It’s no secret that DC is one of the country’s most expensive rental markets, and the cost of living seems to consistently increase year over year. According to a 2017 article published by the Washington Post, an annual income of approximately $80,000 is what’s recommended to live “comfortably”. At the same time, average entry-level salaries range from approximately $42,000-$52,000. It’s not hard to see why, as a result, many people throughout DC seek out a roommate as an attractive solution. As someone who has both lived in and witnessed many roommate situations, I’m here to tell you some of the advantages as well as tips to consider before diving into a lease with a roommate in the District:
The Perks of Roommate Life
Let’s start with the obvious: living expenses:
Having someone to split living expenses with, especially when you’re operating on an entry-level income can be a game-changer. Being able to not only split rent (the average newer two-bedroom in DC rent’s for around $3000/month) but also split utilities and other incidentals can free up enough money each month to treat yourself to a nice dinner at Le Diplomat or a night on the town on U Street.
Space to Money Ratio:
Rent for a studio apartment in DC averages around $2000+ per month. Even if you have achieved a higher-than-average entry-level salary, that’s rent can be a large portion of your take-home pay. Don’t get me wrong, there’s no price tag on peace and quiet. However, many people love having a roommate in order to afford more space. Some apartment communities have an abundance of common space to entertain your friends and guests, but if yours doesn’t–you might find yourself a tad cramped trying to do so in a studio apartment. Having designated common space within the apartment and significantly more square footage can definitely be appealing to many.
Even if you are one of the lucky ones financially capable of affording your own one-bedroom, many people in DC either travel for work and aren’t home often or are looking to save money to achieve the ever-elusive goal of purchasing a home in DC. If you’re someone who fits into this category, a roommate could be the solution for you while you’re trying to save that money.
Built-in social opportunities:
If the coronavirus era has taught us anything, it’s the value of having social opportunities in a world where it’s not always easy to go out and socialize. While roommate dynamics can differ greatly from one another, having someone live in the same space as you can work wonders to reduce social isolation and by extension—potentially improve overall mental health. It never hurts to have a thoughtful roommate that might pick you up some chicken noodle soup when you’re feeling under the weather, too!
Sharing of the household duties:
You’ve just worked all week and it’s finally Saturday. Before you kick off those Saturday night plans (whatever those look like these days), it’s time to do some chores. Wouldn’t it be nice to have someone to share these chores with? Bonus points if they love to clean the floors!
Considerations when choosing a roommate
You may be saying “Now, Daniel, that’s all well and fine on paper, but what about the not-so-good?” Well, I’m here to tell you some potential considerations as well as tips on how to prevent the issue. I’ve lived with many a roommate in my day, and once you’ve lived with that cool friend on Facebook that turns out to be a hoarder, you learn that it’s not all diamonds and rose.
Set yourself up for success
Some of the best roommate situations arise from two complete strangers. Having said that, it’s important to meet ahead of time to have at least an idea of who you’re potentially living at least a year of your life with. Take this time to open to discuss pet peeves, preferences, and determine overall compatibility. For example, if your roommate is someone who has to wake up early for work and you’re a social butterfly who loves to host guests, this may be something you want to identify ahead of time.
Boundaries are critical. Some roommate dynamics are ‘strictly business’ and you may never hang out with them. Others may be open to or seeking a more socially based arrangement and may end up being your lifelong friends. It’s important when considering a roommate to identify and discuss both what they’re looking for out of the roommate relationship
You’re sharing a space with another human being. With that lovely, reduced living expense comes having to be receptive and respectful of another human being’s personality, routines, and quirks. If you know that your roommate is a neat freak, make sure you put that plate in the dishwasher rather than leave it in the sink. They may not say anything to you about it initially and may even clean up after you to soothe their own neuroses, but trust me, this is not to be taken as an invitation. The last thing you want is a passive-aggressive living dynamic that bubbles and boils until there’s a bigger issue. This brings me to the next must:
Communication is absolutely critical to having a successful roommate situation, and you’d be shocked at how inadequate most people are at communicating. This is where assessing personalities and doing your best to determine compatibility come into play. If you or the roommate are pacifists by nature, the thought of communicating needs, especially when they’re not being met, can feel like a confrontation. This can be the worst nightmare for you or your roommate if this is your personality type. In so many cases, the end result over time can lead to a passive-aggressive relationship that becomes toxic and will make you rethink saving that extra money. Do your best to set the expectations for one another upfront knowing that dynamics sometimes change. If something is bothering you, discuss it in a respectful and coherent matter rather than bottling it up. It will work wonders.
As we’ve all seen and as many have even experienced, employment and financial situations can sometimes change suddenly. This is something you should always consider when selecting a roommate. Does your roommate have an employment situation that guarantees a salary, or does your potential roommate rely on gig work and/or tips to make their living? Regardless of the answer, either situation can change suddenly leaving the other roommate in a financial lurch. Remember: most leases in DC are joint leases, meaning that if one roommate loses their job, you’re both still rent responsible in the eyes of your lease contract. It’s not hard to figure out the risks when you’re relying on another person to pay half of the living expenses.
Roommates, like so many other things in life, are calculated risks. Sometimes, you can do all of the due diligence in the world and still end up in a less than desirable living situation. But these tips are a good place to start to ensure that you’re not reaping all of the benefits of a roommate at the expense of your sanity and mental health.