The Last Roommate

Well this weekend my last roommate moved in. After the Help and I get hitched (when he actually has a legal right to all that equity I've built up) he'll move in and I'll no longer be renting out the extra room. This house is way too small for 3 adults. So in thinking about 9 years worth of roommates and the whole renting your room out, here's what I've learned:

Let the market determine the rent- not your mortgage

I think I charged by first roommate Belinda $500 in 2001. I can't remember if I included utilities. I probably did. My mortgage was a little below $600. This was pre-renovation. I had the kitchen counter-space of a Ouija board and crappy cheap carpet. I also had active drug traffic on my corner and back then Cindy the Crackho was actively working (now it seems she's retired) so I couldn't really demand a high rent. But neither was I going to charge ½ of my mortgage, I had to make it worth my privacy. Then came the kitchen renovation and the whole house renovations and the second mortgages that followed. The kitchen renovation had no impact on what I was charging for rent as it had no impact on having drug dealers on the corner. Strangely, neither does having a new kitchen reduce gunfire heard at night, which really allowed for raising the rent. (more after the jump)

I did increase the rent from the $500-$550 range to $700 and above after the huge renovation in 2007 when my mortgage total went into the land of $1600 a month. I was charging less than ½ my mortgage and including utilities. In 2007-08 a renovation at that time made sense. The drug dealers were decreasing their hours. Other houses on the street were getting renovated so I wouldn't be overbuilding, and I was finally making enough money to support a bigger second mortgage. After the renovation, I checked Craigslist and the City Paper to get a sense of what to charge for a room. Then I would post an ad for a certain amount and depending on if I got any real bites, I found out if I was asking too much.

Do a thorough interview and follow up on references

One reason I hear people say no to roommates is that they've had a bad experience with a past roommate. Of my worst roommates since leaving my parents home they've been people I didn't choose (dorm situations) . It helps to pick people based on something in addition to their ability to pay rent on time. I've always required references and I interview those references, over the phone, before offering the room. I demand an in-person interview with the applicant. In the beginning it was to make sure the person was ok with the neighborhood. It was also to make sure they were the kind of person I could get on well enough with for the next 3 to 6 months. Yes, even though I do short term rentals I did the big interview, check your references, confirm employment dance.

The questions I would ask references were roommate, temperament questions. How are they about cleaning up behind themselves? Does So-in-So smoke? How does s/he handle conflict when a problem arises? Would you describe So-in-So as dependable/responsible? And general descriptions of the person. These interviews have been helpful in adjusting how I related to the roommate and made me aware of things I'd have to be sensitive to as well. And I made sure they were not all email references and I called the employer (or former employer in some cases.)

Know your market, know yourself

As I mentioned, I do short term rentals. Mainly because I get bored with people and sometimes I just want my house back. That was the know yourself part. So, who would I rent to? Well in the summer there are interns. I've had a law firm intern, and international org intern, and some educational non-profit intern. Because of all the non-profit think tanks and other research institutions there are also fellows, who are like interns, but older and definitely paid better. Some fellows I got from friends who were searching for housing for their research fellows who were going to be in DC for 4-6 months. Other types of people who needed the short term stays were people who were hired on a trial basis, a commuter and someone here for a short detail at the home agency.

My preferred roommate was someone with a life elsewhere. My commuter, lived with her partner on weekends. The person on detail had an apartment back on the west coast she was returning to. The law intern was a homeowner in Philly. And to accommodate them I would provide a furnished room, and provide kitchen wares so all they had to bring was their suitcase.

Ect

Sometime this year I contacted DCRA about the legality of renting out my extra bedroom and was told by Michael Rupert, Communications Manager, that I could have up to 5 unrelated people living together in a home - as long as they share kitchen and living spaces - without having to get any license and it's perfectly ok in terms of zoning regulations.

I also reported the income on my taxes taking out the expenses associated (utilities, the odd time I paid the WP for an ad) and it has been good income. If you pick the right roommate (lives elsewhere on weekends, workaholic, never cooks) it can be the easiest $600-$700 bucks a month.

I did increase the rent from the $500-$550 range to $700 and above after the huge renovation in 2007 when my mortgage total went into the land of $1600 a month. I was charging less than ½ my mortgage and including utilities. In 2007-08 a renovation at that time made sense. The drug dealers were decreasing their hours. Other houses on the street were getting renovated so I wouldn't be overbuilding, and I was finally making enough money to support a bigger second mortgage. After the renovation, I checked Craigslist and the City Paper to get a sense of what to charge for a room. Then I would post an ad for a certain amount and depending on if I got any real bites, I found out if I was asking too much.

Do a thorough interview and follow up on references

One reason I hear people say no to roommates is that they've had a bad experience with a past roommate. Of my worst roommates since leaving my parents home they've been people I didn't choose (dorm situations) . It helps to pick people based on something in addition to their ability to pay rent on time. I've always required references and I interview those references, over the phone, before offering the room. I demand an in-person interview with the applicant. In the beginning it was to make sure the person was ok with the neighborhood. It was also to make sure they were the kind of person I could get on well enough with for the next 3 to 6 months. Yes, even though I do short term rentals I did the big interview, check your references, confirm employment dance.

The questions I would ask references were roommate, temperament questions. How are they about cleaning up behind themselves? Does So-in-So smoke? How does s/he handle conflict when a problem arises? Would you describe So-in-So as dependable/responsible? And general descriptions of the person. These interviews have been helpful in adjusting how I related to the roommate and made me aware of things I'd have to be sensitive to as well. And I made sure they were not all email references and I called the employer (or former employer in some cases.)

Know your market, know yourself

As I mentioned, I do short term rentals. Mainly because I get bored with people and sometimes I just want my house back. That was the know yourself part. So, who would I rent to? Well in the summer there are interns. I've had a law firm intern, and international org intern, and some educational non-profit intern. Because of all the non-profit think tanks and other research institutions there are also fellows, who are like interns, but older and definitely paid better. Some fellows I got from friends who were searching for housing for their research fellows who were going to be in DC for 4-6 months. Other types of people who needed the short term stays were people who were hired on a trial basis, a commuter and someone here for a short detail at the home agency.

My preferred roommate was someone with a life elsewhere. My commuter, lived with her partner on weekends. The person on detail had an apartment back on the west coast she was returning to. The law intern was a homeowner in Philly. And to accommodate them I would provide a furnished room, and provide kitchen wares so all they had to bring was their suitcase.

Ect

Sometime this year I contacted DCRA about the legality of renting out my extra bedroom and was told by Michael Rupert, Communications Manager, that I could have up to 5 unrelated people living together in a home - as long as they share kitchen and living spaces - without having to get any license and it's perfectly ok in terms of zoning regulations.

I also reported the income on my taxes taking out the expenses associated (utilities, the odd time I paid the WP for an ad) and it has been good income. If you pick the right roommate (lives elsewhere on weekends, workaholic, never cooks) it can be the easiest $600-$700 bucks a month.