The most common roommate complaints—plus other co-habiting intel—from the founder of roommate-matching site SpareRoom

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Ever wonder how much you’ll save living with roommates? Want to know how to pick good ones? So did we. We caught up with Matt Hutchinson, founder of SpareRoom, a roommate-matching site that launched in 2012, to find out.

Most ads on SpareRoom (which debuted in England in 2004), are placed by leaseholders and are for individual rooms within shareable apartments, Hutchinson says. Each month there are over 700 listings. The site, which vets listings to remove spammers and fake ads—a combination of searching for key, spammy words in a listing, doing reverse Google Image searches and by searching IP addresses—also hosts SpeedRoommating events every week in Brooklyn and Manhattan.

What’s the average cost of a room on SpareRoom?

Across New York, it’s $1,194 (generally including utilities). But let’s break it up by borough: In Manhattan it’s $1,434; in Brooklyn it’s $1,058; Queens, $890; Bronx is $723; Staten Island is $619, and just in case you were wondering, Hudson County in New Jersey is $994.

How much cheaper is it to live with more roommates?

Substantially. In Brooklyn, you’ll save a little over $1,000 a month if you have roommates rather than living in a studio alone (all data is based on the MNS market reports). The savings is over $1,500 a month versus living in a Brooklyn one-bedroom. In Manhattan, you save $950 by living with roommates rather than in your own studio, and you save $1,606 by living in a room versus a one-bedroom. In Queens, you save $797 versus living in a studio and $1,099 versus a one-bedroom.

Which borough is best represented on SpareRoom?

Brooklyn now accounts for more ads on the site than it used to, but Manhattan still has more listings. Now, 44.8 percent of our ads are from Manhattan, and 39.3 are from Brooklyn. But in 2013, 42.4 percent came from Manhattan and 24.5 percent from Brooklyn, so there’s been a much bigger increase from Brooklyn.

What are the most expensive neighborhoods to share?

In Manhattan, it’s downtown: Battery Park City, Financial District, Meatpacking, where the average share is $1,984. In Brooklyn, it’s an area encapsulating Boerum Hill, Fort Greene, Gowanus, Park Slope and Prospect Heights, where the average price is $1,651.

No big shocker hear: Rooms in Park Slope are some of the priciest in the city.

Did anything surprise you about the New York City roommate situation vs. the one in London?

Just how intense it is here and how quickly things move. New York is like London on steroids. Also in London, people tend to share much bigger houses, which has social as well as financial benefits. Sharing with several people means if you don’t like one of them, you have other people to socialize with. Financially, room rents in a two or three-bedroom house shares are on average 14% more expensive than rooms in four to six-plus bedroom house shares.

How long are listings usually on SpareRoom?

​The average time is about a week or two, because the market moves so quickly.

How long is the average lease time of the apartments posted on SpareRoom?

The standard term is a year. But sometimes it's shorter, like just for the summer or for six months.

What’s the most common reason people move out of a roommate situation?

There are a few. Maybe they need to switch locations (often because of work or sometimes want to be near friends), or maybe they’ve had a falling out with their roommate. But usually it’s about life changes new jobs or relationships rather than about not getting along with roommates.

What’s the most common request when it comes to roommates?

The interesting thing is that people don’t ask most about the apartment. Cleanliness is the biggest thing people ask about. Reliability after that. We’ve found that it’s more about values than interests. And how clean you are is a big one.

Do you ever hear horror stories?

Not so much [though] they’re almost always about an environment health issue— that it’s disgusting in the apartment or in the bathroom. Or not getting along with each other, and not communicating properly.

I heard one story about a tenant who was afraid to go home and be on his own with his roommate’s 120-pound dog. 

But another big one that you hear a lot is that someone moves in with a roommate and gradually they find themselves living with his or her significant other.

People tend to say they're neater than they are when looking to find a roommate. If clutter drives you nuts, make that clear.

Any advice for people searching for a share online?

Make your decision based on the people rather than apartment. Don’t get too hung up on apartment; the people will make and break experience.

How about people advice for those who come to your speed roommating events?

I think it’s important to talk about overall values, not necessarily specific details about your personality. Cleanliness is such a big thing. People will almost always say they’re slightly cleaner than they are. Also, some people want a relationship with their roommates, others want privacy. You need to be honest and be yourself. But you also need to trust your instincts when it comes to deciding whom to live with. If it just doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t.

Any questions people should ask right off the bat?

Is it alright if my partner sleeps over? Will you have yours? Who’s responsible for bills? How will you divvy it up? It’s always easier to talk about before there’s money involved.

The key thing beyond all of it is communication. When you get to the point that you’re leaving passive-aggressive sticky-notes, you’ve gone too far and there’s no way back.

How can a leaseholder who’s looking to rent out a room protect themselves financially?

It’s always good to get as much information as you can on a potential roommate, because you’ll be responsible for their share if they default (and you’re the only one on the lease). It’s always good to ask for a letter from employer.


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