Learning to ask for and get housemate references can feel awkward. You should still do it as part of thorough selection process.
The Importance of References
A long time ago, when I was just out of graduate school, I made some horrible mistakes in selecting housemates.
There was the young woman who was so depressed that she kept one pot on the stove into which she just threw different ingredients. She never cleaned it out, just kept adding things. The mush was brown and disgusting. She never moved in any furniture, just had a mattress on the floor and a pile of clothing. I finally asked her to leave.
Then there was the con man who talked a good game, moved in and never did anything except get high. He fell behind on his rent and eventually cheated me out of $500 which at the time was a fortune to me.
I remember these two cases because they were so egregious. After the con man I learned to ask for references.
References are essential because they give you information about the person beyond what the person says about themselves and what you observe. They provide a connection beyond the person to that person’s world. When you are the person with a home to share, you should ask for two references, one to confirm employment or the ability to pay the rent, and one social. If you are considering moving into a place, you should ask to speak to a former housemate.
Your future housemate should not have a problem giving you references. If it is a problem that is a big, red flag.
How to Get A Reference
For references you should get a name and a phone number so that you can have a conversation. By talking rather than emailing, you can assess how the person talks about the potential housemate. It doesn’t need to be a long conversation.
It might go like this:
Hello my name is _______. __________ gave me your name as a reference. I’m considering asking ____________ to live with me. Do you have two minutes to talk to me about ___________? (If they say yes, continue. If not, ask for a good time to talk. )
The questions are simple:
How long have you known ____________ ?
Have you lived with _____________?
If yes, then continue:
What did you like about living with _________________?
What didn’t you like about living with ___________________?
If they haven’t lived together:
What do think would be good about living with __________?
What might be a downside?
Can you think of anything else I should know that would help me make a decision?
That’s it. You might decide to have a longer conversation but with the answers to these reference questions you now have a fuller picture of the person who could be your good housemate. You get to decide if you are satisfied that this person will be a good housemate for you, or if the conversations created concerns.
The conversation with a person’s employer is only to check on income. So instead of asking about living together, you ask about employment.
How long has ___________ worked for you?
Is there anything you think I should know in making a decision about asking ___________to be my housemate?
In every case you don’t want to ask question that is answered with yes or no. And you shouldn’t ask if this is a good person to be your housemate. Only you can decide!
Last year, one of my friends was advertising to share her apartment. When she called me with excitement that she has found her housemate, the first thing I asked was, “Did you check references?” She hadn’t and this person turned out to be an awful housemate. My friend sent her away in six months. Don’t let this happen to you.
Housemate references are an excellent and essential step in finding your good housemate. What you learn by checking references may save you the hassle of goop on the stove or the con man cheating you. Do it!