The number of adults living with roommates has increased significantly since the ‘90s in the US according to a survey from Pew Research Center. Almost one in three adults is living with an adult roommate who is not their romantic partner or a college student aged 18 – 24. 

This is due to two situations: millennials moving back in with their parents and parents moving in with their adult children. But here in South Africa we can also say it’s because housing is so expensive that the only way we can afford to live closer to work or not have to commute for hours to the city is to share our homes with other people and often that means renting a room in a shared house. 

But, living with someone else isn’t always easy, no matter how long you’ve known each other or how close you are. There’s having to share your space, sometimes sharing your belongings and just having to get along in a place that you call home. When you don't? One study points out exactly why that is: you underestimate each other’s distress. 

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The study comes from New York University psychology researchers Qi Xu and Patrick Shrout who used 187 same sex undergraduates and analysed both self-reports and reports from others at two separate times and used a model for the study which shows both how the truth and our biases affect human judgement. 

The findings? That people tend to think that their roommates’ stress level is similar to their own. So if we were just a little more perceptive of how the people we live with were feeling, then perhaps there would be less strife at home. So next time don’t just ask your roommate how they are, but actually listen. 

But what if you're looking for a new roommate, looking to share with someone else, or want to know what you should do if you ever find yourself in that situation?

We created a list of questions you should definitely think of asking before you move in with someone. 

Even if you know the person you’re considering living with, it’s still best to ask them all these questions so you get an idea of routines, likes and dislikes and any potential headaches that could arise.

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Have they lived with roommates before?

You want to know if they’re used to sharing their space with other people or if you’ll need to give them some time to get used to the living situation because it’s new to them. This may affect the way you deal with each other or how you decide to move forward.

Are they still friends with their old roommates?

A horror story or two when it comes to old flatmates is expected, but there can’t have been a problem with every single person they’ve ever lived with. Even if they’re not the kinda friends that hang out every week surely they’re at least Facebook friends?

Do they have references?

If you don’t know this person from a bar of soap then you might want to ask if they have friends who are willing to vouch for them, especially if they’re ex-roommates. Also, check their social media to see what kinda stuff they’re into. We don’t mean full on stalking like you’re wanting to date them (admit it, you do this), but just having a look at their Twitter or Instagram feed might tell you more about the person you might be living with. Just be careful not to like that random selfie from 43 weeks ago.

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How often do they clean?

Fights about cleanliness are often the biggest problem between roommates. Some people like things clean and orderly all the time, others have a more relaxed approach to cleanliness, and then there are people who are complete slobs. So instead of asking them IF they clean, ask how often. While once a week is way too little you also don’t want to be saddled with someone who cleans four times a day. Which chores do they like doing and which ones do they hate? Also discuss if you’d prefer hiring a domestic worker to clean regularly, or if you’d just like to split the chores evenly on a weekly rotation.

How do we split electricity and utility costs?

Do you have to pay a set amount each month to one roommate who is responsible for buying electricity/cleaning products/paying the water bill/ etc? Or do you each have to buy your own and contribute to the house?

What do they do for a living?

A person’s work says a lot about them and you’ll want to know how it relates to their everyday lives. Do they work late often? Do they work close by? Will they work from home on some days? Also, you’ll need to know if this person is actually full-time employed and if they can pay their rent every month and won’t leave you in the lurch.

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Do they like to party?

And do they like to keep the party at the bar, or will it be coming to your place? This is essential to figuring out if your house will turn into party central every night, or if you can expect quiet weekends in your future.

Do they smoke?

Be upfront with the person about your smoking habits – whether recreational or otherwise. If one of you does smoke, then agree to where you can smoke and discuss what the deal breakers are – is smoking outside okay, but not too close to the door? Are you allowed to leave an ashtray somewhere? 

What are the rules when it comes to house guests?

Are they cool with you having someone stay over for a night? What about a significant other who might be spending some time at your new digs? Is it cool to have friends over for dinner in the middle of the week if the mood strikes you?

What’s their romantic situation?

Are they involved with someone who could be visiting a lot? (in which case you need to set ground rules) Are they single, but dating people? Are they in a very serious relationship that could lead to an engagement and your roommate moving out leaving you to do this exact thing with someone else in a few months’ time?

Do they drink?

Whether you don’t partake of the party juice or love a glass of wine with dinner every night, you want to figure out if you and your roommate(s) are on the same wavelength. Are they okay with you having wine in the house? Could you enjoy a glass of wine together after work some evenings?

What time do they go to bed?

Do you prefer going to bed at 10 and waking up early? Or do you potter around until 1AM and then drag yourself to bed? Will your habits affect your roommate? Think about this carefully especially if your rooms are adjoining and your watching series until 2AM could disturb the light sleeper next door.

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Do they have any pets or are you considering getting any?

Or discuss if you have any animals that you might want to bring along or if you’re allergic to any animals.  

How often do they cook?

And do you need to work out a schedule as to who gets to use the kitchen when? What are the rules on sharing food? Do you get your own storage space for everything you buy or is it all shared?

What are they not okay with sharing?

This includes food, pots and pans or their special knife set that they got as a gift. There are obvious limits. You’d never share their shampoo (unless you ask one morning when you’ve run out and it’s okay with them), or dig into the piece of cake they bought themselves especially to sit and eat on the couch.

Do they have any pet peeves?

Do they hate dirty dishes in the sink or coffee cups standing around? Would they prefer you kicked off your shoes in the bedroom and not left them sitting in the lounge?

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How introverted/extroverted are you?

Are they the kind who wants to be the life of the party and is always going to try and get you to join them to do something? Or are they more inclined to spend their weekends indoors watching series? Or can they do both? Will they respect your choice to do either?

How do they prefer to relax when they get home?

Do they mind a bit of a chat and cup of tea when they get in? Or do they prefer being left alone for the first hour after getting home?  Do they want to talk when they’re upset, or do they prefer not mentioning it?

How long do they plan to stay?

Do they have plans to move in with their significant other in a year or go to another country? Or is the lease on the place still good for at least a year? Sometimes people need to move out short notice because of sudden unplanned changes in their lives and that’s fine, but you would need to know if you’ll be needing to look for a new roommate or place to live in a few months.

Is there anything important you should know?

Do they have food allergies? Are they in a band that practices at your house every Wednesday? Do the neighbours often come by for a chat? Make sure you also tell them anything about yourself that could somehow impact on them.

Do you have any roommate horror stories? Send us an email, tweet us, or find us on Facebook.

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