In Saturday’s Washington Post section about people taking on roommates because of the economic downturn, I kept thinking of that 18th & 19th century stock character of the widow or couple taking in borders like the Micawbers for David Coperfield. In early 20th century pulp fiction you have the murder mystery of a dead husband with the wife and the hot young male border as suspects. It is unfortunate that it takes an economic downturn for some folks to see having roommates or boarders as a positive.
For the most part I’ve always had roommates. When I bought my house, yet after I got it in decent shape to share, I took in roommates. I could afford to live without roommates, but the extra cash doesn’t hurt, and I am sharing resources. Because I am the homeowner and it is a roommate situation I can be picky about who gets to live with me. Finding a roommate can take weeks or a couple of months depending on the season. I’ve charged between $500 and $750 a month, depending on the state of the house, season, length of stay, included utilities, etc. I’ve gotten roommates from Craigslist, personal leads, and the Washington City Paper.
Roommates can be great, not just for the money. Depending on who I’ve had, I learned about other countries and cultures, experienced the way others view the world, picked up some cooking & drink tips, and had someone around the house so I’m not talking to myself all the time.
Now if you are thinking of renting out your extra room I have a few pointers.
1. Ignore scammers. These are the long winding nonsensical emails you’ll get from foreign supermodels or freelancers with no set employment in DC or lawyers writing on behalf of their daughters/nieces. Even if they are the only responses you get all week, ignore them. They are a waste of your time.
2. Seriously interview and check references. This person will be living in your home and will have keys to it. I usually like to talk to at least one ex-roommate to find out how they are with cleaning, how responsible they are, etc.
3. Have a contract. I had a roommate agreement. The reason being is I wanted to clarify what my and what my roommate’s responsibilities were, with cleaning, utilities, smoking, guests, and lost keys. You can find examples here, here, and here (PDF).
4. Sometimes nobody is better than anybody. Try not to be desperate to get just anybody in. If you seriously can’t afford the rent on your own, a deadbeat roommate just makes the situation worse.