Is it just me, or does everyone imagine their first NYC apartment will be a cozy one-bedroom in the West Village decorated just so, and, most importantly, all one’s own? For most of us, that dream is dashed as soon as the stark reality of the rent-to-income ratio sets in. Suddenly, not only is the West Village out of the question, but so is the idea of solo living. For most millennials living in the city, roommates are a necessity, but they need not be a necessary evil. With some forethought and negotiation, having a roommate doesn’t have to be terrible.
Is Cohabitating Right for You? Factors to Consider
Budget. When it comes to finding an apartment in New York City, you often have to decide between great location and great layout. That is, of course, unless money is no object. However, if you’re on a super-tight budget, then you’ll be lucky if you get either a great location or a great layout. This is especially true if you want to live alone. Having a roommate, however, can be a great remedy and help you lock in at least one of those criteria. If you have your heart set on a specific neighborhood that’s too expensive, a roommate might help offset your cost of living and is a smart option for you to consider. Additionally, if you really want an apartment with a big common area and brand-new kitchen, splitting the cost with a roommate will certainly help keep your budget low. If you make enough to live on your own, but just not enough to lock in your favorite neighborhood or amenity, consider other factors before committing to a roommate. Cohabitating with another human for the sake of a ZIP code or an in-building gym may not be worth it. This is New York City after all and sacrifice is the name of the game.
Lifestyle and Social Needs. If you’re an introvert who really hates it when people use your favorite fork, the emotional toll of living with another may outweigh the benefit a roommate will have on your budget. Alternatively, maybe you can afford to live on your own, but the idea of coming home to an empty apartment each day depresses you. Just because you can afford to live solo doesn’t mean you have to. Have a really honest conversation with yourself and your bank account about priorities before choosing whether you should cohabitate with a fellow New Yorker.
Finding a Roommate
Depending on what you are looking for and your level of desperation, there are three general approaches to finding a roommate in NYC.
Pair Up With Someone You Know. Sharing an apartment with a friend or someone you already know can be a great option. You have a baseline level of trust and familiarity, which can make finding an apartment, negotiating rent and cohabitation a whole lot easier. If you’ve known this friend a while, chances are you’re not going to worry that she is going to stiff you on rent or lock you out of the apartment unexpectedly or something surprising and annoying. That said, there may be downsides to living with a friend – especially a close friend. Cohabitation involves a lot of intimacy – often in close quarters – and it can reveal their unseemly side. You may never have realized your best friend is a complete terror before 9 a.m. or needs to know your whereabouts at all hours of the day and night. For better or worse, you’ll discover all their quirks, which over time may begin to drive you nuts. The bottom line is a great friend does not necessarily make a great roommate. Think hard before you pair up with that pal and be honest with each other about the realities of living together.
Tap Your Social Network. If you prefer not to live with a friend or can’t find one whose timeline, budget and lifestyle syncs with yours, reaching out to your broader network of friends, family, colleagues and friends of friends is a super easy and surprisingly efficient way to find a roommate. This is a particularly fruitful strategy in New York City where people are constantly cycling through new jobs, living arrangements and relationships, creating a high turnover rate among renters and frequent opportunity for new roommates. Send out a mass email to all your contacts (BCC, of course) announcing that you’re looking for a roommate. Include your general timeline and high-level information (general budget, borough, etc). It’s a good idea to cast a broad net, so feel free to email people even if they don’t live in New York City. You never know who may know someone in the city looking to move. If you’re active on social media and don’t mind publicly sharing this information with your following, you can also post this announcement on your channels. Facebook, in particular, is a good dissemination channel for this sort of news and a great way of connecting with potential new roommates.
Embracing the Unknown
You may wish to skip the tried and true routes of WOM and instead prefer to try your luck with a third-party service. Traditionally, Craigslist has been the most common option, offering tons of solicitations by and for roommates. Without a doubt, you’ll be tapping into a much, much greater pool of people than you would simply by tapping your own direct network. This can be a huge advantage if you’re in a crunch for time. Chances are you’ll even get more responses than you want. To staunch the flood of responses, be specific and clearly delineate your needs and expectations. See below for suggestions for what to include in your post.
- Your employment status
- Your current living situation
- Any personal preferences you have for roommates (gender, age, pets, hours kept, lifestyle, smoking)
- Move-in date
- Desired apartment location
It’s totally fair game to do some internet stalking on whomever contacts you. They’ll likely do the same. Many people who post on Craigslist often link to their Facebook or LinkedIn profiles as a way of introducing themselves/legitimizing themselves. Not everyone is comfortable with this level of self-exposure, so you will have to determine what you’re OK with.
There are also programs that help facilitate roommate matching, be it with meet-ups or through online profiles— think OKCupid for roommates (try Roommatchers, Symbi NYC or Roomi). There are pros and cons to all of these options. One major disadvantage of using services like these is that word-of-mouth and Craigslist are much more widely used and adopted by New Yorkers. Even if such services provide a safer and more reliable forum for searching for roommates, the limited number of people who use them locally will put you at a disadvantage.
Determining if a Roommate is Right For You
The pros and cons of life with roommates can be remedied by making sure you have a series of frank conversations about expectations before you take the plunge. Not only will such conversations help you weed out the crazies, but it will also help you determine if this potential roomie is the right fit for you. This means talking about:
- Budget. Make sure you both can actually afford the apartment you’re eyeing. And, as uncomfortable as it might be, this might mean asking your potential roommate how much they make. It’s better to talk about it now than when the rent is due and you’re coming up short.
- Common Space Rules. You should clearly discuss and set expectations about how the common space will be used. Does your new roommate plans on sitting on the couch in their underwear all the time? This might not be a problem for you, but you also might want to know before you move in!
- Cleanliness. How are you going to go about cleaning and maintaining the apartment? Do you want to hire a cleaning service? Will you each have chores? Who buys the cleaning products? Who arranges for the cleaning service to come and deals with any hassles? Most importantly, how are you defining clean?
- Hours Kept. How often will you each be home? Is it cool if one of you is a homebody or if one of you is never home?
- Guest Policy. Talk about how often you each plan on having overnight guests. Does your new roommate have a significant other who plans on becoming the honorary third member of the household?
- Substance Policy. Cigarettes, alcohol, and drugs are all part of a young person’s life in New York City. It’s totally acceptable to get these issues out in the open and be honest about what you are comfortable with and what you are not. Don’t just think about your own habits, but how the habits of others might affect you. While you might not mind a cigarette every now and then, you may not want your apartment to be a smoking den.
But, all conversations are not created equal. Even if you’re going to be sharing intimate quarters with this person, there are some questions that are not okay to ask. Questions like, “What is your sexual orientation?” and “Whom did you vote for?” are inappropriate.
Finally, there are some logistics that the two of you will want to nail down before officially committing. Discuss who will be on the lease, if the rent should be split 50/50 or divided some other way. Other things to think about: Who will set up the internet and utility accounts and how will those bills be paid; what items and food that are considered communal property versus those that are not; and how to handle chores and responsibilities. Moving in with clear expectations from the get-go will alleviate lots of growing pains as the two of you get used to each other, not to mention it can be a relief to know it’s not your job to take out the trash this week.
Living with a roommate in NYC can be a rewarding experience. I know first-hand: My first-ever NYC roommate is still my very best friend, even though we haven’t lived together for more than three years. The key to happy roommate partnership is being honest with yourself and your new cohabitator. As long as you keep the lines of communication open and frank, you’ll likely create a comfortable haven in the city, away from the hustle and bustle out on the pavement. Now go forth and cohabitate.