10 Essential Questions for Prospective Roommates

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We’ve all heard that the fastest way to ruin a friendship is to become roommates. Or is it that roommates are besties for life? Should you risk the friendship for cheaper rent?

Or what if you’re moving somewhere totally new and have only Craigslist ads to guide your apartment hunt? Is it possible to find someone you can peacefully live with in just one or two quick meetings?

Roommate horror stories are part of the apartment living world. I’ve definitely had a couple… You’ve talked about who’s bringing what, and how much you all pay. But here are a few, often overlooked, questions that can help you figure out if you can live happily under the same roof with a friend or a stranger:

1) How do want to relate to me as a roommate?

This has a lot of connections with general personality. Do you need someone who will listen to stories about your crazy boss or the weirdo on the subway home? Someone to cook and share meals with? Or just someone who leaves you alone and won’t steal your stuff? Honest answers up front can help level expectations about how much time you’ll be spending together and what part of each other’s social lives you’ll play.

2) Do you smoke/drink/play mature video games/etc. in the house?

This is so important if you have strong feelings against living with any particular substance or activities. If you want to move in with someone who partakes in something you don’t like, just talk openly before moving in about where and when it is okay for both of you.

3) What’s your daily schedule?

Beyond just “night owl” or “morning person”, it’s great to know if your potential roommate does in-room kickboxing every night before bed, needs quiet nap-time during the day, or plans to be in the kitchen clattering pans every morning at 5. Be sure to talk through your “typical” weekday and weekend day.

4) How often do you clean your bathroom/kitchen/living room?

I think this phrasing is much more insightful than what I’ve usually been asked about “how much of a neat freak are you?” Always try to get concrete instead of subjective scales. Your potential roommate’s idea of “fairly tidy” might look more like “pig sty” to you. Knowing that someone cleans their own space about once a week (or once a month), just like you, is much more likely to lead to a happy home.

5) Shoes on or off inside?

This question opens up discussion for any hard-and-fast cleanliness rules or “inside” habits. The shoe discussion can be about cleanliness or noise – especially key if you have multiple levels. Trust me – clogs on the floor above you every morning at 5 is not a nice surprise after signing that 1-year lease.

6) What do you do with your dirty dishes? / How long is it OK to let dishes or pots soak before cleaning?

This is another concrete question to help dig into a potential roomie’s ideas of kitchen cleanliness. It also seems to be a question that can make or break many otherwise friendly roommate relationships! If you are a sink-soaker and your roommate likes things loaded into the dishwasher immediately, think about working out a plan in advance to avoid kitchen spats!

7) When do you lock doors and windows?

In other words: on hot summer nights, can we sleep with 1st floor windows open? Will you be upset if you come home and find the front door unlocked when I was working in the backyard? Some people feel really strongly about safety and security – others not so much. It’s good to know who you’re about to live with.

8) How do you set your thermostat?

My last housing situation was with two environmental studies students, and we argued all the time about thermostat settings. Each winter it turned into a passive-aggressive war of moving settings when the others weren’t looking. Do you like wearing shorts and t-shirts all winter? Maybe think twice about moving in with the “buck up and put on another sweater” type.

9) What do you do if someone breaks, or wears out, another person’s stuff?

You’ve agreed to use Susan’s pots, Matt’s vacuum, and your couch and TV. Inevitably stuff gets broken. Are you all okay with your stuff getting used, because you’re also using their stuff? Or do you feel strongly about a house-payment/replacement plan?

10) What is your biggest pet peeve and most annoying habit?

Chewing with your mouth open? Farting in public? Leaving hairs in the shower? This catch-all is a great last step in the conversation. Other answers looking good? Think you found “the one” of roommate bliss? Please spill anything else another human will inevitably learn about you while sharing a home, and let them know if you have any other deal-breakers. Way better to know now while you both still have time to back out hassle-free.

So many of these questions just help expose potential personality clashes. I’ve heard of people doing Myers-Briggs or other personality indicators before moving in, to be sure they’ll gel well. But at the end of the day, I think it’s about opening up honest communication early on, and being willing to talk through things as they come up. When you find someone who can tell you honestly about their daily calls to mom, and laughs about your inevitable dairy-induced farts, you’ve got yourself a perfect roommate!


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