THE ULTIMATE CHEMISTRY TEST: SPEED DATING FOR ROOMMATES

by The Wall Street Journal
Date Publish: Tuesday April 22, 2014

Stephanie Carnright, left, and Sara DuPont try 'speed roommating.' TK

 

Amelita Lijek wanted to be upfront about her two cats.

"I bring up the cat thing early with people, because it is really similar to smoking or doing drugs," she explained. "It can be a deal-breaker."

Last Wednesday night, Ms. Lijek opened most of her conversations with potential roommates talking about her cats.

Right after exchanging pleasantries, Ms. Lijek revealed she is the proud owner of two domestic short hairs named Goobert and Lenny—both former strays.

"I just don't want to waste anyone's time. People love cats or they hate them," she said. 

Ms. Lijek, 26 years old, was at an event called speed roommating, hunting for someone to share the rent and utilities with after deciding to quit her day job—and give up her pricey one-bedroom apartment—to pursue her dream of being a comedian.

Speed roommating borrows the concept of speed dating and applies it to one of New York City's most perilous and frustrating activities. The organizers, from roommate search website SpareRoom.com, held their original gathering in 2004 in London and called it speed flatmating.

The first few meetings resembled more traditional speed dating, where people sit across from each other for two minutes, then a bell rings, indicating it is time to move on.

"It never really worked, though," said Gemma Allen-Muncey, director for SpareRoom.com. "In 2007, we moved to a less formal mixer event and it really took off."

About 60 people from New York and New Jersey gathered on the third floor of the Playwright Celtic Pub on Eighth Avenue, mixing and mingling, fortified with cocktails and pictures of empty rooms on their phones.

At speed roommating functions, two types of nametags are doled out. A white one means you have a room to rent and includes the neighborhood and the price. A pink one means you are looking for a room and, again, includes the neighborhood or neighborhoods that you are willing to live in and a range of what you are willing to pay.

Today, roommate searches happen mostly online. The appeal of speed roommating is to see if the potential roommates have that critical, immediate connection.

"It is just harder for people to hide their weirdness face-to-face," said Andre Black, a 32-year-old salesman looking to rent his room in Brooklyn's Bedford-Stuyvesant for $600 a month. He said he would prefer a Christian man. "I want to know if someone gets my vibe or not and just air my dirty laundry right away," he said.

The organizers started holding the events in Manhattan, generally once every two weeks, in August 2011. On May 6, they will start hosting speed roommating events in Brooklyn, which also will take place every two weeks.

A speed roommating night brings out, on average, 60 people, according to the organizers. Its popularity in the New York City market should come as no surprise.

"It has always been more cost-efficient to live with roommates," said Kevin Kurland, the CEO of the real-estate brokerage firm Spire.

And with rents increasing across much of New York City, "the demand for smarter, faster roommate finding services is sky high," he said.

In 2009, Spire started something similar to speed roommating. The firm would host a happy hour when they had a client who needed to find someone to share an apartment.

"Quite frankly, it was a circus," Mr. Kurland said. "Twenty people would show up and they would be milling around aimlessly."

Now, he said, "we bring people out to meet a specific person" who already knows the budget and potential neighborhoods. "From that point it is all about chemistry," he said.

At the SpareRoom.com event, Rachel Goroff was moving around the room in a hurry. She has a lease pending in the East Village for a three-bedroom apartment—and only one roommate.

"We need that third person," said Ms. Goroff, a 23-year-old advertising coordinator, as she glanced at nametags around the room. "I just want a young professional person who is willing to move quickly."

She darted across the room to a group of three women who looked like viable candidates.

Ed Sullivan, 59, was less picky about who would pay $1,600 to move into his spare room in the Newport section of Jersey City.

With his fedora cocked to the side, he surveyed the crowd and explained what he was looking for: "They just have to be human."

 

 

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