The Roommate Checklist

By Andrea N. Browne Staff Writer
Friday, October 20, 2006; 1:17 PM

Finding the right person to share an apartment or home with can be difficult. It's extremely important to be able to trust your cohabitant, and it can take time to get used to a complete stranger.

To protect yourself and others from future stress -- or worse -- it's wise to pick your roommates carefully.

With that in mind, here are some tips and advice from shared-living experts that can help you find the perfect roommate.

  • Know what you want. Before you start interviewing people, it's important to have an idea of what you do and don't want in a roommate. "There's an entire realm which focuses on compatibility," says Adrienne Wicker, assistant director of off-campus housing services for the University of Maryland at College Park.

    It boils down to common sense: "If you're a non-smoker," she says, "it probably isn't wise to share an apartment with someone who does." Such behavioral aspects can turn out to be as important as personality traits once you're spending every day together.

  • Use your network. Tap into your circle of friends to help spread the word about your search, says Frederick Hertz, attorney and co-author of "Living Together: A Legal Guide for Unmarried Couples" (NOLO Press, 2006). Ideally, your friends will connect you with someone who's trustworthy and that they would want to live with themselves, he says.

  •  Check the facts. Make sure your potential roommate is legit. "Safety issues are an important part of the selection process," says Wicker, who recommends asking for references from former roommates. Hertz suggests taking it up another notch by requesting landlord referrals, as former roommates may not always be forthcoming about others' payment history and past disputes with landlords -- especially if they're still friends.

  • Mind money matters. Since you'll be splitting the household expenses, says Hertz, it's necessary to know whether or not a person can foot the bill. Hertz advises roommate seekers get a sense of a potential roommate's finances by asking the following questions: How long have you been with your current employer? What's your credit rating? Do your spending habits match your income?

    It may seem odd to ask the later, Hertz admits, but there's a point: "If you're interviewing someone and he drives up in a $40,000 car, but works as a waiter, that could be a warning sign."

  • Get professional. Hertz and Wicker both suggest treating the search process like an interview and being mindful of the following: Is the person neatly dressed? Did they show up late to meet with you? Would you hire them? Small items like this can offer insight about a person's character, suggests Wicker, adding context to the factual information you've gathered during other steps in the process.

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