One of the hardest things to deal with when moving across the country (or even to another state) is procuring housing before you arrive. Typically, the prospective renters that my housemates and I have interviewed (mainly from Craigslist) were already conveniently located in our area. We set a time, they came over, we asked them question, chatted for a while, and then discussed the interaction among ourselves after the person left. Easy enough to weed out the weirdos….
So, even though I had one housemate who actually flew from Oregon to Massachusetts to spend a week house hunting (how we met), the vast majority of long-distance movers must rely on technology to make a good first impressions and find a living situation that fits their life-style and personality. Therefore, it is important to make you phone calls, emails, and video chats count!
The best way to start looking for housing is, of course, online. Sites like Craigslist and many others offer easy access to rentals, sublets, shared rooms, houses, and apartments. Though some people may feel inclined to live alone (age also plays into this), moving to a new area and renting a room in a house with other people is a great way of getting to know the area, making new friends, and sharing expenses.
For starters, a clear, direct, and well-written email is a must for initiating a dialogue with potential housemates. I can tell you from experience that one-sentence emails, emails with typos, and emails full of questions that were clearly answered in our advertisement will be ignored. Tell the people who have a spare room about yourself, but be concise:
— where you’re from
— why you’re moving
— when you’re moving
— what you do for fun (read? have friends over to hang out? cook? play guitar or drums?)
— how old you are
— name like Sam? Tell them if you’re a guy or a girl!
— and last, but not least, do you have a job?
All these personal touches help potential renters see you as a potential new friend, not just someone sending out weak, half-hearted attempts. A good tactic is to read the advertisement and use THEIR criteria to formulate your email; i.e if they say they are “clean” (something I always have found subjective) then mention (in a natural way) that you like to keep an organized house/clean the dishes after you use them, etc. If they say that they don’t like to party, tell them that you plan on being very studious (only if that’s the truth!). If they say they enjoy social gatherings, tell them your are excited to make new friends!
Note: In general, detailed questions about rent payment, security deposits, utilities, etc. are part of the follow up conversation. Also, any good online room-for-rent ad will already have the information in it.
The next step after getting an email response is setting up an “interview” where you and the people you may be living with get to know each other. These days, what was once exclusively done on the telephone can now be easily done through video chatting! Gmail, Facetime, Facebook, and Skype all enable people around the world to speak face-to-face with ease. Video chatting has been very influential in my searches for new housemates, and it is a great way to meet someone that can’t be there in person.
We used video chat some time ago, when my then-girlfriend and I interviewed two girls who were living in San Francisco via Skype. They were students looking to live with us for the summer and were long-time friends. The four of us sat down in front of our laptops and talked renting logistics, joked about school, and asked questions about each other’s living habits. We even picked up the computer and gave them a virtual tour of our house and their potential bedrooms! By the end of the interview, we told them we would get back to them shortly, and decided to ask them to live with us. Now, I’m not positive, but I think that if it wasn’t for the video chat, we would have gone with someone else…