Roommate or No Roommate?

Happy housemates carrying moving boxes and smiling at camera in new home

In my book, I mentioned that housing is perhaps one of the most important issues for the suddenly single woman. If you have a house, do you put it on the market and split  the proceeds with your ex? If the market is not too hot, do you wait? If you don’t own a home, should the one who stays take the other person’s name off the lease? So many questions.

I’m not a fan of loose ends. I chose to remain in our home and eventually asked him to sign a “quit claim” because he had unfulfilled financial obligations. It was daunting transitioning from a part-time wage earner to being self-employed and solely responsible for a mortgage. I took a leap of faith and trusted that I would be able to figure it out, and I did. This was over three years ago.

I often get asked how I managed to stay afloat financially post-divorce. Translation: how on earth was I able to afford my mortgage?

First things first. Aside from going full throttle with my business, I found a roommate through word-of-mouth. I did the usual Craigslist  ads (got too many weird inquires) and also perused the traditional roommate sites (no access to inquiries if you have a basic, free membership).

I have been blessed with the best roommate. She has never given me any problems. None! How nice is that? I was really sad to see her go, after two and a half years. She landed a job in another city, after completing her MBA.

Of course there are roommate nightmares. Did you ever see “Single White Female,” “The Roommate” or “Pacific Heights?” And I’m not just talking about movies here. Wasn’t there a woman in the news recently who couldn’t be kicked out even with non-payment of rent? She told the cops she was the nanny, and not a tenant.

If I made the roommate situation work, you can too! Here’s how:

Make it legal. Do a Google search of lease or rental agreements and find one that suits your purposes. Fill in the blanks about when rent is due, list down what furnishings are in the room, etc. Have your roommate sign two copies and give them a copy. Optional: Some landlords also order a basic background and/or credit check. I didn’t because my roommate was a foreign student.

Set your own house rules. Big no-no’s for me were: smoking inside the house, parties and overnight guests and I made those rules clear. Write them down and attach to your lease or rental agreement.

Ask a lot of questions. Is he/she a night owl? What are his/her hours at school or at work? I have a roommate questionnaire in the appendix section of my book.

Establish clear boundaries. Are you giving kitchen privileges? Is everything in your house “fair game” – including the cooking oil and the cleaning utensils? Make it crystal clear.

Do a periodic re-assessment. Similar to a job review, set a date and sit down with your roommate. When you do, ask if it the arrangement is still working for him/her and how you can make things better. It could be at the six-month or one-year mark. It doesn’t have to be a formal talk with witnesses. The important thing is to keep communication lines open, just as you would in any relationship.

Good luck in your roommate journey!

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