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Speed flatmating makes hunting for a home a whole lot nicer. And you might even get a date, too, says Adam Jacques
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The Independent Online

On paper the place looks fine: the rent is within your weekly budget, the descriptions sound inviting and the location is acceptable. But you're forgetting one crucial element in the total trauma that can be flat hunting - the group of complete strangers you could end up living with. It's bad enough having to endure a barrage of interrogatory, awkward questions (the arm-chewingly embarrassing interviews in Shallow Grave spring to mind), followed by interminable tours around a home you've already written off. But having to size up a potential bunny boiler with an obsessive-compulsive approach to cleanliness, all in enemy territory, well, that can be a bit too much.

On paper the place looks fine: the rent is within your weekly budget, the descriptions sound inviting and the location is acceptable. But you're forgetting one crucial element in the total trauma that can be flat hunting - the group of complete strangers you could end up living with. It's bad enough having to endure a barrage of interrogatory, awkward questions (the arm-chewingly embarrassing interviews in Shallow Grave spring to mind), followed by interminable tours around a home you've already written off. But having to size up a potential bunny boiler with an obsessive-compulsive approach to cleanliness, all in enemy territory, well, that can be a bit too much.

But now there is light at the end of the flat-hunting tunnel, thanks to a quirky idea from property entrepreneur Rupert Hunt, which turns the whole nasty experience completely on its head. Speed-flatmating is set to become huge in London, while plans for other cities are already in hand (Manchester's first event is this evening and New York is up next). It's an ingenious hybrid of speed dating and that all-important flatmate interview.

Hunt set it up after a survey on his flat-hunting website ( www.spareroom.co.uk) found that most room seekers were more concerned about their future flatmates then about the quality of accommodation. "People are what make or break a flat-share, not the power of the shower, or the size of a room," Hunt explains. "You get an impression of someone within the first five minutes, so why waste a lot of time going through the motions of seeing a flat when you know early on it's not right?"

So tonight I'm in trendy Brick Lane to give this new craze a whirl. The event is being held at 93 Feet East, a funky pub which unfortunately appears to be an epicentre for live, loud bands. As I arrive, it seems that there are more room seekers then those offering flats and some of us must sit out the first two rounds.

So how does it work? People with rooms to rent sit at one of 10 numbered tables. The room-seekers are given five minutes at each, before a whistle is blown and they move on to the next potential home-provider. At the end of a round, both the "landlord(s)" and potential renters tick or cross the corresponding box on their sheet of paper (which they hand in to the organisers at the end). If both you and your potential flatmate have ticked each other, a full viewing can be arranged.

Ian, a trainee doctor from Australia, sits with me as we wait to join the well-ordered game of musical chairs. Like most others here so far, he appears completely normal and is looking forward to giving this novel approach a go. "I heard about it through a mate and thought it would be a bit of a laugh," he tells me, before adding that it might also be a cool way to meet women.

The whistle finally blows and I'm off to table one. I ease myself into a seat, opposite a lone guy who enthusiastically (if not a tad maniacally) introduces himself, before cutting to the chase and asking me what sort of music I like.

"I'm quite into dance music," I tell him guardedly. He visibly brightens, before embarking on test number two. "You've heard of the tune [he names a track that hit the charts back in 1999]?" he asks, imploringly. Oddly, I have, and as I enthusiastically warble out a couple of notes, I can see he's giddy with excitement. "That's me!" he exclaims animatedly, "I did that track!" We've barely had time to discuss rent, location and room size when the whistle goes and it's over. He rather enthusiastically presses his business card into my not exactly outstretched palm and he urges me to contact him. I smile back, before making a neat little cross on my sheet.

Next up is Jemma, a South African hippie in her late thirties; l can tell straight away that we don't click, but at least that's only four minutes wasted - ironically spent discussing every detail of her flat. Alice, the gorgeous, sparky nurse at the third table presents a problem; this isn't speed dating, but I wish it was, leaving me (and a trail of other guys) deciding on whether we were really looking for a flat-share here, or just hoping to get a girlfriend by stealth.

After the break I'm in for a rude awakening in the form of ice queen lawyer Tessa, and her friend John. As they take me through their status quo I realise that without this evening I could well have had the misfortune of trekking all the way to their actual house and be subjected to an extended performance of their very brutal approach. "It's a very quiet house," they tell me. "There's not much socialising either."

Apparently it's best if I just keep to myself. And anyway, I'm told that I'm more of a stopgap until their friend returns from travelling. By the time the whistle blows, I'm feeling entirely insignificant. Two tables later my faith in humanity is fully restored when I meet bright and bubbly PR exec Caroline and her effusive friend. We all agree that the lines of questioning are getting a little tiresome and the set-up is slightly contrived. The five minutes are up before we could get around to discussing the flat, but I don't care; I've found my perfect match.

Breezing through the remaining few tables (all holding young professionals with no outward appearance of psychotic tendencies), it occurs to me that this is a pretty good idea. And virtually all of my fellow punters are inclined to agree. Ian the trainee doctor has ticked quite a few (most are girls, but who am I to question his motives?), while Ann from the West Coast felt everyone was extremely friendly and ticked two potential matches.

All that's left to do now is check my e-mail the following morning to find out how well I've done. I'm delighted to discover that the two PR girls, and the gorgeous nurse, have both ticked me back. Now all I have to do is make a choice. Do I head down the speed-dating route and plump for the nurse, or the flatmating aspect and go for the PR girls? I've a sneaking suspicion that people will be using this event for both.

Speedflatmating costs £7.50. For more details: www.speedflatmating.co.uk

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