Finding a group house roommate: How to get the right fit

September 4
From left, Lora Margolina, Lilavati Campbell, Delia Dreher and Maggie McAdam wanted a new roommate who would fit in at their group house in Adelphi, Md. (Teddy Wolff/for Express)
From left, Lora Margolina, Lilavati Campbell, Delia Dreher and Maggie McAdam wanted a new roommate who would fit in at their group house in Adelphi, Md. (Teddy Wolff/for Express)

When rooms opened up recently in their five-bedroom house in Adelphi, Md., Lilavati Campbell and her housemates made a wish list: They wanted someone post-college, fun, chill, a wine lover … and preferably vegetarian or vegan.

“I’m really passionate about animal rights,” says Campbell, 25, a grad student. “That’s something I was really looking for in housemates.” (Of the five housemates, two are vegan, two rarely eat meat and one is pescatarian.)

Every group house in the D.C. area has its own unique dynamic — often not-so-scientifically referred to as a “vibe.” And once your group house finds the right mix of people for that vibe, which can take years, you’ll want to keep it that way.

Here are a few tips for pitching your group house in a way that will appeal to the right renter.

Be (fairly) specific

When you post an ad for an inexpensive room in a group house, you’ll likely get lots of responses. The key is getting the right ones.

Campbell knew her available $520 bedroom near a huge university would be popular, so in her Craigslist ad, she was specific about her house culture and what they wanted in a new roommate.

“My first line of attack of weeding people out is put up a specific ad,” she says.

If something is a big deal in your house — like vegetarianism or green living — be upfront about it, she says.

But beware of being too proscriptive. “If it has too many requirements or too much information, I think people get frightened off,” she says. In her ad, for instance, she avoids words like “strict” when referring to her vegan lifestyle.

Jill Blankespoor, 38, who lives at and manages a six-bedroom, visual arts-focused group house in Petworth known as “Thug Mansion,” is also specific in her ads, and expects specifics about the prospective tenant and what kind of art they do, in response.

“If they’re one-line responses, I won’t respond at all,” Blankespoor says. “Leave a paragraph about yourself and what you’re looking for.”

At Lamont Street Collective, a group house in Mt. Pleasant with a culture of art and social activism, their posts highlight their mission of community investment.

Advertise creatively

Advertising in clever ways also might help find the right fit.

At Lamont Street Collective, they’ve advertised openings on Facebook and Twitter, or even at public art “salons” they throw at the house, where they hang fliers with QR codes to the online application.

“We utilize every channel possible,” says housemate Marzena Zukowska, 24, who works at a nonprofit in D.C. Blankespoor also advertises rooms on an “intentional communities” website, and — because the house also includes artists’ studio space — on DC Space Finder, a site for finding arts venues and facilities.

Allow plenty of time

When a room is opening up, give yourselves plenty of time to find a replacement, says Campbell, who started advertising in April for a room that was opening up in August.

When you rush, “there’s a tendency to freak out and make the wrong decision,” she says. “Give yourself enough time to be choosy.”

Consider what you’ll do if you don’t find the right fit immediately. At Thug Mansion, where rooms rent for $400 to $500, if they don’t find a good fit in time, they’ll rent out a room for the month through Airbnb or leave it vacant, Blankespoor says.

When Campbell posts an ad online, she gets anywhere from 10 to 30 replies but only one in 10 people might pique her interest. She renews the ad a few times to give herself options, though she tries not to keep people waiting more than a few days or a week tops.

Campbell and Blankespoor say they usually do one or two rounds of interviews. At Lamont Street Collective, applicants fill out an online application before the in-person interviews.

Ultimately, though, “when you meet someone, just trust your gut,” Campbell says.

Related story: What’s your group house personality?

Perfect pitch: Here are excerpts from ads the group houses we spoke to posted as they hunted for the right renters.

Veg-friendly: “We are locals and friends who love things like wine, funny tv, going to shows, DC, UMD, outdoor sports and generally just working hard and having fun. Vegans and vegetarians are encouraged to apply! We are mostly veg/vegan animal lovers and would love if we found some like-minded, conscious living roomies :).”

Arts house: “Thug mansion is a visual arts collective that offers share studio space and supplies to emerging artists who work in all forms of wet and dry media, screenprinting, mosaics, handbuilding and found sculpture. … The house is dedicated to making live/work studio space affordable, cooperative, and sustainable for emerging artists.”

Community-focused: “We are looking for someone who is interested in art, activism, and community work. We host a good amount of events, so we want someone who is really interested in helping with this. We also want a person who will commit to being a part of the collective living process and help make the [Lamont Street Collective] a better place to live.”

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