Using Craigslist: How to Sell Yourself to Potential Roommates.

The subletting plans are still cooking, so we’ll be taking a quick detour this week:

Depending on where you live, the housing market may be horrendous or peaches and cream. Either way, if you don’t have friends who also need an apartment, you are going to need to convince a stranger that you 1) are not crazy, 2) will pay rent on time and 3)will not eat their leftover Chinese food and 4) won’t annoy the crap outta them.

It’s disconcerting, the number of ways one must sell one’s self in the world (to a company, a potential partner, the list goes on), but you’d be mighty naïve to think that apartment sharing isn’t one of them. I have plenty of theories about what makes people tick and what qualities make someone appear likable, and I have no idea whether they are accurate. However, I’ve been invited to live in both apartments I coveted (one was the railroad I chose not to take), so that must count for something.

Making a good first impression begins with the subject line of your outgoing email. Yes, I’m assuming that you are using Craigslist; if there’s some other way, please do share with the rest of our audience here! You could just use the subject line of their post, but I’d advise against it. Why? Because any decent place will solicit 50+ emails and need to stand out. For my money, I’d use something short and sweet paired with an exclamation. Even just “Apartment!” would do; it shows your interest and enthusiasm.

From there, I’d introduce myself by name – personalize your email. Don’t just write, “Hey, your place sounds sweet. When can I come by?” You are trying to join someone else’s household here and they need to know whether or not they can trust you, whether or not they’d even like you. Thus, the longer the better (use your best judgment on that. A 5,000 word essay is WAY too long.)

Some general points to hit beyond age/sex would be:

1) Are you employed? If so, where? Feel free to say, a “non-profit” or “law firm” or “retail”. Too specific might be too personal for a first email.

2) Are you single/ if not, is your significant other going to moonlight as an extra roommate? Even if you expect he/she to sleep over once or twice a week, don’t emphasize this. Be honest – but also don’t highlight your less desirable attributes. **I’m sure your significant other is awesome, but it’s not a selling point as a roommate**

3) Are you neat/messy? Does it matter if your roommates are? I’m no clean freak and I need my roommate not to be either; I kind of grew up with “museum-clean” standards and there’s now nothing I hate more. Explicitly say how flexible you are, that you’re conscientious about doing dishes in a timely manner, and that if you have a mess, that it will stay in your room; for the love of roommates everywhere, be those things! There’s nothing that brings out the passive aggressive(or, hey, aggressive-aggressive sometimes) than being upset that there are 5 day old dishes.

4) Do you want to be friends with your new roommates? Some folks just want to share a roof with you and have no interest being brunch-buddies. I fall on the opposite end of the spectrum, but be clear from the beginning what kind of relationship you are open to – it’s for your own good.

5.) End like you would a cover letter, by saying that you’d love to talk with them further and see the place. Again, it displays a keen level of interest.

I’d be happy to post a sample email that I wrote, if you’re interested…and will write about actually meeting people, and making a good roommate impression next time!

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Author My First Apartment

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I've lived in apartments in 6 cities (including 2 foreign countries). Does that make me an expert? As of now, my ceiling isn't leaking and I don't have rodents (knock on wood) -- so I'm going to say yes . . . but ask me again tomorrow:) These days, I'm enjoying life Chicago style, but my years in Brooklyn are never far from my mind. P.S. By day I work at, but these opinions are totally, 100% my own.

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Comments (6)

  1. Alissa Alissa

    Hi Alice,

    There’s no surefire way to guarantee you get the room, but think about what bargaining chips you have. For example, would you be willing to pay a touch more for the room? Do you have any friends in common to recommend you? Most people choose the person who seems the most reliable and whose personality is the best fit. Definitely be friendly (without being overly so and i.e. creepy) and keep looking so you can leave your options open, just in case.:)

  2. Alice

    So I found a great apartment on Craigslist that I really want. The roommates seem great and the room is huge for the price. But I get the feeling that they’re going to find a lot of people who want it. How do I convince them to chose me?

  3. Gerry

    Hi, I love this post because I’m struggling with finding a roommate to live with. Can see your sample email? Thank you for your advice.

  4. neal

    I have some bitter experience with craigslist, actually 4 months down when i was looking for apartment in los angeles,,I tired it first, but they were not able to provide me the kind of listings and services i was looking for. At last i had switch to another rental company , this time it was , and i am glad that i had gone to that only, as my apartment was fixed be them in just less that 24 hrs… i think they r the best in atleast southern california.

  5. Anonymous

    I’m definitely interested in seeing a sample email. Thanks for sharing your tips.