Everyone knows that finding a roommate in New York City is no picnic. There are plenty of horror stories to go around: Wasting days combing through bogus Craigslist posts, getting checked out by a creepy (ex) potential roommate who seemed so normal over email, finding out that you’ve funded your roommate’s extravagant social life by overpaying for a rent-controlled apartment. The list goes on, but the frustrated among us can’t help but wonder why the roommate search is so tough in NYC.
There are a couple of reasons it’s maddening, the biggest being the reality of supply and demand according to Matt Hutchinson the director at the roommate-finding site, Spare Room NY. “In New York there are currently six people competing for every room advertised, which is why finding rooms in the city is so difficult,” he says.
It’s so difficult, in fact, that Hutchinson declares that “finding an apartment in New York can be a full-time job in itself.” And if you’ve ever done it, you know he’s not wrong, but how to make it as easy and painless as possible? There are a handful of websites and services that claim to connect roommates like peanut butter to jelly, and NewYork.com has done the hard work for you. This writer has surfed, emailed, called and even attended the roommate equivalent to speed dating – all in the name of uncovering the best, most effectively efficient avenues to find a roommate in New York City.
Speed Roommating – speedroommating.com
If blind dates appeal to you, so might Speed Roommating, in which a likeminded group of roommates-seeking-roommates get together for informal evenings of mixing, mingling and chatting about amenities, guest policies and whether utilities are included. The service, which has attracted more than 4,000 potential roommates in its first year-plus of operation, is an offshoot of the website Spare Room, the UK’s largest roommate-finding site that recently expanded to New York.
“What Speed Roommating does,” according to Hutchinson, “is place the emphasis on the people, not the apartment. In one relaxed, informal evening you get to meet several potential roommates and decide who you like, then view the apartment. It saves time … but also gives you a better shot at making sure the people you’ll live with are right for you.”
The experience: My time at the Aug. 7 event was enjoyable and productive. Everyone I talked to was someone with whom I could see myself sharing an apartment. I left with three solid room leads and the numbers of two ladies to join me in apartment searching, if I decided to go that route. It’s also refreshing to conduct roommate business face-to-face.
The specifics: Speed Roommating events are held at the Playwright Celtic Pub in Midtown every other Wednesday from 7 to 9pm. Visit speedroommating.com to RSVP. It’s free whether you need a room or have a room. Guests wear their name, rent and neighborhood requirements on a sticker (red if you’re in need, white if you’re looking to fill a space). Once you’re checked in and have a drink in hand to help stave off the initial middle-school-dance awkwardness, it’s up to you to scan the stickers, pick a mark and strike up a conversation in the bustling room.
Metro Roommates – metroroommates.com
While other websites may be more focused on finding you a roommate, Metro Roommates is more about the spaces available, and the site has all manner of listings, from short-term rentals, ideal for travelers, to longer-term options such as renting a room in a Brooklyn brownstone or a West Village walk-up. Indeed, the international online roommate matching service is from the company that started Sublet.com, and it came out of the realization that home owners needed a place to find roommates online.
The experience: While I had good luck with several websites during my search, Metro Roommates was easiest to search. Creating a free profile was quick and with the site’s multitude of search filters, I found it easy to see only those listings that matched my requirements. As well, a big red button clearly identified the paid ads that I was able to contact for free. What it’s lacking in visual appeal and listing quantity is offset by the quality of the listings and the lack of unnecessary email delivered to my inbox.
The specifics: Sign up for full membership to access everyone’s contact information (from $20 for 90-day all-access to their approximately 500 listings).
Roommates.com – roommates.com
Roommates.com claims it’s the “most popular roommate matching service” with 50,000 site visits and 1,000,000 page views per day. The site satisfies both types of searchers with two separate and searchable databases: one for rooms and another for roommates. Search on your own by browsing available rooms or search the roommate postings to find the perfect person to join in your apartment search.
The experience: Unfortunately, these listings are uninformative and lacking in a free-write description space that I found to be very helpful on other sites — it’s a great way to gauge the potential roommate behind the ad. Also annoying, Roommates.com tried very hard to get me to upgrade by emailing me daily to inform me that I had a new message, but it was always mail that I couldn’t read unless I upgraded. Talk about frustrating. Yet, despite these drawbacks, this was the site where I ultimately found my new apartment, so it can pay to put up with a few annoyances in the name of the perfect New York City apartment.
The specifics: Sign up (free) to be able to contact anyone within the site and view listings in a limited capacity (photos are thumbnail size and messages are locked) or become a choice member ($20 for 30 days) for unlimited access to full-size photos, cross streets and listing comments.
Easy Roommate – easyroommate.com
Founder Yannick Pons saw a need in New York for an online roommate search service and started exactly that in 1999 with Easy Roommate. While the site expanded globally (and spawned sibling sites such as Where to Sleep and Homes for Students), its New York offerings remain strong.
The experience: The aptly named website is both easy to sign up for — a requirement to view its listings — and also to search. On the user-friendly site, all the information is conveniently placed on a single page, which makes it easy to view and to print. I did not, however, appreciate how Easy Roommate flooded my inbox with emails, many of them duplicates — more than 40 in just eight days.
The specifics: Basic membership (free) allows you to create a listing for yourself that shows up in others’ search results, allowing you to be contacted, but you can only contact premium (paid) members. Enrolling as a premium member for $30 gets you 30 days of access to approximately 500 room listings and thousands of roommate ads. Shopper, beware as there are more than a few online reports that Easy Roommate doesn’t offer much return for the premium investment.
Spare Room NY – spareroom.com/newyork
Although new to the New York scene, Spare Room UK has been around since 2004 and its New York sibling is host of the only in-person event specifically focused on roommates that I could find in the city: Speed Roommating (see my above review). On the Spare Room NY site, you can browse for a roommate or by rooms available.
The experience: I found Spare Room NY to be easy to use and probably the most visually appealing of all the sites I utilized. However, many of its postings didn’t meet my requirements so I wasn’t able to contact many people, but I have no complaints about those with whom I spoke.
The specifics: Sign up (free) to contact paid premium listings and those that are older than seven days or upgrade ($20 for 28 days of access to more than 200 NYC listings) to get early-bird access to new listings and place a bold ad to “get (on average) twice as many enquiries,” according to the company.
Roomie Match – roomiematch.com
Roomie Match is focused on matching roommates by compatibility rather than simply preference for separate bathrooms or a washer/dryer. Create a free profile by filling out a detailed questionnaire. As with Speed Roommating, it’s reminiscent of dating for roommates. Sample questions include: “How often should ‘significant others’ stay the night? Your attitude toward out-of-town friends staying over? What household consumables would you like to share? Are you extra sensitive to anything [short answer]?” Roomie Match filters out what it calls the “scam, spam and scum” for you with, as they put it, “Human Scam Busters using their actual eyeballs and organic brains [to] weed out slimeball internet rip-off artists before they get to you.”
The experience: Turnaround time was fast; my profile was approved on the same day. Unfortunately, in using it for free, I don’t get much out of it except for a ton of emails (more than 40 in five days and only one of them was actually from another user) because only paid subscribers can search through the profiles to contact their matches. All those emails were to show me my matches in the Roomie Match database, including their questionnaire answers, which would help anyone on the fence about subscribing decide whether or not to whip out their credit card.
The specifics: Become a cheap user ($20 for an all-access year-long subscription) to search through and contact your matches. While success statistics aren’t available, the owner of Roomie Match, Robin Owsley, says she does receive “a lot” of thank-you emails from users who have found a roommate through the site.
Beyond the more generic roommate-finding websites, there are several online sites and communities that cater to particular interests or affiliations. Rainbow Roommates, which calls itself “the leader in lesbian and gay roommate and rental service since 1995″ allows prospective renters to browse listings both online (rainbowroommates.com) and through its uptown brick and mortar outpost (W. 60th St. and Columbus Ave.). The kosher comedy community, Bang It Out, has a section on its site that focuses on Upper West Side Orthodox Jews with an “Apartments that Bang” database (bangitout.com/classifieds/index.php). Sulekha, “the biggest and most popular online community and social/professional networking hub for Indians in the world,” has devoted roommates and rentals classified listings (indianroommates.sulekha.com). Since it’s all about all about neighborhood in New York, try PadMapper (padmapper.com), HousingMaps (housingmaps.com) or the mapping function within Craigslist (craigslist.org) to easily view listings according to location if that’s your main requirement.
Tips and Tricks for the Best Experience
No matter what avenue you pursue, keep an eye out for scams and creeps. It’s best to test the waters by trying the free version of a site first. And remember, if it sounds too good to be true, it usually is, and there’s no harm in walking away if you’re feeling uncomfortable. A few more tips gleaned during my own searching:
• When you contact someone within one of the websites, include your email address and/or phone number in the message so you can begin a dialogue outside of the site’s access restrictions.
• Print out copies of listings to have all the information handily available and that’s also a convenient place to take notes, key when you’re looking at numerous places simultaneously and speaking to so many people. After all, how else are you supposed to remember which apartment had the tiny bathroom and which potential roomie had the bad B.O.?
• Just like when looking for a job, contact lots of people at the same time because many of them won’t get back to you, and you want to have as many options as you can.
• Always look with caution; though many sites claim to filter their users, you can never be too careful of scammers and creeps. Arrange to meet prospectives at a nearby cafe and only agree to see the space if you get good vibes. You can always bring a friend.