The Best and Worst Metros to Have Roommates

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Updated on Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Sharing space with a roommate offers a litany of perks if you want to live in a thriving city, but also need to reap economic benefits. It can drive down your cost of living and make recurring bills like monthly car payments easier to manage.

Most people would rather avoid the potential conflicts and loss of privacy that can go along with sharing intimate living spaces with other people. But is it financially feasible? We wanted to see whether or not residents in certain large metro areas should take a closer look at roommate living — or if they could get by without one.

Taking a look at the 50 largest metro areas, we examined the percentage of housing units with two or more bedrooms and the percentage of adults who have roommates. We also looked at the economic impact of sharing a home, such as the percentage of median earnings saved by roommates living in a roommate in a two-bedroom apartment.

Here’s what we found.

Key takeaways

  • San Jose, Calif. (better known as the heart of Silicon Valley) earns the no. 1 spot on our list of best places to live with roommates with a final score of 73.4, on a scale of 0 to 100. Rents are high enough to offset the metro’s higher than average incomes and living with roommates is a popular choice. San Jose also ranked fifth in our list of the biggest millennial boomtowns.
  • Orlando, Fla. comes in second with a final score of 63.6, thanks mostly to low incomes relative to rental prices and a dearth of one-bedroom and studio apartments. The combination of those factors drives renters to seek out home-sharing situations.
  • Washington, D.C. comes in third with a final score of 62.7. Interestingly, the economics of home sharing in The District were better than in Orlando, despite its lower ranking. The monthly cost difference between a single renter in a studio or a one-bedroom unit and two people paying for a two-bedroom unit was $748 in Washington, D.C., compared with $470 in Orlando, according to the findings. That means roommates in D.C. saved 2.4% of their median earnings for each additional occupied bedroom, more than the 1.9% savings that Orlando residents achieved, the study reveals.
  • San Francisco makes the list of better roommate markets, with a score of 56.2. Don’t let its 11th-place finish fool you, however. The returns of roommate living are competitive with top-finisher San Jose. San Francisco roommate renters can save 3.2% of median earnings for every additional occupied bedroom, just behind San Jose. But roommates there save $136 a month for each additional occupied bedroom, the second highest in the study, after San Jose.

To get a more detailed breakdown of how the cities that placed in the top 10 of the rankings compare with each other, review the following chart. The skinny of our findings? Coastal cities, such as Los Angeles, Orlando, Portland and San Diego found themselves at the top of the charts. Perhaps coincidentally, Washington, D.C., and Seattle also topped out list of the best cities for working women.

For every strong roommate market, there appears to be a counterpart that does not have as much to offer to its renters. Most of the metros that landed in the bottom 10 ranks of the study were located in the Midwest and Southwest. They trail the 10 best markets in terms of economic returns for roommate living, and had much lower percentages of adults sharing homes.

Understanding the results of this study

To help us determine where roommate living makes the most sense, we analyzed several important metrics for the 50 largest metros in the US:

  • The percentage of adults who live with roommates. More people having roommates means that residents think there’s an advantage to it. It also suggests that the market does not present major hurdles to finding future roommates, as life shifts.
  • The percentage of housing units that have at least 2 bedrooms. In some metros, people looking for one-bedroom or studio apartments may have a hard time finding them. Think of Houston, with such a high percentage of housing units that have more than two bedrooms! This housing setup often means that renters face having to pay more for space than they need. The flip side is that more homes with two or more bedrooms make it easier to find shareable living space.
  • The percentage of median earnings that locals can save by evenly splitting the costs of a 2-bedroom instead of renting a 1-bedroom or studio. This is an important metric in the study, because sharing the burden of housing costs is a major motivation for some renters to look for roommates. Rents vary across metros, but so do median earnings; $1,000 rent in one market could be easier to manage in some places than $800 rent is in others. To account for that, we compared the dollar savings of splitting median two-bedroom rent to median earnings.
  • The percentage of median earnings that locals can save by renting more bedrooms to bring in more roommates. This is similar to the metric above, but for this we calculated the average differences between three, four,and five bedroom apartments split between three, four and five roommates. Then we compared that with the cost of a two-bedroom apartment split by two roommates.

3 financial perks in having roommates

Some cities are affordable while others are shockingly expensive. No matter where renters decide to share housing with another, however, the economic benefits are clear:

  • Roommates help keep initial living costs down. If you are working toward specific financial goals, such as to finally pay off your debts, starting off with a lower cost of living can free up cash to put to work on your financial ambitions.
  • Paying for other essential expenses in the budget just got easier. Add car expenses, health insurance and other items to a spending plan, and the prospect of having more money to tackle those expenses make living with a roommate more attractive.
  • Renters can save more of their take-home salaries. Lower housing costs can help renters position themselves to build an emergency savings cushion with free cash. That means if an emergency costing $1,000 or so crops up, renters will not have to incur debt to pay for it.

Quick tips for ditching your roommates

Renters who just want a space of their own can also use a couple tactics to leave their roommates behind.

  • Make more money and take over those rent payments. Job changes might boost a renter’s salary, giving him or her enough incentive — and the means — to go solo on the apartment.
  • Downsize to an even smaller unit. If renting a smaller unit alone is affordable compared with the current unit, a renter could take the opportunity to leave the roommates behind. You may also want to consider our study on the best places to live when you’re young and broke. Moving, after all, may be the best option for your finances.

Methodology

Using American Community Survey data available from FactFinder (2017 5-year estimates) and microdata hosted on IPUMS (2017), researchers calculated the following, aggregated to the 50 largest metropolitan statistical areas (“MSAs”):

  1. Percentage of adults 18 and over who live in a household with roommates.
  2. Percentage of local housing units that have at least two bedrooms.
  3. The difference in median rent between one person who rents a unit with fewer than two bedrooms (rent for studios and one-bedrooms were averaged) and between two people who rent a unit with two bedrooms. (Not scored).
  4. The percentage of median earnings that would be saved by sharing a two bedroom with a roommate ([C] / Median earnings for MSA)
  5. The difference in rent between [C] and the average of median rents of: three bedrooms with three-paying roommates, 4 bedrooms with four-paying roommates, and five or more bedrooms with five-paying roommates. (Not scored)
  6. The average percentage of median earnings that would be saved by adding roommates with their own bedrooms ([E] / Median earnings for MSA)

These metrics (except for C and E) were then scored for each MSA based on their positions between the maximum and minimum values, with a highest score of 100 and a lowest score of zero. The four were then averaged (equal weight) for a final score for each MSA. The highest possible final score was 100 and the lowest was zero.

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