How to find your perfect flatmate

In a renters' market, how do you make your property attract the right sort of people? Sophie Morris finds out – and gets a new housemate in the process
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The Independent Online

The popularity of renting out a spare room is soaring among people struggling to meet household bills and hefty mortgage payments. So keen are we to get lodgers into our homes that advertisements offering rooms for rent on Gumtree.com have rocketed 79 per cent year on year in seven months. On another flatsharing website, EasyRoommate.com, the number of adverts from owners searching for renters has gone up 34 per cent in the first quarter of 2009 compared with the last quarter of 2008. While on SpareRoom.com, 27,000 more people sought a lodger in 2008 than in 2007, and the company predicts this figure will increase by a further 35,000 in 2009. Fifty-five per cent of all listings on SpareRoom are placed by property owners seeking someone to share their costs.

What about those people who already rely on a tenant and have very little wriggle room? Like me, for example: this time last year, I placed an advertisement on SpareRoom.com and after showing a lot of people around my humble, but very lovely, flat, including a few certified weirdos, I'd found the ideal flatmate within a few weeks.

This time round, I have had only three viewings in six weeks. Much as I like the extra space and lack of bathroom queues, my bank balance does not. But the competition, as the statistics show, is terrifying. I decided to seek help from the experts to work out how to make my ad stand out from the many thousands of others.

On SpareRoom and most other websites, you can place an ad for free. To improve your chances of someone actually reading it, you'll have to fork out for a "bold" listing, which costs from £7 for one week to £59 for one year. Twenty-eight days costs £18, which seems a fair price to pay, especially if you are hoping to find someone within the month, as I was. Therefore I had already paid for a bold advert and uploaded some decent photos, but no one was biting.

I asked Matt Hutchinson, SpareRoom's marketing director, for advice. "The photos look great so that's a real selling point," he says, encouragingly. "To make your ad better, you should include more information. As you're in such a desirable area, a paragraph on what's on your doorstep would be useful. If you can sell an attractive lifestyle as well as selling the room it'll make it easier for people to imagine living in the area."

That done, Hutchinson steers me towards a list of handy tips available on the website to any prospective landlord. SpareRoom emails me a list of new potential tenants every day, which is useful, but they also say I should broaden my criteria to get more hits. They may have a point, but I reckon it's best to be upfront about the fact that I don't want to live with a couple, a student or an unemployed Xbox addict. The good pointers include making the most of the opportunity to upload photos and video, and to tidy up, just as you would before a viewing. Adverts with illustrations get many more hits than those that don't. Give your listing a catchy title to draw people in and sell the flat as well as the room.

Gumtree's charges for making your listing a "featured ad" so it will appear at the top of listings are £35 for three days, £70 for seven days and £130 for 14 days, or you can pay £99 for it to appear on the homepage for seven days. This will add up quickly if the room doesn't shift, but in four days, 370 people have viewed my ad and I have four viewings lined up, even though my photos are not showing up on the site.

EasyRoommate offers a premium or basic membership scheme. Basic membership and posting an ad is free, but either the landlord or the person seeking a room needs to pay for premium membership in order for the two to communicate. Right now, it's a renter's market, so if you want to get the viewings in you need to sign up for premium membership at £29.90 for 10 days, £39.90 for 30 days and up to £89.90 for one month.

After four days I have received two messages on EasyRoommate. On Spareroom, the site where I first posted my ad, I set up a further two viewings, which suggests the changes I made to flag up my area have had an impact.

So, after one week and five viewings – two via SpareRoom, three from Gumtree, I found two people who wanted to move in. Success! The morals of the tale are, firstly, safety in numbers – get your ad up on as many sites as possible. And secondly, put some effort into your advert. Simply selling my area with a little more enthusiasm clinched the viewings.

Getting a lodger The lowdown

* Only post high quality photos and give your ad a catchy title.

*Be specific about the property, the kind of flatmate you want and the area itself.

* Make the price clear and say which bills are included.

* Give details on transport links and parking availability.

* Both Gumtree and Spareroom offer guides to rental prices in your area. Make sure you check these out before pricing your own room.

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