Ask These 12 Interview Questions Now to Head Off Home-Share Trouble Later

It's often the little things that can make or break a home-share relationship. Avoid common domestic squabbles with an upfront conversation about a renter's -- and your parents' -- habits, tics, and quirks. Here's what you and your parent need to find out from a potential home-share candidate:

Are you looking for company?

Before you meet with the candidate, find out how your parents answer this question. They need to be clear from the start whether they want to be friends with a housemate or to keep their distance. This will help them choose someone who feels the same way.

What time do you turn in?

Do your parents need a quiet house after 10 p.m. or are they insomniacs who wander the house half the night? Is the renter a nurse who will sometimes work the night shift? Does that matter to your parents? It's often wise to establish quiet hours everyone can agree to.

More Questions to Ask When Planning to Share a House

What's your definition of "clean"?

Everyone has his own idea about what constitutes a clean house. Talk out whether the renter will take turns cleaning the house or whether each person will have specific jobs they're responsible for. When possible, simplify things by tacking $50 onto the rent and hiring a regular cleaning service.

Even with a cleaning service, minor offenses can arise just in day-to-day tidying, so anything your parents feel strongly about should be stated up front. Is it OK to leave dishes on the drying rack overnight or do they need to be put away immediately? Do they want the shower wiped down each morning?

Do you ever work from home?

Many seniors want a renter who heads out in the morning and doesn't come back until evening so they can have the house to themselves during the day. But as working remotely becomes more and more common, this is a good question to clear up right away.

If the renter is a grad student, be sure to ask whether she'll be studying on campus or at home. What schedule will she keep? Make sure it's acceptable to your parents and that it's something the renter is willing to stick to.

Do you expect to have any overnight guests?

This one's a biggie. How do your parents feel about a renter having an overnight guest? If a renter's guests start showing up regularly, your parents may feel outnumbered -- like it's not their house anymore.

Or maybe they'd object to having an unmarried couple spending the night in their home. If a renter expects to have overnight guests on a regular basis and your parents aren't outright opposed to it, they could increase the rent a bit to accommodate the imposition. Just be clear up front.

Similarly, is it OK if a renter's friends come over for dinner? Coffee? Just to meet up and leave? Or are your parents uncomfortable having anyone else in the house? If your parents' preferences and a renter's needs are incompatible, it's probably not a match. Write whatever is agreed upon into the lease.

How much do you plan to cook?

Sharing a kitchen is often a bone of contention, particularly with older women. Some renters may duck into the kitchen just long enough to pour a bowl of cereal or microwave a frozen entrée. But others like to cook elaborate meals. Is that OK with your parents? Will the renter be bringing in a lot of kitchen appliances or dishes? Is there room? Or will she share what's already in the cupboards? Will she be expected to have all her own spices and staples?

How do you feel about sharing a bathroom?

If your parents' house has two bathrooms, it's preferable to give the renter her own. This avoids the need to coordinate morning and bedtime schedules and gives everyone a more comfortable level of privacy. As with bed linens, specify whether your parents will provide towels and washcloths.

More Sharing a House Interview Questions

How much stuff do you have?

Tell the candidate that your parents won't store boxes and furniture in their garage or basement, even if there's room. Renters will need to find offsite storage if they have a lot of stuff. You don't want your parents to be stuck with a huge mess if a renter walks out unexpectedly.

Do you need Internet access?

Internet access is a real draw for many renters. But while your parents may be content with a dial-up connection that lets them check e-mail twice a week, a grad student may be thinking more along the lines of WiFi or a dedicated DSL line. If your parents have only a dial-up connection, their renter's Internet use may tie it up too much. So be sure to talk this out in detail. Some renters will be willing to install a second line -- a gift they'll leave to your parents when they go, making renting easier the next time.

Do you drink?

What's the house policy on alcohol? Are your parents OK with social drinking? Is the renter, if your parents are the ones who drink? Sometimes a recovering alcoholic won't want to live with someone who has any booze in the house at all.

My paper towels or yours?

A roll of toilet paper may seem too trivial for words, but who buys it is exactly the sort of domestic misunderstanding that can sour a home-sharing relationship. Establish who buys the paper products, the detergent, the cleaning supplies. If the renter has her own bathroom, does she provide what's in there while your parents keep the kitchen supplied? Be clear and keep it simple so there's no misunderstanding.

Do you have a car?

If so, is there enough room in the driveway for it? If not, is street parking legal on your parents' block or will the renter have to pay a fee for a residential parking permit? Will your parents and the renter need to toggle cars in the driveway? If so, establish a system for keeping both car keys in a basket and talk it over with everyone involved.

Lisa Trottier

Lisa Trottier is a journalist whose rich background includes writing or editing on topics such as family issues, lifestyles, travel, food, and health for San Francisco magazine, Via magazine, and other publications. See full bio