Won't You Be My Roommate?

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An old idea in housing – taking in a boarder or roommate to economize – is surging in popularity, spurred by technology.

“Both homeowners and renters are meeting online in a number of ways, from websites like Craigslist to posts on Facebook to a wide variety of websites and apps devoted to helping people find roommates,” says Chris Porter of John Burns Real Estate Consulting.

But a couple of truths existing in the nineteenth century boarder house era are still valid today:

It can be difficult to find a compatible roommate. And, if there’s a way to scam people out of money, disreputable operators will.

The Federal Trade Commission has a “Rental Listing Scams” page on its sites, warning, among other things, that renters shouldn’t send a check or credit card information to “guarantee” or “hold” a rental before actually signing contracts.

Not surprisingly, websites and apps are continually upgrading their software to ferret out scams and improving their algorithms to match compatible roommates.

The Roomi app, for instance, encourages those looking for an apartment to only communicate with the person listing the rental – at least initially – through the app.

That’s because “we monitor all the words used in the communications, and we block people who use words like “I need $100 to ‘hold’ the rental,’” explains Ajay Yadav, Roomi founder.

The app has also begun asking all users to input a copy of their driver’s license that’s used for a background check.

For those looking to share their unit and wants to verify that their roommate is financially reliable, asking for pay stubs or other proof of income as well as recommendations from past landlords is also advisable, says Nina Furseth of RentHop.com

For compatibility, Roomi tries to enhance a good match by asking about likes in music, foods and books, what type of industry they work in, and other factors.

Still, Yadav says it’s best to meet a potential roommate in person, preferably in a public place.

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