New Yorkers pay almost 60 percent of their income on rent. That’s why so many New Yorkers want a roommate to share costs. If you’re already living in New York you know how the roommate game works. But if you’re new to the city, finding a roommate can be daunting. Here’s what to do.
Situation 1: Need roommate and apartment
In this scenario, you will need to first find a roommate you like and then together find an apartment you both like. Devote about a month to finding a roommate(s) and then together, another a month to finding an apartment.
- You can be flexible with your move-in date
- You have more control over your living situation
- You can choose exactly what you want
- You will pay a lot of cash upfront (i.e., first month’s rent, security deposit and broker’s fee)
- You will be tied to a lease
- You might end up with a roommate you don’t like
Situation 2: Need vacant room in an already-leased apartment
This scenario is very common in New York in which apartments have a rotating cast of roommates as people come and go with great frequency. It’s also a great way to reduce the financial burden of moving to and living in New York City. Most likely you will only have to pay your share of the first month’s rent and take over the security deposit from the person moving out. That means you won’t have to pay a broker’s fee, which can cost anywhere from 12-15% of the annual rent of the apartment.
- Less cash outlay upfront (i.e., do not need to pay broker’s fee)
- Not tied to a lease
- Usually already furnished and set up (e.g., kitchen wares, wifi, heat)
- No control over existing design/layout
- You are the new person in an established living situation
If you go with this approach, you can probably find a place in a month.
Finding a roommate: The good. The bad. The ugly.
Although there are some roommate-matching websites, most people rely on word of mouth, mass email, Facebook or Craigslist as their main modes to get the word out about a roommate. If you have a robust network of people who are responsive and able to connect you with potential roommates, reaching out to them via email or Facebook is a reliable route.
Although Craiglist can seem like the Wild West, it does have some advantages. Your pool of people is much greater, which is good if your own contact network is limited and if you are working with a limited time frame. You’re bound to receive many more responses on Craigslist than you will from your own network. To reduce the influx of responses, be specific with your posting and clearly state the following:
- Your gender, approximate age
- Your employment status
- Your current living situation
- Any personal preferences you have for roommates (gender, age, pets, hours kept, lifestyle, smoking)
- Move-in date
- Desired apartment location
It goes without saying that you will be doing some Facebook, Google and LinkedIn stalking on whoever contacts you – no matter where you find them. Expect that they will do the same of you. Often people will include a link to their Facebook or LinkedIn profile in their Craigslist postings as a means of introducing themselves. You will have to determine for yourself the limits of what you are comfortable posting.
How to assess looking for roommates
In addition to the reliable gut check, here is a list of things to look for when assessing a potential roommate:
- The quality of the photos and the description matters. Do the photos look like a place you want to live? Are they in focus? Does the description sound like it was written by a person who cares about where and with whom they live? If the posting sounds like a scam, sketchy or too good to be true, it probably is.
- ‘420-friendly’ means smoking weed is accepted and likely to be a frequent activity at the apartment. It’s OK to feel like a noob if you didn’t get the code.
- Have a boilerplate response that you can tailor to the specific listing with a couple of sentences about yourself and your interest in the apartment or roommate.
- To keep track of which roommate ad corresponds to which email thread, enter the headline of the ad in the subject line of your email. Then, copy and paste the link to the listing at the bottom of your initial message. You will invariably have multiple threads about multiple apartments going on at once, it’s bound to get confusing. Having the link to the original message is a good way to keep on top of things and useful for easy reference.
Meeting roommates and viewing apartments
- After making initial contact and corresponding about your potential living situation, you should have a sense of whether there’s a possibility for compatibility. The next step is to meet in person. But, if you are apprehensive about meeting in-person or visiting an apartment based on your communication, that’s a red flag and you should probably not bother.
- Don’t be surprised if you’re invited to attend an open house. To save time, many people who are listing a vacant room for occupancy will hold an open house instead of setting up individual meetings with potential roommates. If you find yourself at one, pretend you’re at a housewarming party. Feel comfortable showing yourself around the apartment. Of course, if a door is closed, though, do not open it. Mingle with the other guests. Say hello and introduce yourself to your potential roommates.
- Remember to market yourself. Regardless of the circumstances of meeting your potential roommate – whether it’s at an open house, a one-on-one meeting at the apartment or meeting a roommate to join your search at a coffee shop – you want to make the best impression. No, this isn’t a job interview, but the meeting is all about sizing one another up and seeing if the fit is right on both sides.
- If you are meeting at the apartment, it doesn’t hurt to compliment it. Mention details that you like or that are indicative of common interests. For example, is there a Matisse calendar hanging in the kitchen? Why, yes there is! And didn’t you see that fantastic exhibit a while back on Matisse and don’t you just love his cut-outs? Noticing details and honing in on them could lead to great conversations or they could lead to a dead end. They could reveal a perfect fit or an awkward mismatch – either way it’s good to know!
- Don’t be surprised if you are asked about your financial stability. Although you will not be as scrutinized as intensely as you would be if you were applying to an apartment, your potential roommates may want to know about your employment history and may want to know about your sources of income. It’s unlikely that you will need reference letters or formal documentation, but be prepared to have a casual conversation about the topic.
- Know when it’s time to leave. Of course, the point is that this apartment feels like home or that this person is someone who you feel entirely at ease with and could gab with for hours, but let’s be real. There’s nothing more awkward then lingering in someone else’s home unsure how and when to make your exit. One simple strategy is to make a set plan for yourself an hour or so after you meet. For example, schedule a date with a friend someplace nearby. That way, if the meeting went well, good–bye becomes an enthusiastic “So good meeting you, I love the place and am very interested. A friend and I are meeting for a drink so I’ve got to head out, but you’re welcome to join us if you’d like!” If the meeting was miserable, good-bye becomes a quick and easy, “I’ll be in touch about what I decide on the apartment, but I’ve got to run now.”
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