Roommate Experiences Explored

Finding the perfect roommate

For a majority of Americans, the cost of living is rising faster than their annual salaries. For most people, the biggest bill they pay every month is their rent or mortgage, and many have even looked for secondary incomes as a way of keeping up with the exponential cost of housing. For some, there's another solution: Roommates.

According to a 2018 Pew Research Center study, nearly 1 in 3 U.S. adults live with at least one adult roommate who isn't their romantic partner or a college student. Nearly half of young Americans graduating college are looking to rent and most likely seeking roommates to mitigate costs. And while moving in with someone has plenty of benefits on paper (sharing the costs or affording a bigger space, for example), the grass isn't always greener on the other side.

With so many adults living together, Apartment Guide conducted a survey of more than 1,000 Americans to learn just how dreadful living with a roommate can be. Read on as we explore whom adults live with, how happy they are with their living situations and what contributes to household tension.

Uncomfortable arrangements

When you're ready to change your living situation (or don't have a choice), there are certain guidelines you should follow to ensure you pick the best roommates for your lifestyle and personality.

Roommates and Living Satisfaction

According to our study, people who had more than one roommate were less satisfied with their living situations than those with just one roommate. There were also some other surprising findings:

  • Overall, people living with their friends, family (32%) and co-workers (over 30%) were the most likely to be happy with their roommates
  • People living with an acquaintance were the least satisfied with their living situation
  • Living with one other roommate who happens to be related to you is the most satisfying roommate situation

Nearly 47% of people surveyed were friends with their roommates before moving in together, but only 32% were satisfied with the current living arrangement. Just because someone makes a good friend doesn't mean you'll be compatible living together — and that's a lesson you may not want to learn firsthand.

40 year old man accountIt's recommended that you share some habits and routines with those you choose to live with, as well as agree on ground rules before signing the lease.

And "the more, the merrier" may not necessarily apply to the number of people under one roof. Thirty-one percent of people living with just one roommate were content with the arrangement, although happiness fell to 25% among those with two roommates and 26% among those with three or more.

Making the most out of a bad situation

Even if you can't afford to live on your own, having roommates isn't necessarily a bad thing. Living together may give you a chance to get to know someone better, and the right living arrangement can turn into a much deeper friendship even after your lease is up.

Managing Household TensionOf course, your roommate situation may not always be sunshine and rainbows. At some point, conflicts may arise between housemates, and you'll have to decide if — and how — to manage the tension. What is the most common source of tension in a household? Forty-one percent of people identified keeping shared spaces clean as the top source of tension between roommates. The topic of cleanliness was highest among people living with friends (47%), followed by strangers (43%), acquaintances (42%) and family (32%). Paying rent (9%), communication (7%) and violating boundaries (7%) were the next biggest issues between roommates.

Not sure how to handle someone eating your food or having their significant other stay over too often? It could be a lot worse, as the respondent below explains:

29 year old man accountRegardless of how sticky the situation gets between you and your roommates, the best way to confront the issue is to talk about it. The most common communication methods were in-person conversations (almost 72%) and texting (26%). Still, 14% of people admitted to not communicating their issues at all with their roommates (and only 17% of those people were happy with their living arrangements). One way to avoid problems in the first place is to draft a thorough roommate agreement that addresses common, potentially thorny issues before they arise.

Distribution of quality time

Living with a friend may seem like the first and easiest option when looking for a new roommate. After all, you already know each other, you likely have common interests, and you may expect that living together will be one big fiesta. What could go wrong?

Should you hang out with your roommates?Unfortunately, not only were friends more likely to have tension around keeping shared spaces clean or a significant other staying the night, but 1 in 4 people also acknowledged living together hurt their friendship.

Most people only hung out with their roommates a few times per week. Around 49% of all people with roommates said they hung out more than once a week, but less than every day with their roommates.

However, people who spent time with their roommates almost every day (almost 53%) were far more likely to be happy with their living arrangements than those who spent less time together. If you and your roommate were strangers before moving in, committing to spending quality time together can have a massive impact on how well you enjoy living together. Compared to 52% of people who saw each other almost every day, just 6% of strangers living together who didn't hang out were happy with their living arrangements.

25 year old woman account

Money matters

When it comes to deciding whether you should live alone or with a roommate, there may be a single determining factor: Money. No matter how you slice it (or how well you like the people you live with), sharing living costs is typically a major part of the decision. Should you split the bills evenly and make individual payments? What about some sort of barter system? Which arrangement leads to less fighting?

Finances with roommatesMoney can be one of the biggest issues between roommates. Among people who earned more than their roommates, 1 in 4 were unhappy with the household distribution of finances. While most people living with roommates earned a similar salary, more than 1 in 5 had argued with their housemates over finances. In some cases, these disagreements may be a result of how people decide to break down who pays what.

For some expenses (including utilities and rent), roughly 3 in 4 people decided to split the costs evenly. For other expenses, including cable or internet and streaming services, more than 1 in 10 roommates set up a bartering system where one person covered an expense, and the others paid for something else. For shared household items (48%) and groceries (70%), it was more common for roommates to pay for what they used rather than share the cost. In these cases, reasonable as they may sound in theory, bartering (33.0%) and individual payments (22.3%) were more likely than splitting the costs equally (21.6%) to lead to arguments.

26 year old woman account

Roommate horrors

Not sure just how bad things can get with a bad roommate situation? Just take a look at some of these horror stories told by our survey respondents and their age at the time of having roommates:

Roommate Horror Stories

The naked roommate passed out on the couch covered in pizza boxes sounds pretty bad, but what about a roommate that judges your showers or is having an affair with the expectation that you'll help them cover it up? Not all roommate experiences are terrible, but horrible situations might happen.

Your roommate resource

If you've ever had to live with someone (particularly someone you weren't dating or married to), finding the perfect roommate might feel a bit like winning the lottery. No matter how much work you put into making the right decision, it's hard to know what living with someone will be like until you experience it firsthand.

Even among friends, finding good roommates can be challenging according to our study, possibly more complicated than finding an actual place to live. Luckily, Apartment Guide is here to help simplify the experience so that you can focus a little more time on finding the right roommates. Our mission is to help you find the perfect place to call home. Combined with our powerful search engine and industry insights, it means you'll never have to compromise with a less-than-stellar living arrangement again. Whether you're looking for college housing, something on a budget, luxury living or planning on living with 10 of your best friends (we don't fully recommend that), let Apartment Guide help you find the best rentals on the market today.

Methodology and limitations

We surveyed 1,007 people who had ever lived with roommates other than a romantic partner about their most recent roommate experiences. We asked respondents questions about which roommate experiences led to the most and least living satisfaction. Around 51% of our respondents were female and 49% were male. Ages ranged from 18 to 75, and the average age was 37 with a standard deviation of 11 years. We did not have a validated measure for "roommate living experience satisfaction," so we created our own scale using a binary scale with five points, ranging from "mostly satisfied" to "mostly dissatisfied." Limitations apply to survey data, such as telescoping, exaggeration and selective memory. We did not weight our data or perform statistical testing, and this was a purely exploratory look at roommate experiences.

Fair use statement

Want to find a non-confrontational way to remind your roommate that it's their turn to do the dishes? Feel free to share our findings with your current, potential or former roommates for any noncommercial use, just don't forget to link back to this page so that readers get all the information and the authors receive proper credit.