Moving in with strangers can be a nerve-wracking experience, but sometimes a necessary one; you need people to split the rent with, after all, and you might not know anyone in town or have local friends who are also looking for a new place to live. You need to know, then, that the key to turning strangers-you-live-with into close friends (or at least amicable roommates) is simple communication.
Before you jump into anything (like, say, a 12-month binding lease), you should first make sure you're all well suited to live with each other by having honest discussions about your habits and preferences. It can be hard to even know what to ask, so if you need a hand, here's a list of important topics to discuss before you agree to anything.
But first, here's the most important thing to remember: Now's the time to be really honest. If you sugarcoat your concerns or pretend like you're OK with something that actually drives you crazy, you'll be setting yourself up for a miserable living situation.
1. Your cleaning preferences
You need to cover two main things about cleaning: First, you should all talk about how clean you actually are. Then, talk about your cleaning expectations and how you want to make it work as a team—do you want to clean together, or divide up chores? How often do you want to clean the apartment? How messy is too messy for you? Discuss it all and make sure you're all on the same page.
2. How often guests will be there
This isn't always something that comes to mind when we think about moving, but it's a lifestyle thing that's really important when you're living with roommates, especially if they're people you don't know very well. Be sure to discuss how often you each like having guests over and if you frequently have out-of-town visitors who stay with you. If you love entertaining guests but your roommates hate having other people in their space (or vice versa), then it's probably not a good match.
3. Whether or not you'll throw parties
Along with having guests over, discuss whether or not you want to host parties at home—again, if your roommates love hosting parties but you hate it, and you can't find some sort of compromise that makes you all happy, it might not be a good fit.
4. Your noise-level needs
The noise level issue can be related to having guests over, but sometimes it's just a matter of one roommate playing music or watching movies late at night. You or your potential roommates might be light sleepers or need quiet time to work or study, or maybe you play an instrument and practice at home—in any case, make sure you have an honest discussion about your preferences when it comes to noise.
5. How you feel about pets
This doesn't matter much if you're renting and living somewhere where pets aren't allowed, but if there's a chance one of you could feasibly get (or want to get) a pet, talk it over in advance—bring up any allergies or concerns, just in case.
6. What kind of relationship you want
This is a really important thing that a lot of new roommates skip—take some time to talk about the kind of relationship you want to have with each other. Some people are fine with just sharing a space and not spending any time together or becoming friends, but others may want to have roommate dinners and movie nights. If one of you really wants a friendship and the other just wants to split the rent, it might not be the best match.
7. Your apartment deal-breakers
Together, you and your potential roommates should cover everything that you don't want in an apartment—maybe you dislike a certain neighborhood or you absolutely can't deal with having carpet. Whatever your deal-breakers are, talk about them up front before you start looking at places, so each of you can avoid settling for a place you can't stand.
8. If you'll split the cost of furniture (or anything else)
Furniture is the major cost when you move into a place that's unfurnished, so make sure you discuss how you plan to furnish common areas—do you want to pick out furniture together and split the cost? Or would you rather buy items individually and just share them? Beyond furniture, discuss paying for things like groceries, toiletries and kitchen necessities. For anything that might be shared, you'll want to cover the cost conversation.
9. Your work and shower schedules
Habits are hard to break: Some people shower at night, some people shower in the morning, some people work alternative hours and shower in the middle of the day. This is an easy issue to find compromise on, and might not even be an issue at all if you each have plenty of separate space (and private bathrooms). It's also just a good idea in general to know your roommates' work schedules before you move in—if you work nights but your roommate works during the day, you'll know to be extra quiet to avoid waking them up, and vice versa.
10. Your decor styles
Another easy issue to compromise on is your decor styles. This is definitely something to chat about before moving in, but it's not necessarily a roommate deal-breaker—just add it to the discussion you're already having. You should each talk about what you like, what you don't like, and what you're willing to try—then, find a way to compromise so you have a vision for your new place before you move in, and you can start decorating in a way that everyone can appreciate.