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The Art of Finding a Roommate in San Francisco

image from Tech Crunch

This originally appeared in my Broke-Ass City column in the San Francisco Examiner.

It’s that time again. The call goes out on Facebook, comments are made, friends are tagged, emails come tumbling in. There’s even a post on Craigslist …

My roommates and I are searching for a new person to live with us.

Leah is moving out to canoodle more permanently with her boyfriend in Oakland. So the interviews are scheduled, the long staircase is traversed, the room is shown, and the mundane and bizarre questions are asked around the kitchen table. How many times have you been the one asking the questions? How many times have you been the one answering them? We’ve all done this far too frequently.

We often discuss with our friends how strange and exhausting the mechanics of finding a new roommate is, especially in San Francisco. But what we fail to acknowledge is the recklessness of the actual concept. It’s a hell of a thing to talk to someone for 20 minutes and then decide to live with them. There are so few decisions we make in our lives that are as important, yet formed so quickly.

You bring a cavalcade of strangers and friends of friends into your apartment, so they can parade in front of you like “Buffalo Bill’s Wild West” show. Then, you choose the act you like best and hope they aren’t insane. Was it Annie Oakley, the clever girl with the sharpshooting mouth, or Sitting Bull, with his quiet serenity? You certainly didn’t choose Calamity Jane because you could tell right away she was too much drama.

Searching for a new roommate can also be the time when in-house animosity makes a metaphorical mess in the kitchen. Long simmering slights and stings can explode against the walls like unwatched tomato sauce cooking on the stove. Then, choices have to be made on how to clean up the disaster. In the best-case scenarios, you scrub and cleanse the chaos with one another, hopefully making things better than they were before. Unfortunately, it sometimes goes the other way, and the search for a new roommate becomes an opportunity for those involved in the mess to try and find someone more sympathetic to their cause.

Another complicating issue with filling a room is that everyone has different criteria for what they’re looking for. From dietary restrictions to spiritual practices to drug and alcohol intake to how often they’ll be having slumber parties, there are a lot of variables.

My criteria is pretty lax. You can do whatever you like, as long as it doesn’t negatively effect my life:

You’re into some heavy spiritual shit? Cool, leave me out of it.

You like to party? Awesome, just don’t bring it home with you.

You’re a vegan? Sweet, you’ll probably need your own pots and pans.

Your partner(s) spend the night a lot? Great, make sure there’s still hot water for the shower.

What’s most important for me in a roommate is that I genuinely like your vibe, I think you’ll add something to our little home, and I’m convinced we’re not going to bang. I have very few strict rules surrounding sex or housing, but the biggest one is that they don’t mix. I have much-needed rent control and a great apartment, so there’s no way I’m going to literally fuck this up.

My roommates and I are doing our best to open our home to a vibrant, interesting and creative person who loves San Francisco and whose presence makes The City a better place. There are so many great candidates that it’s hard to decide, but hopefully we’ll be able to glean enough from a 20-minute interview to pick the right person. Wish us luck.

P.S. I know what you’re thinking. By the time you read this, we will have already chosen someone. Sorry!

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Broke-Ass Stuart - Editor In Cheap

Broke-Ass Stuart - Editor In Cheap

I've been called "an Underground legend": SF Chronicle , "an SF cult hero": SF Bay Guardian, and "the chief of cheap": Time Out New York, but to those familiar with my work, I'm just "that douchebag who writes books about cheap stuff and drinks a lot".

  • pch1013

    Looking for a new place to live sucks. For people my age, it sucks even more in a town where most roommate ads hint, or say outright, that no one over 40 will be considered.