The fact is many of us can’t afford to live alone–at least not in places we want to live. Roommates hold the promise of cost and space efficient living; they may even be a way of making new friends. They also hold the possibility of living in some pretty crappy situations: living with slobs, deadbeats, Chatty Cathies, etc. These situations can make us dread going to the one place that’s supposed to our refuge.

While there are a number of professional roommate-matching services, the vast majority of us DIY it on Craigslist or reaching out to our personal networks. Whether you are looking for someone to move in with you, or are looking to move in with one or more people, a little bit of planning and forethought go a long way. Here are ten tips we suggest for creating a happy, functioning roommate situation:

11 Steps for Choosing the Right Roommate

  1. Think ahead. If there’s one factor that leads to more horrible living situations than any other, it’s haste. You find yourself needing a place to live yesterday, and suddenly you are rationalizing living with the guy who can’t stop talking about his pet boa constrictor. And while many good people find themselves on their ass needing a place to live ASAP, as a rule, people who plan ahead, seeking out their roommates a month or two in advance, are also the kind of people who pay their bills on time and are considerate to the people they live with.
  2. Get habituated. Find out how your prospective roommate(s) live. Do they watch a lot of TV? Stay home all the time? Never home? Like hanging out? Like being alone? Work all of the time? Like loud music? Hates loud music? Vegan? Partiers? And so on. Get as much information as possible before you move in together. No one will be a perfect match, but honestly ask yourself if, on balance, these habits are things you can live with.
  3. Pay attention to the details. Looking for a potential roommate is like dating–only more intimate. Don’t dismiss the red flags. Look and listen for tip-offs for how the other party lives. If you’re at their place, are there dirty dishes in the sink? Excessive beer cans in the trash? More than one game counsel attached to the TV? Did the prospective roommate bring up his/her jealous ex-more than three times during your interview? Maybe these things are coincidences, but probably not. If you notice more than a couple of red flags, chances are these things will get worse with time and exposure.
  4. Come clean. Few things can be as contentious as cleaning habits, as everyone has a different idea of what constitutes clean. Do you expect your house to be spotless and tidy all of the time? Are you okay with a little clutter? Are you a slob? There is no right way of living, but it’s important people’s habits are similar. If you’re trying to assess how clean someone is in an interview, ask about his/her cleaning habits. If she says “it’s not a big deal,” she is probably pretty messy. If he suggests a regular cleaning schedule or splitting the cost of a housecleaner (a very good idea), he is probably a neatnik. People can have different politics and tastes and live felicitously together, but if you have mismatched cleaning habits, forget about it.
  5. Money talks. Besides dirty dishes, money matters can strain an otherwise happy roommate situation. Get with your prospective roommate about every bill, the portion expected to pay estimated monthly amounts. Get reasonable assurance that all parties have the ability to pay for said bills (employed roommates tend to be preferred). This is a good time to bring up food costs. Some roommates are okay with sharing food and food costs, but many are not. Get clear how you want to handle that.
  6. Friends are good…sometimes. Just because your good friend needs someone to live with, it doesn’t mean it should be you. Many friendships have been destroyed after living together. Treat your friend as you would anyone else–honestly evaluating whether he/she would be compatible with your lifestyle.
  7. Do a background check. This might seem a bit cold, but the fact is unless you’ve known someone for a while, their history can be quite iffy. Running a credit report or criminal background check can help ensure you’re not moving in with an unsavory character. If someone objects, particularly to a credit check, you might ask yourself why.
  8. Find a space that works. Apartments where autonomy is possible–e.g. large bedrooms to retreat into–tend to work best in roommate situations. This is not always possible or needed–many roommates are never home and having a ton of space is irrelevant. Just try to find a space that works with your respective lifestyles.
  9. Determine how the place is decorated. This is usually pretty straightforward; the person with the apartment to move into will usually provide furnishing. If you are particular about your décor, let it be known up front.
  10. The finer points. If you’re moving into an unknown space, think of all possible things that can go wrong: Roaches and bedbugs (particularly in big cities), neighbor and street noise, superintendent responsiveness, any back bills…whatever you can think of, ask.
  11. Sign on the dotted line. When you’ve found someone you think you can live with, put as many of the terms in writing (there are many standard forms available online). Informality and vagueness never pay.

What would you add to this list? Let us know in our comments section.