How to find a great shared accommodation, Part Two

- by Tom Zhang

Step #1 – Complete the Room hunting MUST-list.

Time to find a room? Let’s google it, and find a few close to my budget, jot down the #, call or text the landlord, booking viewings, check them out, and decide. simple!

It sounds simple, even dumb. Believe me, you will be amazed to learn what is the percentage of the people who never ever sit down and write down anything at all, with the thought that it is trivial or does not matter.

Why bother, it is just a room, right? Think again. It is not just a room, it is a place where you will be spending on average half of your daily life to rest, eat, and hang-around, you will be with some people who you have never ever meet in your whole life and all of sudden they are your roommates, and you will be experience something that you may never, ever done before in your life so far. With this much is at stake, now  it appears obvious that why this room shall be treated with all your attention seriously.

Believe it or not, this step is likely one of the most important things you learned from this guide that will truly change your odds of success, that will separate you from the herds. Here is why:

Firstly, by written down the must-list, you will be well prepared for incredible distraction and noises in the market.

With a clear picture/focus on what you truly need, instead of being distracted by thousands of ads, which could waste time in a big way when one drifts around the forest of ads aimlessly, and led into dark water that one should run away, now you only pay attention to the ones that meet your must list, the ones truy matter.

Secondly, it’s the final go-to point when it is time to make decision of the finalists. This helps you in a big way in swift decision making, knowing firmly that you make the call based on what your needs, musts and wants, not the others.

Last but not least, it will eventually guard your peace in mind and true happiness in the long-term. A truly thoughtful must-list should have the items not just for the current immediate need, but long term factors such as what kind of roommates you are going to be with. The truth is, if you don’t WRITE it down, it will not be there for you when you need it.

So now you see the importance of writing down your must list, below are 2-steps to create your MUST-LIST and the key factors to consider when you create it.

  1. Find a quiet place and set a time of 20 -30 mins so that you can be focused with no distraction.
  2. Write down (on paper or electronically) 3-5 so called must on your list. Focus 100% of what you need, do not worry if it is realistic or not, we can always come back add or reduce the list to match the changing situation.

Here is the list for your reference that may be considered to be in your must-list

--- 01, Budget or your Total Rents----


  1. it must includes ALL the foreseeable costs, including rents, furnished, utilities, wi-fi, transportation, parking, etc. Come up with a REAL number. Depending on your financial situation, you may relax or tie up the number with some margin before you finalize it. This should be the Maximum number that you are comfortable to afford and MUST to be stick on. Anything more than that – don’t even bother.
  2. What about bargaining? – some may ask,when searching, what if I include the house/rooms that are at higher rents than the above number and if it works, I will try to negotiate it down for a great deal. Well, it sounds perfect, but in reality, it could backfire on you. Here is why. The moment someone is willing to drop down the rent to meet your demand without a fair reason, he/she is somewhat “desperate”, and that is a troubled sign – a well-indicated hint that any kind of people can be your roommates when landlord is “desperate”. Yes, you may save a few bucks first, but less than desirable roommates could jeopardize your enjoyment unexpectedly, Quite frankly, not worth it.

---02, Location---

  1. Let’s walk – we all like to walk to campus or workplace, naturally. Who don’t like the convenience? But before you put it down as a must, just ask yourself one simple question: how many other people will think naturally the same as you do too? The answer is “a lot”. This explains why certain areas close to campus are so “hot” and cost you a lot more than you budget. Or you have to compromise the quality of your daily living in a less than desirable room.
  2. Furthermore, your advantage as a customer to choose from originally thousands of rooms are diminished due to the limitation of so called “walk distance to campus” that you put in for yourself. It is that simple – all about supplies and demands, when you have limited supplies, and a lot more concentrated “man-made” demands, the balance will tip against you instead.

Based on our internal survey and research, we found it cost a resident on average $100.00 more per month on rent alone for a room with much lower quality than a room that is not close to campus. In addition, due to the “Scarcity of the real estate space” close campus, your living expenses, of grocery, recreation activities are actually all above average by around 10-15% on average too.  

Time Distance, is another way of thinking – Instead of choosing “close to campus” as one of the musts, one could think out of box by re-define the must of location is to be able to reach with certain mins by transit or walk. Now, you add one more dimension into the equation, and change the game totally

  1. Instead of limiting yourself to the tiny area of so called “close to campus”, you can now explore much larger options of rooms that also allow you to be in campus or workplace within 15-30 mins by simply taking on bus or LRT ride.
  2. The benefits of this new way of setting up “Must” is obvious: you gain the power back as a consumer in the market with a lot to choose from, therefore, you can easily focus on quality of home and roommates, and being selective on good landlords rather than the types of take it or leave it that are not uncommon in campus area, because they are having a lot other takers, but unfortunately, not good thinkers.

This should not be surprise to anyone. It is a form of so called 80/20 rule, when 80% of people only focus on 20% or less market. You get choice: you can be blindly follow the herd of “walk to campus”, or you can be the rest of 20% who set their eyes to the 80% of total market and choose freely and happily as well.

Bottom line? It is totally up to you. When comes to the location, if you feel the campus option is the best for you, go for it. If you are more flexible on the location, you have great opportunity as well. It is not really right or wrong, it is all about what fits you the best.

03, House Type & 04, Basement Suite

House type

Are you specific into single family house? Apartment building, or condos? They all comes with pro and cons and mainly depending on what your preferences are.

My personal experience is that they should all work as long as you choose the ones that fit your needs.

Basement suite

Due to the nature of the shared accommodation, you will find basement suites type represents a large portion of the overall shared accommodation market. This is the place special attention is needed.

Firstly, you need to be specific, do you open to the basement suites? Many are fine but some just dislike the overall feel of lower than ground level, if that is the case, make sure you list it as a Must NOT.

Secondly, make a note on so called Legal suites. In Canada, many cities have so called “secondary legal suites” program to help build new legal basement suites or convert the existing ones into legal suites that meet health and safety standard regulated by Government. To keep it simple, it is always a default choice to opt to legal suite whenever you can.

However, the real world is always a bit more complicated than black and white. It is just simple fact that MOST of the basement suites all over the city are NOT legal suites, surprisingly, including many so called “walk to campus” house near the university area. Again, it is your own judgement call to decide if you want to take this risk to look into these illegal basement suites, with the common senses to see if your basic safety is being compromised (window or not? Size? How to exit/escape if there is an emergency?).

Bottom line? It does not matter how close it is to campus, or how cheap the rent is, it does matter to know that your basic safety is at stake or NOT.

05, What included & 06, Roommates

What are included

  1. Furnished or not? – This is likely a must with proper bed frame, mattress, study table and chair, so on.
  2. Kitchen, laundry, and bathroom – do you mind to share these facilities, or you MUST need them for your private use? Clearly identify them as they can change your search result dramatically.
  3. Utilities, internet, cable etc – For peace in mind, it is recommended to check them in details to avoid any surprises.
  4. Parking – if you have a car, you may want to find out the parking condition/availability and related cost too.


  1. Do you need to be male or female only, or you are totally fine with mixed gender?
  2. Do you prefer to be surrounded with the similar kind of roommates as either students or young professionals, or you will be happy as long as they are decent, good people. Do worry about how can you tell this for now, we will show you the ways how to meet this requirement without even seeing the roommates.
  3. Do you prefer long term steady roommates, or you are totally cool with people in and out frequently, as long as everyone minds their own business.

07, Landlords

Again, there are all kinds of landlords in the shared accommodation fields.

  1. Some are companies who are managing the properties and specialized in shared accommodation;
  2. some are individual landlords who renting houses to students and individuals, or
  3. they might be homeowners who are renting part or whole house to individuals.
  4. There are also people who are renting from the landlords, then turn around to sublease the rooms with or without the owner or landlord permission.

The key question is: how do you know how well they manage their properties and their residents?

Do you prefer the landlord lay back, easy going, has no lease or paper in place for the lease term?

Or do you like the types who are serious on keeping up the cleanliness and condition of the house, and high standard of screening the roommates?

On your must list, Landlord should be one of the MOST important MUSTs if you want to have enjoyable experience ahead. Here is why:

  1. Landlord will be the one to decide who are going to your roommates, which you are going to live together under the same roof day and night, and you normally don’t have control on it at all.
  2. He/she also is the one decide to run the place with high standard or not, and
  3. If there is any dispute between roommates, instead of you are trying to figure out how to resolve it, landlords are willing to step in to make the call if asked.

Simply put, a great landlord is the #1 MUST if you like to have a great experience. Choose wisely and it is a Must, not an option, it worth the repeating.

08, How long to stay

How long to stay

In ideal world, one might think a place to stay for as long as she/he need. It might be a few months, or 8 months that match your term, or maybe 1 year longer. It all seems fine, until you start to put other roommates into the same pictures.

For short term, while you may enjoy the freedom of staying as long as you like, and take off in a short notice, or no notice at all. 

The downside of this type of shared accommodation is, simply put, a bit “cold and chaos”. You won’t be able to find any real connection or relationship development in between roommates, as no one really even intent, or care to take time to know each other. It is like a hotel, you rush in and out daily, and no one really knows who are the other guests.

The deeper issue is much more troublesome than you might think by just looking at the surface.

  1. The short-term arrangements are prone to drugs-addicts, and people are homeless or unemployed with various physical or mental issues or disabilities.
  2. These are the ones who desperately need some help from others, but you, as a student, or young professional, might not be the best one to offer such help, without bringing yourself into some unwanted chaos or situations.
  3. Yes, the place is cheap,and flexible, but with a much higher invisible price tag you must pay attention too.

For long term option (normally 1 year or more), you will much more likely to enjoy a family/community like atmosphere where you can have enough time to nurture and grow true and lasting relationship while focusing your energy on study or work.

The downsize is so called lack of flexibility, which some of the landlords do offer so called sub-let option, which means you can find another one to replace you if you have some unexpected reason to leave sooner.

I would highly recommend to give a long term option a serious thought if you want to have a peace in mind in long term indeed.

Others –

There any other things in your mind that is unique to your situation and need to be treated as a MUST. put them down here.

By the end of this exercise, you should have a comprehensive list as the checklist to guide you for the home searching. One typical example is like this:

My house hunting Must List.

Must 01 – Rents for private furnished room, including utilities, shared kitchen to cook, shared bathroom (with no more than 3 people in total) are no higher than $595.00 per month.

Must 02 – the location of the home should be 30 mins or less to my school via LRT/bus ride.

Must 03 – Basement suite must be legal suite with the city inspection sticker as approval.

Must 04 – Landlord must sign a lease or paper with long-term tenants as preference. There must be an phone number I can call/text, not email.

Must 05 – Roommates are either students or working professionals.