Thinking back on my twenties, I’ve always had roommates.
- I lived with friends in college.
- I lived with my parents when I first graduated college.
- I lived with friends after moving to a new state.
- I lived with my fiancé for a year and a half.
- We bought our house and then I lived with my fiancé and roommates for two years.
Our current roommate situation is pretty nice. We have a finished basement with its own bedroom, full bathroom, and rec room. We rent that room out to interns at my fiancé’s work for three to four months or the length of their internship. We typically have only one roommate living with us at a time.
Given that new interns arrive three times a year, if we don’t want a roommate for a few months, we can skip an intern class. If we don’t love a roommate (this has only happened in 1 out of the 4 roommates we have had) then we only have them living with us for a few months and then they’re gone.
For the most part though, we have had great roommates and it has been a good experience.
Rent in our area is fairly low so we’re not making a lot of money on having roommates but it does bring in a few thousand dollars a year which helps to offset the cost of our home.
When I tell people at work I have roommates, they don’t understand it. They usually say something like, “I would hate that! How do you do it?”
I don’t hate having roommates at all. It’s very easy and I actually kind of like it.
It’s Not So Bad Living With Roommates
The first roommate we ever had in our house was awesome. Not only was our roommate clean and respectful (pretty much the only two requirements I have of a roommate), our roommate also played guitar, was well-traveled, well-read, was a great conversationalist and was a great cook. Our roommate also got along great with my dog which just makes things easier.
When we first signed up for a roommate, I was just thinking about the extra money. I forgot that it can be fun to live with roommates. On weeknights, I was used to going to work, coming home, hanging out with my fiancé, and going to bed. When you have roommates, a weeknight dinner can be a social activity. You can crack a beer or open a bottle of wine and all hang out. Or, given that our roommates have their own space downstairs, you can have a quiet night and barely see each other too.
Some roommates spend more time in the house than others. We had one roommate who had social activities every night of the week and spent the weekends staying with friends closer to downtown. That situation was nice since we had the house to ourselves 99% of the time but had a check coming every month. The roommate was very nice as well so when we did interact, it was fine. Other roommates spend more time in the house and that can be good too.
The roommates that we have are typically from other parts of the country. I like learning about new places and meeting people from all over.
As you get older, it seems to be more difficult to meet new people. Roommates kind of force you to be social which can be a good thing.
Lessons Learned from Having Roommates
Renting out a room in my home the past two years has taught me a few things.
1. Don’t be afraid to up your rent
We first charged $400 for a roommate, then $415, then $500, and now $550. We know rents are not that high in our area but we were charging way too little at the beginning. It didn’t bother me when we had a great roommate but when we had the bad roommate, I was reminded of it every single day. Put a fair price out there and see if it sticks. You can search on Craigslist or an aggregator like Padmapper (which pulls from Craigslist) to see prices in your area.
You should also consider WHO you are renting too. We know that interns coming from out-of-state won’t be able to find affordable short-term housing since month to month leases are expensive and that they probably will need furnished housing since they aren’t coming with stuff. For this reason, we feel that we are offering them a good deal living with us and that our price is fair.
2. Set expectations from the beginning
The one “bad” roommate was really just a messy roommate. I was a messy roommate once so I understand but now that I own my own house, I have a different mindset about taking care of things. This roommate would put food down the side of the sink that didn’t have a garbage disposal, would explode food in the oven and not clean it up, would leave the gas for the grill on all night and then ask us to buy another propane tank, spilled Chex Mix in our brand new couch and left it there, among other transgressions. My fiancé has always been neat and he gets really annoyed when roommates are not neat, so he was in a bad mood for three months living with this guy. It was awful.
Lesson learned from this situation is to set expectations with your roommates from the beginning. I now tell every new roommate coming in that my fiancé has high expectations about neatness and mention specific things that he expects like no dishes left in the sink, etc. The two roommates we have had since the messy roommate have kept things neat and it’s been fine. I always say it’s my fiancé that is particular about neatness because I am a little messy myself and I want to be understanding. It has worked so far.
3. Screen potential roommates
We’ve never put out an ad for a roommate although I know people who have had great experiences finding roommates on Craigslist.
We have also never went through the formal lease signing and tenant screening process with our roommates but if I did get a rental property, I would absolutely do all of that.
We find our roommates through my fiancé’s company’s internship program. My fiancé generally talks with them prior to us agreeing to be roommates. We have never met the roommates prior to them staying with us but I typically trust my fiancé’s opinion from the conversation and google them to make sure they are not reported psychos.
Surprisingly, the one “messy” roommate we had was a referral from my fiancé’s coworker. We felt good that my fiancé’s coworker vouched for this person since we typically have no connection to the roommates ahead of time.
Lesson learned – if someone refers you to a roommate, still talk to them anyways.
The Cost of Renting Out a Room in Your Home
Surprisingly, our utility bills have not gone up from having roommates. You would think that at least the water bill would go up but Mint tells me that there is no difference in the water bill when we have a roommate. The only impact on our water bill is watering the lawn which we stopped doing once we realized it doubled our bill.
The only start-up cost for renting out a room in our home was furnishing the room. We had a basic but nice comforter, had a mattress that an old roommate left, a set of clean sheets, and curtains from the prior owners of the house. We bought a $30 nightstand at Walmart as well as a few pillows at Kohl’s. We didn’t put extra decorations in the room or spend any money making it pretty which I think was the right decision.
As I mentioned in another post, there are things you may think roommates care about like cable tv, but to spend money on those things is a mistake. In my experience, roommates only care about convenience, location, cleanliness, and price. Some of those things can even be sacrificed. For example, our location isn’t great but it’s convenient, clean, and a good price. Roommates see the situation as temporary so their expectations are lower.
The non-monetary costs of having a roommate are having to share a space with someone else, the potential headache of dealing with a bad roommate, and some awkward moments. Overall, the costs have not outweighed the benefits for us.
We have never had trouble getting paid from roommates.
So, are we too old for roommates?
In my opinion, no. Roommates are a great vehicle to pay off debt and get to financial independence more quickly. Society pressures people to start buying expensive homes and new cars even though it’s not the best thing financially. Society also judges those not living alone when they hit their late twenties and early thirties despite how beneficial it can be to have roommates.
I’ve received comments from my friends, family and coworkers who don’t understand why we live with roommates. I think people are afraid to consider alternatives to the norm. When they are confronted with those alternatives, they reject them out of fear or out of a hidden insecurity of their own choices.
We will continue to have roommates until at least we have kids. We may even have roommates past that point but we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it.
Do you think we are too old for roommates? Would you consider having a roommate if it helped you reach your goals more quickly?