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Room with a Few 

A young San Franciscan’s dream: A room in a nice house, affordable rent, and a built-in social network.

Wednesday, Aug 20 2008

It wasn't meant to be one of those damned open houses.

They — the innumerable aspiring Tiger House roommates — were supposed to come for their appointments at 30-minute intervals. During his years in the coveted seven-bedroom Cole Valley party house, Dan Nazarian, aka the Danlord, had been able to keep auditions under control. But this time, some folks showed up late and some early and then some imbecile sewed his ass to the couch and everybody refused to leave.

It's a symptom of a rampant strategy known as be-the-new-housemate. If you can look as though you were born to pontificate on that couch, if you have natural stage presence between those azure walls, you can become the new Tiger housemate — a twentysomething San Franciscan's dream. Affordable rent, exceptional house, prime location, built-in social network.

Be warned, the Danlord says. Be-the-new-housemate is a flawed strategy. If you stay too long, your time-filching ways will be resented. P.S. There's no way you're moving in.

It doesn't matter how much weed or booze you brought, or how droll or sparkly you are. You could be a sexy Buddhist lesbian who cooks gourmet vegan meals in thong underwear, but stay too long at the interview and you are eliminated.

You'll also want to avoid peacocking, another popular and equally ineffective tactic. Tiger House roommates say that blatant self-promotion, conversational one-upmanship, and exaggerated storytelling doesn't fool them. But it did have potential roommate Amy Benziger feeling overwhelmed.

She had already gone through this process once at the Tiger House, only to be rejected. That hurt, and the thought of having to crash on couches in a week didn't help either.

Of course, Amy's roommate potential is nothing to sneeze at. She grew up in Norwalk, Connecticut, a midsize city known for its oysters; and the affluent suburbs of Boca Raton, Florida; but wasn't the type to stay in places like those. She always wanted to be surrounded by ambitious people with big ideas, thriving art and music scenes, and plenty of outdoor adventures. A Dartmouth graduate, she's tall, svelte, confident, and hilarious, with long auburn hair she likes to cover in a knit orange cap that seems to epitomize her urban hippie style. She's had sweet jobs in production for the TV reality show The Bachelor and in marketing for Guinness; she now works as an associate producer for Sigi Media. She has also traveled widely and lived in Thailand. Above all, Amy is a loyal friend, and friends are like her blood, she says. They keep her going.

Inside the Tiger House, surrounded by its residents who seemed to ooze with friend potential, Amy immediately wanted to call it home.

So did the rest of the hopefuls.

As San Francisco becomes increasingly expensive, with rents for studio apartments and two-bedrooms approaching double what they were five years ago, twentysomethings must turn to shared living as an affordable solution. The target rent range for a young single person usually falls below $1,000 per month, but Craigslist reveals that only in shared situations — with the exception of a few older studio apartments in the Tenderloin — is this a reality.

One of the main consolation prizes of shared living is a social network. But renters don't want to live with just anybody, and there aren't nearly enough quality social habitats to go around.

Getting into a place like the Tiger House redefines survival of the fittest.

When the house has an opening, the Danlord posts an ad on Craigslist. It's something casual and witty, asking questions like Which Simpsons character do you most closely identify with? What would you do if you played hooky from work? What sets you apart from the herd?

In six years the house has gone through 33 roommates, gleaned from hundreds and hundreds of e-mail responses. Only a fraction of those are selected for interviews. From there, the pool is further narrowed. Sometimes that process can be grueling. Other times, people make it easy.

By the way, I just read your ad again on Craig's List so I think it is safe to tell you that I was stoned yesterday when I came over which is why I was retardo, please don't judge me. I don't work full-time until next week so my afternoons are left open to stare at Craig's list which is always much more entertaining when you are high ... Anyways, now that I saw your ad again, I see that you are definately my kind of people so please consider or reconsider, whatever ... don't forget me

If you couldn't guess, this person — whose e-mail was probably more "retardo" than anything she could have done in the interview — didn't make the cut. She lacks confidence. She makes excuses. She begs. This is not a person who seems worthy of living in the Tiger House.

What's so great about getting a room there, you ask?

Well, for the handful of people in the city who have not beheld its magnificence, let's take a little tour of this baroque museum to shared living, located in pot-sniffing distance from the Haight-Ashbury at the heart of Cole Valley.

We enter beneath a lounging tiger in the jungle, painted on the house's facade in the '70s, and ascend the staircase to the common living area. There are also three bedrooms on this floor, three more up the spiral orange staircase, and one basement lair. All are uniquely shaped and decorated, and the upstairs rooms (once attic space) have dramatically arched ceilings. The living room is bright and spacious, with enormous south-facing sliding-glass doors. They open to a balcony that overlooks Sutro Tower and Cole Valley Dog Park.

Scattered throughout the house are relics of roommates past. Their abundant chairs — some chic and modern, some puffy and antique — ensure nobody goes without a seat. Their games — Jenga, Clue, Scrabble, and more — are stacked neatly beneath a large flatscreen television in the corner. Their art and their naked Barbie dolls and their costumes and even a giant painting that they smashed their painted naked bodies against adorn the walls.

About The Author

Ashley Harrell


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