Ron Nemas, who is looking for a roommate, talks with Cristina Munk during… (Kim Hairston / Baltimore…)
Reporting from Baltimore — Fiona Kramer, looking fashionable in a little black dress, sized up her possible matches and told them why they ought to see themselves with her in the near future: two bedrooms, 1 1/2 baths, cute yard.
Date, shmate. A good roommate can be hard to find, and that's the reason Kramer and a dozen others were chatting this month at a "speed roommating" event.
It's like speed dating, except the point isn't romance.
"It's smart to help split the expenses," said Kramer, who lives in Baltimore's Washington Hill neighborhood. "Why not meet somebody and see if it's worth doing? It might work out, right?"
Lots of people are looking to double up -- or triple or quadruple up -- these days. A new study of 80 U.S. metro areas found that the number of households fell by 1.2 million between 2005 and 2008 even as population rose.
That makes roommate-finding a growth industry. "We're busier than ever," said Susie Stein, owner of Roommate Finders, a Florida-based firm that matches roommates across the country.
Face-to-face events, meanwhile, are popping up across the world. A British company called SpareRoom holds 10 "Speed Flatmating" gatherings in London bars every month.
Live Baltimore Home Center, a nonprofit that encourages people to live in the city, held its speed-roommating event after getting requests from newcomers and apartment managers to act as a matchmaker.
"You're living with the person -- you want to make sure that you gel," said Anna Custer, Live Baltimore's executive director.
Mark Nowowiejski found four roommates in the past five years through Craigslist, the free classified-ad site, and that's worked for him. He now owns a home in White Marsh, Md., now but still rents out a room.
His strategy for finding a boarder is a cross between a job interview and a happy-hour conversation. He runs a credit check on candidates and makes sure they don't have a criminal background, but he also chats with them about everything from music to football.
"They don't have to be a Ravens fan," Nowowiejski allowed. "They just can't be Steelers or Redskins fans. I can't live with that."
At Live Baltimore's speed-roommating event, the common pet peeve was messiness.
"They're wonderful, I love them, but they never clean the house," Cristina Munk, 23, said of her current roommates -- who happen to be her friends. Munk was visiting from New York, talking with potential roommates in case she pursues a master's degree at the Johns Hopkins University in the fall.
Steven Gondol, who organized the Live Baltimore event, shepherded participants into facing chairs and gave them a list of possible questions, such as "Do you like pets?" and "Are you a vegetarian?"
After five minutes, Gondol rang a cowbell and people swapped seats.
Munk was assured by Scheree McDonald, who is moving from New Jersey and is looking for a place and a roommate, that messiness would not be an issue in any home of hers. "Oh, I clean," McDonald said.
Live Baltimore handed out pink "roommate match" sheets for participants to record their bottom-line response: Would they be interested in living with that person: yes or no?
For some, the event exceeded expectations. Fiona Kramer liked of every person she met.
"I put 'yes' to everybody," she said.