If you move to New York City in your younger days and you aren’t working a job with an investment banker salary, chances are that you’ve had a roommate. The rent is too damn high, etc., and having someone to split utilities with can make living here financially possible even without a trust fund. There are all kinds of ways to find roommates, from taking up an offer from a Craigslist stranger to perusing real estate listings to long e-mail exchanges sussing out whether your friend of a friend’s co-worker can reliably chip in the safety deposit and hopefully bring a fridge. But a new wave of companies hopes that you’ll skip all that old-fashioned jazz and meet a roommate through your iPhone.
Websites like Roomidex and the forthcoming Roomi are offering matchmaking services roommates. Roomidex is just a more advanced way of posting your roommate needs to Facebook—you can filter by moving date and neighhorhood—and Roomi allows would-be sharers to post photos and prices of apartments and chat with potential roommates. One company, SpareRoom, offers free “speed roommating” based on the speed-dating model at bars in Times Square and Park Slope.
A reporter for DNAInfo went to a recent meet-up in Park Slope and noted that several real estate brokers were attempting to infiltrate the crowd, a practice that SpareRoom discourages. But the creep of brokers into sites like this is inevitable, and it means that instead of allowing roommates to circumnavigate the usual broker fee rigmarole, people are essentially hiring representatives to sell their apartments to potential roommates. Some sites, like BK Roommates or MyGradPad, are explicitly real estate agencies. That’s well and good, but it doesn’t necessarily guarantee a better fit than someone you met through friends or via email. What this process eventually guarantees is more fees and less transparency in a rental process that’s already fraught. So use those apps, why not. But remember that the motivations they have are not necessarily to help you meet your dream live-in friend, but to fill apartments.