The best questions to ask your lodger
So you've done the prep. You've got your room ready, worked out how much to charge, placed an ad (on SpareRoom, naturally) and people are starting to message you about your room. Great. But what now? How do you know who will be the best lodger for you?
In many ways, this is the most difficult bit. But don't worry, we've put together a list of things to ask your lodger, every one of which has come from someone who's been in exactly the position you are.
Here are the questions your fellow lodger landlords ask.
Why are you moving?
It's a really simple question, but one that can potentially tell you a lot about someone.
"I like to try to understand why they are looking for a room. Is it for a job, a course, have they left a partner or houseshare, or left home? Why are they looking in my area?"
"If they respond with anything overly negative about their current house or housemates, then there might be a problem here".
"Why are they looking to lodge as opposed to a flat share?"
That last one is a great question. We polled almost 13,000 SpareRoom users and 16% of them admitted they didn't know the difference between a lodger and a flatmate. That's not something you want to discover after they've moved in.
"Ask what they understand about lodging versus a flat share. Ensuring they understand the boundaries of lodging in someone else's house, but also the benefits (i.e. they don't have to worry about bills, cleaning and maintenance of the property etc).
Where and how did you live before?
"What bugs you about living with other people? Describe some things that have happened and how you dealt with it".
"What did you not like about living in your previous two places?"
"Ask about where they are living now, or recently, what they like about it/don't like or what's worked well or not so well".
This one is always a recurring theme when we talk about lodgers. On one level it's about being generally compatible, but there are also some really basic practicalities to consider, like...
"What time do you need the bathroom in the morning?"
"Working and leisure patterns - will they fit in in terms of when they're busy around the house or quietly working/absent?"
On a more general note...
"How do you spend your day? Do you have friends in the area?"
"I ask about their habits - what time are they up, out at work, back in, shower - so I can figure out if their habits will clash".
Another theme from the responses, which was more surprising, was related to pets and, more specifically, letting them make the decision!
"I once left it to the dog, when I had a dog. If people ignored the dog completely, they were the wrong fit. When the chosen lodger, who was great, asked how he'd got picked out, and I told him that he said hello to the dog, he thought it was hilarious that all his best behaviour and polite friendliness came second to being judged for dog manners!"
"As I have pets I introduce them on the day they visit, give the pet free rein and watch how they react. If they don't like pets it shows. I trust my dogs - if they don't like the person they don't get the room".
That leads us on nicely to other little things you can use to get a sense of whether someone's right or not. We'll use the term one of our users suggested, which is...
"It pays to be on the lookout for micro-behaviours. For example, if someone offers to take their shoes off before they look round, it's a fairly good sign that they will be respectful of your property. Also, if they've had a cup of tea and take it through to the kitchen, they'll probably be tidy. If they leave it in the living room, more often than not they turn out to be fairly messy. If they offer to wear a mask, then again they are likely to be respectful, and also reasonably hygiene conscious".
"I ask them to leave shoes out by the door. Depending how they leave their shoes, I know a 99% whether that person is suitable as a lodger".
"I look at behaviour when they come to look round. I open the door barefoot and see if the lodger automatically removes their shoes or not, or asks if I would prefer shoes to be removed. I watch to see how much interest the person has towards the animals. My advert will say that the lodger would need to feed and give my cats water while I work away a few days most weeks. At least one cat will normally be indoors and after attention - does the potential lodger stroke them or ignore them?"
All these questions and approaches are designed to help you work out one thing - will they fit in? As one user puts it:
"They have to fit in with your lifestyle. Once you’ve committed it’s hard to give someone their notice, so don’t rush in choosing the right one. What are their working hours? Do you want just a lodger or a friend/company and a lodger, make your expectations clear from the start".
Here's some great advice on how to create the right environment to find out.
"Create a comfortable welcoming environment for an informal conversation to get to know your lodger and the lodger to know you. Everyone is different, a good lodger for you may not be so good for someone else. Know what's important to you and frame your questions around them, keep them open and friendly. Also know your red lines - what are you not willing to put up with? Then have a friendly conversation and check out the fit. And listen carefully, especially the non-verbal bits in the conversation. Ultimately, your gut will tell you the answer - if it just doesn't feel right, it probably isn't! Don't risk it".
Lots of people said they look for someone who's similar to them in some way. That's one of the most common tips.
"I always go for someone with something in common. I’ve made friends with lots of my lodgers and we still meet up!"
But it's not your only option:
"Don’t discount someone because they are not like you. After living with two lodgers the same age and culture as me, I now have a Romanian lodger 30 years younger than me and we get on like a house on fire and I learn new things every day".
This is such an important area to cover. Every conversation you have up front about what you both expect is one future problem avoided. You might think your lodger has the same expectations as you, but you won't know till you check.
"I’m upfront about house rules and quite strict about cleaning. If they don’t like it they aren’t right. They must respect my house because it’s cost me a lot of money!"
"Set clear expectations regarding cooking, cleaning, socialising, use of communal areas, timings in the bathroom. People don't normally mind rules, its the inconsistent application that is the kicker".
So, you've met your prospective lodger, asked lots of questions and set some expectations. Now, how do you decide (especially if you can't delegate that to the dog!)? There's one phrase that came up again and again - gut feeling.
"It's a bit like an interview combined with a blind date, so trust your gut instincts".
"Gut feeling is valuable. Trust your intuition. I look at how many times they have rented, and reasons for leaving. Ask what they expect from the share. Do they have references? Are they able to meet the rent? Make it more of a conversation than an interview (they are also interviewing you). Try before you buy. Maybe invite them for dinner. That way you can tell if their chewing would drive you mad, and if they offer to wash up. Don’t rush the decision. The right person will wait. Don’t be pushed into deciding".
If (and only if) you run out of things to ask, one person suggested this as their favourite question...
"Have you seen the film Shallow Grave?"
Image credit - Andrew Neel