Important Conversations to Have BEFORE Moving in Together

Selecting a roommate to share a living space with can be challenging on many levels.  Do you like to keep an orderly, quiet, and clean environment where shoes are removed at the front door and a dish never sits in a sink? Or do you prefer to keep things casual with friends popping by for a spontaneous pizza and movie night? A likeminded roommate will make for a much more enjoyable living arrangement and honest conversations about lifestyles well in advance of moving into a shared space will go a long way in avoiding frustrations.  However, one of the highest priorities you should have in finding a suitable roommate is determining their financial compatibility.

Whether you are discussing the possibility of moving into an apartment with a friend from college or screening potential candidates you haven’t known as long, you will be joining together in a financial obligation which you both must be able to meet.  Things can become even more complex if you are going to live with more than one roommate.

Before moving into a shared living space, these are some of the important social and financial topics that should be addressed:

Financial Stability

Regardless of who your potential roommate is, it’s a good idea to ask for some specific information pertaining to their ability to pay on time each month. 

  • Employment information.  How long have they been at their current job? Are they self-employed?  Are they planning any major career changes? If their freelance gig suddenly becomes less reliable, or if they are planning to leave their current employment during the term of your lease agreement, it may impact their financial stability.
  • Income. How much money do they earn? Is their income consistent or fluctuating? Is their typical monthly income dependent on tips, commissions, or overtime? Is there a chance that a “slow” month could jeopardize their ability to pay their portion of the bills?
  • Credit score. Unless you are the owner of the property and serving as a landlord, a potential roommate may not want to share a credit report with you, but you can ask them to provide their credit score. This number will give you a strong indication of their ability to manage their financial obligations. Additionally, if you are teaming up with a new roommate in search of an apartment to move into, their credit score will impact your approval odds.
  • Emergency funds. Do they have cash set aside to cover 3-6 months’ worth of expenses in case of an unexpected illness or loss of employment? Remember, even if they lose the ability to pay their share of the bills, you will still be responsible for the full amount.

How will bills be divided and paid?

  • Rent. Will one person be responsible for paying the rent to the landlord?  Roommates need to agree in advance how this will be handled.
  • Will each person pay an equal amount of rent? If there is a premium bedroom, such as a master suite with a private bathroom, or a bedroom that is larger, will that room’s occupant pay a greater price?
  • Utilities. How will the bills be paid? Will one person collect the money and make the payments?  If all roommates work outside the home and have similar usage with things like televisions and lights, it might be easy enough to split the cost of electricity equally. However, if one person works from home or powers a disproportionate amount of electronics, it may merit a conversation regarding an additional usage fee. Similarly, if one roommate has a significant other who frequently stays overnight and takes long showers, an additional fee might be warranted. These may seem like minor issues, but these small things can add up to big frustrations if not discussed in advance.
  • Groceries and convenience items. Will you share food? Or will each roommate have a section in the refrigerator with labeled items? Will you split the cost of things like toilet paper, hand soap and general cleaning supplies? Will one person be responsible for the shopping? There are many ways this can be done, but communication is key.

Try to get an idea of what it will be like to live together.

Is your potential new roommate more of a Sheldon or a Leonard?  And which are you?  Fans of The Big Bang Theory know that these two friends, who also work together, share an apartment and have guidelines as to how they will live spelled out in an epic roommate agreement. With strong opinions on how life should be in their apartment, their list of rules is long and specific. While you may never feel the need to draft an agreement with clauses addressing everything from “a Godzilla attack” to which take-out restaurant will be ordered from on Thursdays, learning in advance about the way your roommate envisions daily living will help you to assess compatibility. 

Whether your potential roomie is a friend who you know well, or a colleague who you are getting to know better, it can be helpful to have an open conversation about how you would live together in an apartment. Do they plan to spend little time at home and keep mostly to their room when they are there?  Or do they want to share the common areas of the apartment with you in a much more social way?  Do their work hours line up with yours? Do they work a night shift and need a quiet environment during the day? How do they feel about splitting up the cleaning chores? Or will it be better to hire a cleaning service?  Think about how you navigate your own routines on a typical day and brainstorm a list of discussion points from there.    

Spell it out in writing.

Once you feel that you have found a good match in a new roommate, you can take a cue from Sheldon and Leonard, and draft a roommate agreement that will detail how you will live together.  In addition to your lease agreement, a roommate agreement can cover everything from how and when the bills will be paid, to overnight guest policies and who will pay for damages if the unexpected occurs. By taking the time to think about these situations and discussing them long before they can become emotionally charged, you and your new roomie will lay the foundation for a successful partnership. If you would like more information about the financial pros and cons of living with a roommate, please contact us.