You've decided to move this summer. And why not? Half the country seems to do that this time of year. But first you have to find a new pad.
You scour the classifieds and land an awesome place to live, but then reality sets in. You're young, you're poor, the Mom and Dad money pipeline is dried up, and you can't afford to live alone.
You know no one in your new city. You need roommates. You think back to the '80s TV show "Three's Company" and envision finding a trio like Suzanne Somers (Chrissy), Joyce De Witt (Janet) and John Ritter (Jack), the gems of roommates, the ideal living situation. So you suck it up and begin the search.
What's the best approach to try to find those perfect living companions? How do you avoid ending up living with people who think mold growing on dishes is a perfectly healthy way to live?
Well, since New York seems to be the place to be these days, perhaps that's the best place to consult. How do those savvy folks screen out the freaks? For one guy I met, the gatekeeper to a sweet pad, the answer was magnificently simple. Use a survey. I mean, we happily fill out questionnaires about our favorite deodorant, if we prefer olive oil or vegetable, what kind of toilet paper we like, without thinking twice, so a survey seems like the perfect answer to finding compatible roomies.
My cousin Michael Hurley told me about his friend at work who had created the ultimate survey and said I had to see it. So I called up Bill Previdi and got the story. Previdi's a senior art director at an ad agency in New York. He had to find a roommate to share one of four bedrooms in a loft duplex in Tribeca. Rent was $525 a month, which by NYC standards basically translates to free. Previdi says they put an ad in a local paper and were, no surprise at those prices, inundated with hopefuls.
"Everything from unemployed students to a 49-year-old professional ad guy, but he had a pet parrot so he was out," he says.
Previdi says it was his idea to do a survey and he also came up with the questions. He sent me a copy along with several of the candidates' responses. Previdi says of the 98 people that showed up for their two-day open house, only two refused to fill out the survey. He said he and his other roommates probably wouldn't have wanted to live with those people anyway.
Previdi says he picked topics that had a variety of options so the candidates couldn't tell what the "right" answer was.
Two of my favorite survey queries:
1. I am:
a pack-a-day smoker
a half-a-pack-a-day smoker
an "only-when-I-drink" smoker
a social smoker who doesn't smoke in the house
a quivering mess because I just quit smoking
an ex-smoker who can't stand the smell of it anymore
a nonsmoker who doesn't give a *!!?#%
a nonsmoker who would rather not have someone smoking in my house, but I can deal with it
a militant anti-smoker who can't even be in a bar when there's smoking
2. You MUST choose one of the following statements, which of them resonates with you most closely:
Work is the scourge of the drinking class.
Once upon a time there were three little girls . . .
I want to be a part of it, New York, New York . . .
Form of an eagle! Shape of an ice javelin!
If debauchery is the coin of the realm, I can make change.
This illustrates what a great tool a survey can be in figuring who you can and want to live with. I mean, if you don't smoke and your roommate-to-be lights up every 10 minutes and owns stock in Marlboro, a survey is an efficient, polite way to find that out, especially if you have hundreds of people trying to claw their way into your rockin' apartment.
Previdi says using a survey is the way to go because "in the past we have had people come over, you stare at the person and barrage them with questions and it's really uncomfortable. We thought a survey would help tell prospects about us, too . . . our senses of humor."
Be forewarned, though: Surveys aren't the only tool to use. Sometimes just a visual can help you figure out who to nix.
Consider a note scribbled on one of Previdi's surveys about one of their prospects: "She had just shaved her head and the nicks were still bleeding through the bandanna she wore!"
How really over-the-top/competitive is the rental market in New York City? Previdi says people were so desperate that in addition to writing "please pick me!" on their surveys, some even offered bribes.
"One guy, his Dad taught piano, so he brought us a tape, `How to Learn Piano in 90 Easy Steps.' Someone else offered us $300 per person, but we didn't feel like it was fair."
And, oh yeah, Previdi says they did end up finding a great new roommate. So start thinking up those survey questions!