Thursday, September 26, 2013

Real Talk With Rachel: Filling An Empty Room

by Rachel Kurzius

Dear Rachel,

My three housemates and I are looking for a new housemate, after a bedroom is opening at the end of the month. We didn't mean for it to be so last-minute, but the person we chose backed out a few days ago. Now we have turned to Craigslist and we disagree on who should move in. We have narrowed it down to two people. One prefers that the person who moves in has a reliable paycheck while another wants someone who has more of a freelancing career and less reliable income stream, but seemed way more chill. I am the deciding vote but I feel very split down the middle. How should I pick?

Home Is for the One I Choose

Dear Home Is for the One I Choose,

The main function of having a housemate is to have someone who will split the rent with you. Four bedrooms divided by four makes a lot more sense than four bedrooms divided by three. Finding a housemate who can reliably send in a rent check should be the main standard by which you decide a housemate. You're not running a charity home for chill people.

That being said, I am unconvinced that having a "freelancing career" means that someone cannot send in a monthly check. While the housemates should vet rooming candidates (don't feel bad about scouring social networking sites and checking references to make sure everything is as it seems), I don't see why being a freelancer necessarily means a person is less likely to follow through on bills. Has this person told you they are living hand-to-mouth, or does your housemate just have a bias against people who don't work a typical 9-to-5 job? (Remember that even a person with a reliable paycheck can lose their job.) I find it hard to believe that someone would apply to live in a home they don't think they'll be able to afford on a monthly basis.

That's not to say it doesn't happen. I've lived in a housing situation where a person straight-up didn't pay rent and the rest of us were on the hook for it. Don't let that happen to you. Make sure your potential housemate can pay up - after all, that's the main reason they're coming on board. And if they're not the coolest, most interesting person? Well, it happens. The three of you original housemates can set your expectations in regards to cleanliness and atmosphere, recognizing that you don't have to be best friends to respectfully share a refrigerator and bathroom.

Plus, you never know if the strange courting experience of finding new housemates will pleasantly surprise you. I recently found some old Craigslist correspondences for an open room. Turns out the person who got that spot, now a good friend, had a pretty rote letter of introduction. If I wanted to, I could have picked out tons of reasons why she wouldn't fit the bill. Just goes to show that your few encounters with these people won't portend whether they'll be a good fit.

So, make sure your housemate can fulfill their financial obligations. All things being equal otherwise, I would always go with the person who gave you better vibes. After all, you're going to be living with them.

All the best,



Rachel Kurzius revels in giving advice, and has provided counsel both as a columnist and a friend. She lives in Washington DC, where she works as a news producer. Real Talk with Rachel is published on All Life is Local and the Cleveland Park Listserv,, on Wednesdays. Need advice? You can write to Rachel via or advice @

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