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Ask LAist: Finding a Roommate in LA

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First, I absolutely love the neighborhood project. I'm thinking about moving to many of the areas listed, so the profiles really help.

I would love to see an article about how to find a roommate in LA. I'm looking for a roommate for the first time out here, and I bet that kind of article would be useful for a lot of people.

Keep up the great work.

Beata Brandt

Beata, the timing of your question is impeccable. One of my roommates just broke the news that he plans on moving out soon, real soon. So I, like you, am now searching for a roommate. Fortunately, this is not the first time I have had to fill a vacant room, I lost track but I think this is number four or five. So I guess that makes me a veteran of the roommate finding process, which means I am either the best person to answer this question or the worst person to answer this question. You can call me Elgin Baylor of the roommate hunt.

Either way, I've learned some things along the way and I am here to share them with you.

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1. Start early. From the time your roommate tells you he/she needs to bounce, find out exactly when they are planning on saying goodbye. Once you have that information, get started.

2. Call anyone and everyone who's ever said, "If a room ever opens up in this place, please let me know." Hopefully you were taking notes when these words or something similar were said. That could save the stress of having to go into hardcore roommate search mode. If nobody has ever said this, you either don't have that nice of a place or you don't have people over often enough. In which case, buckle up - This could be a bumpy ride.

3. Ask all of your closest friends if they know someone who is looking for a new place. Take a note from the kids and post a MySpace bulletin. The folks on your friend list will be happy it's not another fucking quiz/survey, and will most likely read it and pass along.

A friend of a friend or colleague of a friend or whatever of a friend is always a nice addition to your living environment. But if all of your efforts have turned up fruitless, you must turn to everyone's friend Craig.

4. Post an ad on Craigslist. Your ad should market your apartment's strengths. If you've got free parking, washer/dryer on site, or a pool of gold coins like Scrooge McDuck throw it in there and put some asterisks around it like *this*. For some reason that makes it more appealing. Leave out your apartment's weaknesses. If you've got some furry creatures running around and not collecting rent or your downstairs neighbor grabs his mail wearing nothing but a smile, leave it out and save that for the Q&A portion. Posting your ad is very easy, and best of all it's free. Take that Westside Rentals.

5. Only respond to those who sound like a good fit.Craigslist has a huge audience, and some of them are actually normal people. With that said you are going to get a lot of responses. Within 15 minutes of posting my ad I received seven emails. These email responses came in all types. I got some that were a simple, "I want to see the place" to 1200 word autobiographies. You can tell a lot from their email, if their grammar or spelling is awful they may not be a good fit. A command of the English language is pretty vital in holding down a job. No job = no money for rent = you covering for them. Don't rule out the people who wrote just one line emails, they're probably busy which is a good thing. I'd rather live with someone who's on the go than someone who has time to compose three paragraphs just to explain how they plan on paying the rent.

6. Set up a time/day to show off the place. Try to get everyone to come by on the same day or within the same few days. Its much more efficient. Rather than asking what time works best for them, just say "I'm showing the place off on Saturday between 10 and 2." When it gets closer to your deadline you might have to be more flexible. You'll need to skip your monthly drive to Chick-Fil-A in Redondo Beach if it happens to be the only time that works for your potential roommate and you've got a day left to fill the vacancy. But let's hope it doesn't come to that... mmmm Chick-Fil-A.

7. Clean your place. You might want to scrub down those blood stains in the bedroom from that roommate who "decided to move out" before the next victim potential roommate comes through. A dirty apartment is going to be a tough sell, so get busy or just call up the maid. If you need to find a maid, Craigslist has a nice variety including females who will clean your place topless, if that's your thing. You might want to focus on actually getting the place cleaned rather than enjoying the services of a "Hottie Housecleaner".

8. Meet with all potential roommates. While this is their time to check out the apartment, it is also your time to get to know these people. Sell them on the place, show them around, let them ask the questions you were hoping they wouldn't ask and answer them honestly. Then sit them on the couch, assuming the roommate who is moving out isn't taking the couch with them, and casually interview them. The important questions revolve around their finances and lifestyle. I wouldn't ask about personality traits because I think people's answers to those questions are kind of boring. You can grasp their personality without asking them about it, you can't however find out that they moved to LA to become a writer and plan on paying the rent working as a paid audience member for a daytime court show while they wait to pitch that hilarious buddy cop show to the networks, if you don't ask. So stick to finances and lifestyle questions. Questions about music and movies are good ice breaking questions and can reveal quite a bit.

9. Do your own background check. Once you've got your pack of candidates narrowed down to two or three, feel free to ask them for references. They have to know three people who can say a nice thing or two about them, if they can't you probably shouldn't be asking them to move in with you. After you've heard all the nice things their references have said, like how they work at a soup kitchen on weekends and visit children's hospitals, its time to use the power of the Internet to do some background checking of your own. This could be done either through the power of Google, MySpace or any other social networking sites. Just throw their names in the search bars and see what comes up. If they have a common name like Mike Jones, you might have some trouble determining which one is the guy who wants to move in to your place, which one is the rapper, which one is the college basketball player and so on. In that case try to throw in their email address into MySpace and see what comes up. You really can tell a lot about a total stranger by their MySpace page. Some people will even send the link to their page right from the start as one respondent did with me. After seeing all the douchebaggetry on display, (seriously is it too hard to just take a picture while wearing a shirt, guys? I've got rules to live by and one is never live with a dude who took his shirt off for his MySpace picture) I decided not to respond to him. This is also a good time to go back and watch reruns of Dateline's To Catch a Predator and make sure none of those guys look anything like the guys who were checking out your place, the last thing you want is Chris Hansen knocking on your door. Hansen's a badass.

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10. Finally, once you've decided who among the pack of potential roommates is your top choice, notify them of their victory but give them a day to give you the final yay or nay. Remember, if they were smart they were whoring themselves out just as much as you were and might have their eye on something else and are just waiting to hear back from them. If you give them too much time to think it over they may end up turning you down. If you get a no from them, quickly turn to your number two who hopefully didn't jump off a bridge when they realized that you didn't pick them first. Once you've got a commitment, set up a time for move-in and find something to do that day - you really don't want to help carry their mattress up your stairs after all the hard work of trying to find a roommate.

Hopefully, after following these 10 steps you'll find the roommate you were looking for. I'll keep you posted on my hunt. I've got some people coming over this weekend.

Photo by SqueakyMarmot via flickr