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Rent Is Expensive. Here’s How to Find An Affordable Place — And A Roommate You Can Trust

Lauren Tassone  |  March 6, 2020

Who you live with matters. Building trust with them matters even more — not only for your peace of mind, but also for your bank account.

For many, finding a space to call home is a daunting task. And as the cost of living continues to increase in many cities, it’s nearly impossible to live alone.

That leaves you with the task of finding a roommate. And it’s not just a matter of finding a compatible person to share space with. It’s about ensuring that the financial setup works for both of you, and that you are in fact saving your money by having a roommate. 

Start with your needs

The search starts with some self-reflection — as in, what can you afford and what kind of living situation do you want?

There are countless tradeoffs between living close to work, in the neighborhood that has your favorite coffee shops and restaurants, or further away from work (which is often the option at the lowest cost), says Matt Kreamer, Data PR Manager at Zillow. Think about what kind of commute you want and how the location of your home will factor into your work-life balance.

Next, consider which neighborhoods align with your budget. It’s never too early to do your research. Kreamer recommends beginning your housing search sooner rather than later so that you fully understand the area and know how to land a deal that fits with your lifestyle. When you come armed with your research, you’re better set up to negotiate. 

And don’t be afraid to negotiate – whether that’s with a landlord or with a roommate — even if it’s your first time renting. Knowing the market will save you money, as folks may be more willing to negotiate when you bring your knowledge to the table.

Have a heart-to-heart with your potential roommate

Knowing your deal-breakers and your lifestyle habits will also help you hone in on the perfect place to live and the people you want to live with, says Stephanie Diamond founder of the Listings Project which provides a free weekly compilation of vetted real estate listings geared towards artists and creatives. 

Part of the process is also having conversations beyond roommate habits and into financial obligations. These are naturally vulnerable exchanges, Diamond says — and even more vulnerable with a stranger. The more open you are about yourself, the more open your potential roomie will likely be, Diamond says.

The best way to begin that conversation? Start with the more mundane aspects, like taking a tour of the apartment and talking more generally about your living habits. As you ask questions back-and-forth, you can gradually lean into the more serious questions. It’s important for both of you to be clear about your deal-breakers and expectations, and to understand and acknowledge the other person’s, too.

Talking dollars and cents

Eventually the conversation will turn to money. If two roommates are going in together on a new, empty space, the cost of rent is pretty straightforward and you can discuss upfront how to split rent and utilities.

It’s a different story if you’re talking to someone who already has a space and whether they’re adding you to the lease or not. The more you can build trust and connection in the beginning, the easier it will be to have honest conversations about finances and ensure you’re getting your money’s worth, says Diamond.

Of course, you’ll be in a better place to decide if what your potential future roomie proposes as rent makes sense if you’ve done your research about area rents ahead of time. Then, once you’ve built a solid rapport, ask your potential roomie outright how your rent will compare to theirs, and decide whether or not it makes sense (both literally and in terms of your budget). If they’ve lived there a while, be sure to inquire about typical utility costs (and how those expenses are split) and any other financial obligations. 

In the end, if you don’t find what you’re looking for, consider opening up your options by looking in multiple neighborhoods or living with more roommates. The neighborhood that everyone else says is the “coolest” area of town may not be the zip code that floats your boat. You don’t have to sacrifice the important things, but you can challenge yourself to be flexible in your search all while staying in line with your budget.

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