New York City apartments have never been cheap, and roommates are an obvious way to help cut down on rent payments. In fact, a recent study by listings site RentHop found that sharing a two-bedroom apartment is financially smarter than getting a one bedroom by yourself. Of the cities compared, New York ranked third, with a 38 percent median price savings.
So if you’re going the roommate route, obviously it's best to learn as much as you possibly can about the person you're considering living with. Even if you know the individual(s), issues do come up with roommates that may not be a big deal if you were just friends hanging out occasionally. Behold Brick Underground's (updated) roommate questionnaire, with 21 queries that will get at the heart of a potential roommate's lifestyle without being unnecessarily intrusive, or downright offensive.
[Editor's note: An earlier version of this story was published in 2016. We have updated it with new information for August 2018 and are presenting it again here as part of our summer Best of Brick week.]
1. How often do you clean?
Cleanliness—or lack thereof—is one of the biggest sources of conflict for roommates. Rather than simply asking them if they're clean or not—since few people will admit to being slobs—inquire instead about how often they clean. Ask them which chores they like and which ones they loathe. And tell them your habits, too. Honesty is key here: It doesn't really matter if you're a slob; it only matters that you have similar styles.
“Get a schedule down for who is cleaning what and where in the apartment and when,” says Nina Furseth, engagement and corporate communications analyst for RentHop. “It’s important to respect all roommates, and not everyone likes a mess.”
You may also want to ask whether they'd be up for investing in a professional cleaning service.
2. What do you do on the weekends?
This is a good one to determine if you have shared interests and, more importantly, whether your future roomie is a party animal or a homebody. (No judgments either way.) This question will get your potential roommate talking—and may alert you to any personal deal breakers (like, say, a tuba lover who practices in the early morning).
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3. Do you like to have friends over or keep the party outside?
This is a polite way to figure out whether they plan to invite guests to your place every night of the week and turn your place into party central. If you're studying for the bar or are in med school, pub hoppers may be better.
“Quite often we work with clients moving specifically because they can’t stand having other people in their apartment without their roommate having asked for approval,” says Mike Jeneralczuk, CEO and founder of Undorm, which specializes in finding apartments for college students and young professionals.
4. Do you smoke?
Living with a smoker—whether pot or cigarettes—is a deal-breaker for some, and an essential question to ask if your lease forbids smoking indoors. If they say they're occasional smokers, ask how occasional. It may also be worth adding a clause to your agreement with them explicitly stating that they cannot smoke inside. If you smoke (pot or cigarettes) at home on occasion, be up front about it. And don’t forget about vaping, which some people might not consider smoking. “It can be a gray area,” says Sanje Lama, a salesperson with Citi Habitats.
5. How often do you drink at home?
Whether you're a teetotaler or a devotee of Sangria Saturdays, you'll want to make sure your flatmate is on the same wavelength. If you've got a serious job but your roommate wouldn't sweat a middle-of-the-week hangover, you may not mesh.
6. Are you still friends with your old roommates?
If your candidate can tell disaster story after disaster story about ex-roommates, heed the red flag. (Problems can't possibly originate every single time from the other person.) Likewise, if the person is somewhat hesitant to discuss their past living situation, you may want to dig deeper (and ask for a reference—more on that below).
7. Do you have references?
You'd never take a job applicant's word on how great they are, nor should you with a potential roommate. Ask for a testament from a former flatmate or friends and work colleagues (two or three should be plenty). Get their phone numbers and emails—people tend to be more candid on the phone, but email's a good back-up if your calls go unanswered. While you're at it, check out your potential roommate's social media feeds, too. Pic after pic of home-based ragers may alert you to potential headaches way before you actually have to live with them.
8. What time do you go to bed?
If you're a light sleeper who's tucked in by 10 p.m., a night owl who blasts music at all hours may not be your best bet for cohabitation. On the other hand, if you're both night owls and are sharing a space until the wee hours, that might not be ideal, either, if your space is tiny. Try to find out as much as you can about this person's late-night habits, and how they're likely to affect yours.
9. Do you have any pets? Are you considering getting any?
Many New York City buildings have pet restrictions, so you need to know what you're dealing with ahead of time, especially if you have any allergies. And remember that just because someone doesn't have a pet this very minute, doesn't mean she's not going to fall in love with a rescue on the way home from work and bring it home. Check in advance whether this is a possibility.
10. What do you do for a living?
This seems like an obvious question, but it's an important one, for several reasons. If the potential roommate seems to be less than fully employed, you may want to think again. While personality traits are important to match, nothing matters if half the rent is always delinquent (though a security deposit—see below—can help). New York City law prohibits denying a person accommodation based solely on their occupation, but someone's profession may say a lot about them, their values, and their schedule. Try and get as many details as possible. You can even ask for a letter of employment.
If they’re a student, “make sure they can prove how they’ll be paying all the expenses,” Lama says.
11. How long is your average workday?
Different work schedules can save a lot of headaches, giving you and your roommate much-needed alone time in a shared apartment. Find out what time they need to get up for work and how long it takes them to get ready. This is especially important if you are sharing a bathroom. “It’s not always possible due to budget constraints to have your own bathroom, so avoiding morning conflicts is important,” Jeneralczuk says.
If your routines coincide, set a schedule you can both stick to. It doesn’t hurt to also ask if they need to watch any morning shows if the TV is in a common space. You may want to sleep in while your roommate is a news junkie.
12. Do you work from home?
Assuming that space is tight (this is New York, after all), having someone in the apartment all day every day—especially if you work from home, too—may inspire claustrophobia (not to mention higher electricity bills since they'll have AC and lights running all day). On the other hand, a person on hand to accept deliveries and wait for the cable guy may be an unforeseen benefit. Ask yourself: How much will it annoy you to have your roommate home during the day?
13. Do you expect a lot of out-of-town visitors?
If there are out-of-town guests headed your way, you'll want to establish rules as to how long they can stay (maybe no more than a weekend or a couple of days). You can also ask if anyone's arriving in the next couple of months. If the potential roommate seems to have a packed schedule of out-of-town guests already, you may want to steer clear.
14. What’s your romantic situation?
Living with a couple is one hassle—three people crammed into two bedrooms can be way too close for comfort, plus there's the potential for feeling like a third wheel in your own living room—but living with a roommate whose significant other stays over, Bevers-style, is a different matter entirely. All of a sudden, you've signed on for more mess and higher utility costs without the benefit of a savings on rent. If you've only met one half of the couple, you're basically signing on for a third roommate you've never met (which we know is a bad idea). If they say they're in a serious relationship with someone who lives a couple of boroughs away, expect lots of sleepovers. (For more on the highs and lows of living with a couple, read what one person told Brick about it.)
15. What do you want in a roommate?
It's the roommate version of a classic job interview question, but it translates to living situations as well. It's good to know if you and your roommate are looking for the same thing. There could be a disconnect between the type of relationship expected, such as if one of you wants a new BFF out of the situation, while the other prefers distance.
This is also where you can find out if they want to share things, or if they prefer to live separately. “It might seem small, but if there is only one person purchasing the dishwashing soap and toilet paper, there will be a problem later on. Discuss this before moving in,” Furseth says.
16. Can you put down a deposit?
Like any landlord in this town, you need to protect yourself in case your roommate skips out on the rent. One month's rent is standard.
“I can’t even explain how many deals fall through because of this,” Jeneralczuk says. “Everyone loves apartment shopping, falling in love with a place, and verbally committing to it with their roommate. But then suddenly when money becomes the topic of discussion, they get cold feet.”
This is also a good time to ask how they plan to make payments for rent and utilities. “These days people are better about paying bills on time. Venmo has become such a great way to transfer money,” Lama says. But to be safe, discuss how you’ll handle the situation if they can’t come up with their share of expenses.
17. How often do you cook?
Dinner time, like pre-work shower time, can be busy in a shared apartment. If you and your roommate are both foodies intent on whipping up four-course meals, you may bump into each other in a small NYC kitchen. Also, find out how late they like to cook. “If they’re making fish at 10 p.m., even in a 1,000-square-foot apartment you can definitely smell it,” Lama says.
If, on the other hand, you never cook, and your potential roommate is an aspiring chef, that could be a very good match indeed. (They get to test out their food, you get to try it). You'll also want to set up ground rules for sharing food and kitchen knick-knacks in advance. No one wants to come home to a surprise empty fridge after a long day.
18. How long do you plan to stay?
Sometimes, life throws curve-balls and people need to move without much notice, but if you're looking for a long-term, secure situation, you'll want to weed out those who know they're only in New York for a short time.
19. What are challenges you've faced in past living situations?
Bug or rodent infestations, bad landlords, repairs, and so on: How they handled these hurdles will enlighten you on whether you’re dealing with someone who can get things done—and quickly.
20. What are your pet peeves?
Sometimes it’s best to ask upfront rather than find out after you’ve annoyed someone—and vice versa. “When you live with someone in a New York City apartment, which is usually a very confined space, it’s good to know what can irritate your roommate,” Jeneralczuk says.
21. Anything else I should know?
This is the catch-all for the end of the interview. Maybe they forgot to mention that they're learning the bassoon or are extremely allergic to certain foods. Let the interviewee take the lead, and let their personality, and all its quirks, come through honestly.
All our sources agree that should your potential roomie “pass” this questionnaire, it’s important to get what you’ve discussed and agreed to in writing in a roommate contract. And it should include a clause about how to give notice should one of you decide to move out before the lease is up.
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