My First Apartment | Hunt is hard when roommate is on different page


(Reed Saxon/Associated Press)

Macy Freeman is chronicling her search for her first apartment in D.C. This is her second installment.

When we began our apartment hunt, my friend and I were optimistic about finding a place. We soon realized it would take more time than we imagined.

In addition to finding places that were out of our price range, we also found that many apartments we visited would have one bedroom that was significantly larger than the other — meaning one of us would be comfortable while the other would have to manage in a space more suitable for a child.

We were confident that living together was the best move for both of us. How did we know? We didn’t. Sometimes you never know someone until you’ve lived with that person and seen all of the little quirks and habits he or she may not show on a daily basis.

My friend and I have known each other since our first year at Howard University. Outside of school, people have often mixed us up, sometimes thinking we’re sisters. In some ways that’s easy to understand: We each occasionally wear glasses. We’re about the same height. We were next-door neighbors our freshman year at Howard, and we both studied journalism and photography there.

In other ways, we’re opposites: She’s from the South; I’m from the Midwest. We can both be perfectionists and easy-going but in different ways. I’m more of an old soul; she’s a little more energetic and playful. I’m a dog lover; she’s a cat lover.

Making sure we were on the same page became a challenge during our search. Our schedules made it hard for us to find the time to search together, and as soon as we began looking, it became clear that we had different perspectives. One of our main issues was my hesitation about places that seemed overpriced yet basic.

In one basement unit we looked at, the rooms to me looked like prison cells. One room had the tiniest window in the corner. My friend thought we should take it, but I knew I wouldn’t be comfortable long-term. Sure it may have worked as a temporary apartment, but I was trying to think about spending a year there.

Our housing sensibilities could be attributed to our different experiences. At Howard, I lived on campus, so I wasn’t used to budgeting around rent. She had stayed off campus for half of her time there, so she knew more about apartment hunting in D.C. Being a newbie to the whole process, I was so terrified of making the wrong choice, afraid of ending up in a sticky financial situation. I felt guilty that I was holding up the process, and I could tell she was getting discouraged.

There are plenty of horror stories about relationships ruined by co-habitation, friendships destroyed through little disagreements that turned into major blow-ups. If you’re looking for your first apartment, chances are there are plenty of people ready to tell you to be careful. Either they had a bad experience or know someone who has.

I’ve had my share of roommates throughout college and some experiences definitely worked out better than others. These experiences have shown me that whether you’re living with strangers or a good friend, living in harmony can take some extra effort. If you’re planning to live with friends, you want to be especially cautious. Before you decide to move in with someone, it’s important to have a conversation about how you and your potential roommate or roommates want living together to be.

Here are four talking points:

Search for an apartment together. Split up the work. Try to decide on a geographical area that works out for everyone involved. You want to keep the process going, so also try setting goals.

You and your potential roomie could agree to find a certain number of  apartments every week, taking turns calling and setting appointments. Keep a spreadsheet of the apartments you visited detailing what you all liked about them and what you didn’t like. If you didn’t know what you were looking for in the beginning, this will help you come up with a checklist for future searches.

Understanding your differences. If you’ve known your friend for a while, this might seem like something you already have down pat, but keep in mind that not everyone is meant to live together. Just because you and your friend have similar interests and tastes does not mean you’re ready to live under the same roof.

You and your roommate don’t have to be exactly the same — in fact, you can be completely different, but the only way this works is if there’s mutual respect and appreciation.

If you’re a neat freak, be a neat freak. But just because you need all the labels in the refrigerator facing forward doesn’t mean your roommate will follow suit. The space is bound to be messy from time to time, so let go of your need to be in control (just a little).

If on the other hand, the closest you come to being neat is putting your clothes back in drawers — folded or not — make an extra effort to keep shared spaces in good shape. Your tidy housemate will thank you for it. The space should be a balanced reflection of everyone living there.

Divvy up chores. Coming up with a schedule for your weekly “to-dos” is just about the easiest way to divide up housework. And because you and your roommate will probably feel like cleaning at different times, it’s smart to have this figured out from the beginning. Post the schedule somewhere everyone can see it.

Talk about talking. You could consider setting a regular time, maybe once a month, to talk about any issues anyone is having. Dropping hints isn’t always the best solution, so be direct.

The truth is a lot of us struggle with this. It seems a lot easier to just bite your tongue and let things go, right? The ability to pick and choose your battles is a clear sign of maturity, but you have a right to be comfortable in the space, so speak up and be honest. Unexpressed feelings have a way of coming back with a vengeance.

My friend and I finally talked about issues with our search. I explained to her my initial hesitation. She said that helped her to understand what I was feeling. If I could start over, I would have initiated that frank discussion a lot sooner.

With that issue resolved, it was on to the next one: finding the right place.

Macy L. Freeman is an editorial aide for the Weekend/Going Out Guide section at The Washington Post.
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