Photo: Flickr / Or Hiltch
Some daters swear by speed dating, so I was intrigued to hear about Speed Roommating.The idea kicked off in London in 2004, and was launched in January here in New York on SpareRoom.com.
The concept for these free biweekly events is simple: register, then upon arrival at a designated bar, don a tag that alerts others to whether you have a room or need a room, as well as your budget and location.
You are given a free drink ticket and then are free to roam, scanning others’ chests to find someone whose needs fit yours in terms of housing.
According to Joshua Wellman, the event’s host, out of about 150 registrants per event, about half show up — the ratio of male-to-female is about even, and the ratio to apartment seekers to those who want to rent a room is two-to-one.
The event attracts people of all ages and income brackets. Summer events are more highly attended, as the demand for housing becomes greater.
At a recent event I attended at a Midtown bar, I was surprised to learn that Speed Roommating was not exactly what its name implied; the event doesn’t follow the form of speed-dating in which you are matched with appropriate partners for an allotted amount of time and then told to switch to a new partner.
Wellman said they abandoned that concept because it didn’t seem conducive to the in-depth conversations one would need to ascertain whether someone is a good housing fit (interestingly, finding a life partner takes less in-depth knowledge of a person).
After attending an event and talking to lots of attendees, here’s what I’ve deduced:
- What you see is what you get: You are able to see (and smell) your potential housemate to gauge whether they might end up chopping you up for being too noisy.
- Convenience: Instead of traipsing all over the city to meet potential candidates, you get to meet everyone in one place.
- Free booze: The free drink helps everyone loosen up.
- Make new friends: One attendee with a room for rent in a high rise in Chelsea for a whopping $2,500 said he had attended a previous event and while he didn’t get a roommate he did make a few new friends and has come back to make more.
- Convenience: It is easy to assess very quickly without wasting time whether another’s budget and location is synonymous with yours.
- Free entertainment: If you are into hearing crazy NYC stories, this place has everything: tales of roach infestations, wild goose chases, communes and squatters. Everyone was eager to share their obligatory, “It was a nightmare…” story about their roommate hunt. The story that stood out most was a $700 Chelsea share that would require the male roommate of the prospective tenant to walk through her bedroom in order to get to his, and a bathtub in the kitchen so that basically the two roommates would be bathing in front of each other. The attendee said he could live with all that, but the real deal breaker was the cat.
- What you see is what you get: As stated above, you will be able to see (and smell) your potential housemate. And you may not be able to get away from them… I was trapped in several bizarre conversations with no easy way out. One man told me he’d have to sell his body several times a day to afford the rents that were being asked.
- Awkwardness: It is somewhat awkward to approach random strangers, and the atmosphere, at least in the beginning, seems very middle-school dance-like where everyone nervously sat nursing drinks waiting for someone else to make the first move. The shy might be overwhelmed.
- People are flakey: Those who had attended previous events said that they were frustrated that after the event, even those who seemed interested didn’t follow-up.
- People are unrealistic: Pretty much everyone I spoke to who had a room said seekers had unrealistic expectations about what area, size, and amenities they could afford for their budget. One man balked at being told he’d need to leave a security deposit. (His budget was only $500 for a room.)
- Some people are just window-shopping: I noticed the lack of a sense of urgency among some attendees. Suprisingly a man who said he was basically living out of his suitcase and another sleeping on his brother’s couch didn’t seem that eager to find a space of their own anyway. One woman who had attended three of these events and who is still seeking a roommate for her Prospect Heights two-bedroom ($850) said that the events seem to draw those young and new to NYC who watched a bit too much “Sex and the City.”
- Criteria are farflung: There were rooms being offered as far away as Yonkers. With such a huge mix it was way harder to target someone who might fit your needs. A suggestion was made by a student to have an event just for students seeking roommates or those over 30 doing so. By segregating by age, price range or area, the events could be more efficient and effective.
- Be specific about your budget and location desires.
- Bring flyers to hand out along with clear pictures of the room (and apartment) you are hoping to rent out.
- Bring a friend. If you are trapped in an unsettling conversation, you could have a code motion and your friend could come rescue you.
- On the flip side, don’t be afraid to show your crazy. This is not the time to act coy. Be specific about your weird schedule, food quirks and unusual pets.
- Get into details: Talk about division of chores, careers, whether you have a significant other or not who will be spending time in the unit, and your drinking, smoking and drug preferences.