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Need a Roommate? Real Estate Matchmakers Hope to Help

By Amy Zimmer | September 16, 2014 9:21pm | Updated on September 19, 2014 4:49pm
 SpareRoom's free "speed roommating" has become popular for those looking for roommates — and brokers.
Speed Roommating
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PARK SLOPE — Within half an hour at a "speed roommating" event at a Park Slope bar last week, Damien Sabrie — who arrived from France just days before to pursue his dreams of being a rock star — found a match.

After briefly chatting about their artistic endeavors, Sabrie, 23, hit it off with George Truszkowski, an 18-year-old British film editor who recently turned an internship at a DUMBO studio into a full-time job. 

"He's going to edit my music videos," Sabrie said, making plans with his new friend to go apartment-hunting. 

There's a rash of new apps and websites including MyGradPad and Roomidex, which offer matchmaking services for roommates by tapping one's own Facebook network, and the forthcoming Roomi, which promises a way to connect with "like-minded" roommates through its chat feature.

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But SpareRoom.com still believes in the value of meeting in person in an informal and neutral space, with lots of other people around, which is why the online roommate search site hosts the free speed roommating events weekly, either in a bar in Times Square or Park Slope.

"That face-to-face meeting gives you the emotional connection that the Internet doesn't," SpareRoom spokesman Matt Hutchinson said. "This is one thing that the real world does better than the virtual world."

The company, however, did not anticipate that the event would be a magnet for real estate companies and agents targeting the roommate market by renting out multiple-bedroom apartments to people looking for shares.

With rents averaging $3,946 in Manhattan, $3,172 in North and Brownstone Brooklyn and $2,924 in Northwest Queens, according to August figures from Douglas Elliman, sharing an apartment is often the only option for many New Yorkers.

With many house-hunters doing their searches alone, the market seems ripe for young entrepreneurs looking to solve the two-fold issue of finding a suitable roommate and a suitable apartment.

More than 46 percent of roommates said they shared their home with someone who was a stranger before they lived together, according to a survey of 1,400 New Yorkers conducted in July by SpareRoom.com. More than 60 percent have roommates for financial reasons, and 57 percent are under the age of 30, the survey also found.

"I think people really understand there's a problem with how people in New York find rental apartments, and everyone is using technology to try to solve it," said Leigh Kamping-Carder, of the real estate blog BrickUnderground, whose recent "roommate week" coverage touched on everything from horror stories to how to kick out a roommate.

"We get emails it seems like every week from someone with a new app or website for people trying to find roommates," Kamping-Carder added.

SpareRoom launched the Park Slope gatherings this summer. It's been hosting the Manhattan event for two years and has been holding wildly popular speed roommating events in London for a decade. Those looking to rent out their rooms wear a sticker listing their asking price and neighborhood. Those looking for rooms list their budget and desired neighborhoods.

Last week's meet-up at the Montrose Bar on Fifth Avenue attracted roughly 30 people — many who were looking for rooms, some who had rooms in their apartments and several who were real estate agents. 

They are generally asked to leave, reps from SpareRoom said.

"It's not that we have anything against brokers," Hutchinson said. "The point is for people to interact in a relaxed way."

He thought it might be more intimidating for people to get to know each other if there are also people there trying to "sell" to them."

"It just disrupts the point of the event slightly," Hutchinson said.

But Paul Lodge, an agent with the Room Connect Group, said it was his fifth speed roommating event.

He's found seven people he ended up working with through the gatherings — though he didn't place all in apartments since some didn't qualify for credit checks. After chatting with Sabrie (monthly budget: $500) and Truszkowski (monthly budget: $800), he planned to help them find a place, he said. They were flexible on location.

"I've had a lot of success here," said Lodge, who's never been asked to leave. "If this was something there was a fee for, I'd gladly pay it."

Nikki Lopez, of BK Roommates, was at the event showing pictures of an apartment her firm was leasing on the Ridgewood/Bushwick border to Karimu Mohammed, whose lease is up soon on his Washington Heights apartment.

Mohammed, 24, preferred to find a roommate with whom he could search for an apartment rather than find a room in someone else's apartment, since he'd rather "be able to dictate how things operate."