Asking your potential housemate for references is an important piece of the housemate selection process. Someone can be charming and lovely in an interview who changes character after moving in. Both the person seeking a home and the person who is seeking a housemate have a right to ask for references. And then you must check them. There are two types of reference: income verification, and housemate habits.
Probably before you even interviewed this potential housemate, you learned as much as you could about the person through the ‘Net. Facebook, Twitter, and a Google search can tell you quite a bit. If you didn’t do it before interviewing, do it before checking references.
Reference checking should be done by telephone, not electronically. Make a telephone call. For some it is a bit scary to call someone you don’t know. If it is scary for you, just take a deep breath and do it anyway.
For income verification, you should call the person’s place of work and talk to his or her supervisor. Make it quick. Leave a voice mail. Be direct and clear. “I’m considering _____as a housemate, and I want to verify that she works for you. Please leave me a message at ________.” A supervisor should be willing to help an employee find housing and would not mind the phone call to give a reference. If income is coming from another source also, talk to that source, too.
For finding out what the person is like to live with, a different set of questions is appropriate. When you introduce yourself, explain clearly why you are calling and ask the person for 10 minutes. That’s enough for you to get the information you need.
The first thing is to find out how well the referrer knows the person. A good referral is someone who has actually lived with the future housemate. Be wary of a person who claims to have lived in shared housing before but can’t give you a reference of someone he or she has lived with. The next thing is to find out why that relationship ended. Endings tell a great deal about a person. The ending probably had a good reason for it, since this person has agreed to provide a reference.
At this point you might be in a conversation. If you have any particular concerns, this is the time to ask about them. If not, two general questions should lead you into a conversation. Ask, “What did you like about living with _________? What did you dislike about living with _________________?”
Follow up these questions with open-ended questions (requiring more than a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’) that allow the reference to talk. You are there to listen and learn. These questions and your follow-up questions should tell you as much as you need to know about your future housemate.
Do end the call at the ten-minute mark as you promised. Keep the reference’s name and phone number.
The reference checks give you more information with which to make a decision. You can either confidently decide to share housing with the person you checked on, or you can decline. It’s up to you.
Here’s another post for interview prep: Videoconferencing for Housemate Interviews – When and How To Use It.