memories and a good friend out of the deal. But if you jump into an arrangement without thinking it through, your lease might feel more like a prison sentence.”

          With several decades’ experience as a renter, landlord, property manager, and current CEO of the largest U.S. rental marketplace, Bordo is a trusted authority on all things rental-related. His book is a comprehensive guide to help people “win” at renting. It covers the entire process, from preparing for the rental search to getting your security deposit back after your lease is up, and includes valuable information on finding, screening, and living with a roommate.

           Here, he suggests eight things to consider during your roommate search:


How well do I need to know my roommate? Is it important that you know and trust your roommate before moving in with them? Or are you willing to look at a shared rental as more of a business arrangement with a likeminded stranger?


“If you don’t have a candidate in mind, you can look for roommates on social media groups,” says Bordo. “Some are neighborhood-specific, and others help people find roommates who share certain traits, like being LGBTQIA+ or being from the same marginalized race. There are also different websites and apps that match potential roommates, sometimes for a subscription fee.”


How might we split the rent? “You don’t necessarily have go the 50/50 route,” Bordo points out. “Maybe the person with the master suite or home office pays more. Or perhaps one roommate pays less in exchange for doing the grocery shopping and cooking most of the meals.


“If you’re interested in a less-conventional financial arrangement, carefully think through the details before you present it to your prospective roommate,” he adds. Note to Editor: See attached tipsheet for ideas on how to create a roommate agreement.


How much social interaction do I need? If you’re an introvert, you’ll want to look for a roommate who will give you some space. If you’re more of an extrovert, you may want a roommate who will be up for drinks, dinner, and Netflix after work.   


“Some people find that having a roommate is a real boost to their mood and mental well-being; others absolutely need time alone to recharge,” points out Bordo. “It’s best to put some thought into your social preferences before moving in with another person. Keep in mind that while you’ll presumably have your own bedrooms, you may be sharing all other spaces.”   


What kind of housekeeper am I? Bordo is not suggesting you find a roommate (room-maid?) who will clean up after you. He is suggesting that you look honestly at your housekeeping preferences and consider how they might mesh with another person’s.


“If you’re a neat freak, will it bother you if another person leaves mail out on the counter?” he asks. “If you thrive in a more chaotic environment, are you willing to put a few more chores on your roster? Housekeeping is at the root of some of the most acrimonious roommate feuds I’ve encountered. The good news is, if you and your roommate can agree on what chores should be done and how to divide them, you’ll each have less work to do than if you lived alone.”


How sensitive am I to noise (and visitors, and privacy, and unpredictable schedules…)? “It doesn’t matter if my roommate is loud sometimes; I’ll just turn on a sound machine.” Or, “Sharing a bathroom with this person I just met won’t be THAT big a deal.” Or, “Of course I don’t mind if your girlfriend spends the night!” File all of these statements under “famous last roommate words.”


“When you are living in fairly close quarters with another human, it’s not as easy to brush things off as you may have thought,” says Bordo. “Think about what things might be a compatibility issue for you, and identify any must-haves and dealbreakers before moving in together.”


How well does this apartment align with our needs? If you’re contemplating moving to a new rental, choosing the right place can be as important as roommate compatibility. Is the kitchen big enough for two people to move around in? If your roommate regularly wakes up earlier, will the sound of the shower disturb you? Is there enough storage space for both of your possessions?


“Your physical space has a big impact on quality of life,” says Bordo. “When possible, take the time to find a place that will work for both parties.”


What are my decorating preferences…and whose furniture will we use? Décor probably isn’t as high a priority as, say, hygiene or privacy. But this is your home, so it needs to feel comfortable and welcoming for both parties. A maximalist and a minimalist might not be destined for roomie nirvana…but perhaps you could negotiate that she hang her horror movie posters only in her bedroom in exchange for keeping your treasured clown figurines in yours. 


“Having a roommate is a fantastic way to furnish and decorate an apartment,” Bordo points out. “But when two people who already own a household’s worth of stuff pool their possessions, your rental can get overcrowded—fast. Before moving in, be sure to discuss things like whose couch you’ll use, and what the other person will do with their extraneous furniture.”


How comfortable am I with communicating my needs and having tough conversations? Even if you and your roommate get along well, you won’t see eye to eye on everything. Some of the other person’s habits will annoy you (and vice versa). It’s crucial to address small issues before they become big ones, and to hold your boundaries if there is a major disagreement.


“Few things are worse than living in silent anxiety or resentment,” says Bordo. “If you’re going to live with someone else, you should be prepared to ask them—kindly and respectfully—to please wipe out the bathroom sink after shaving or to stop eating your labeled food.”


            If there’s an incompatibility in most of these areas, it can often be resolved, or at least lived with, until the lease is up. What you literally can’t afford to compromise on is finances.

           “If your roommate can’t, or won’t, meet their share of the rent and other expenses, guess who is on the hook?” says Bordo. “Talking about money can be difficult and awkward, but you must determine up front if your roommate is able and willing to pony up.

            “Beyond that, my advice is to keep your expectations realistic and extend some grace to the other person,” he concludes. “There’s no such thing as a ‘perfect’ roommate—but with a little understanding and consideration from both sides, you can most likely make it work.”


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