Want to Lower Your Rent? Try This Unique Living Option

published Jun 7, 2018
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In the immortal words of Jimmy McMillan, “The rent is too damn high!” I live in Austin, which means my wallet cries each time I pay rent. Of course, I don’t live in a city where rent is sky-high like New York or San Francisco… but still, I don’t live in Toledo or Memphis, cities where the rent is barely-there. The burden for this writer is heavy to bear alone.

Because of this, in my time as freelance writer, I’m constantly building and refining a worst case scenario plan in case I lose all my clients or deplete my savings. My first planned step? Lower my rent. In my research, I’ve come across everything from living with a minimum of four roommates to donating my eggs in exchange for room and board. And while these can be great options for others, they’re not for me.

However, I did find one creative way to lower my rent that seemed more plausible: House caretaking, or caring for an otherwise vacant property—either by the request of the owner or a property management company—in exchange for a severely reduced rent. Well, at least severely reduced based on the city you’re living in. Many times, homeowners hire house caretakers to manage vacation properties outside of season. Or the homeowner might hire a house caretaker to keep the home in tip-top, model home condition if they’re trying to sell. As someone who has tried workaways (where you trade room and board for work, often in a different city) before and enjoyed it, house caretaking seems up my alley.

So while it’s nice to have house caretaking in my back pocket as a financial fall back plan, I recognize that it might been a great everyday job option for certain people, and a terrible, terrible option for others. Want to figure out if it might work for you? Here, four things you need to know about this penny-saving path.

1. Listings can be hard to find

I first came across house caretaking through an article from Realtor.com, and while the Homes in Transition company mentioned in the article is an excellent place to start if you live in Albuquerque, New Mexico, it doesn’t so much help out an Austinite (or anyone else who lives in a city other than Albuquerque). Thankfully, for those who want an opportunity close to home, there are communities and databases dedicated to house caring listings. Check out one of the sites below to start your long-term home caretaker search:

Long-Term House Care

The Caretaker Gazette has been around for 30 years and helps property owners connect with long-term home caretakers. You can check out their archives for free to see past advertisements they’ve run.

In their December 2017 gazette, they featured jobs ranging from the straightforward, like one in Bolton Landing, New York, where you were offered a private three-room cottage, boat, car, food, and a small stipend in exchange for light meal prep and grounds maintenance; to ones a little more demanding, like running a mountain Bed and Breakfast Inn for 40 hours a week and maintaining its web presence in exchange for a free room, Internet, electricity, food.

(Image credit: Diana Liang)

Short-Term House Care

Don’t feel like committing to living in someone else’s space long-term? Don’t feel like committing to anything at all? Free yourself with short-term house care, which has you signing up for gigs that last one month or less. Opportunities are listed on the sites below, but be aware—most require a paid membership to see listings.

Housecarers.com ($50 per year or free limited membership)
House Sitters America ($30 per year)
Luxury House Sitting ($25 per year)
Mind My House ($20 per year)
Nomador ($89 per year or limited free membership)

2. This is a serious job

Now, remember: This isn’t just living rent-free. You’re expected to not only stay in the home but also keep it in stellar condition in case any prospective viewers unexpectedly drop by. So, be wary: If you’re given a house to live in that’s mansion-sized, you’ll have to manage a mansion-sized house. That means not only keeping the pools clean, but also making sure the yard is always tidy, the windows are gleaming, and the floors are spotless.

You must always be ready for a showing. So, prepare to live like you don’t exist. You’re going to have to stuff your shoes in the back of your closet and make it a part of your daily routine to clean everywhere every day. You also can’t miss a showing—which is only fair considering you’re living in the home for a considerable discount—so you’re going to have to work your schedule around potential buyers. Remember, you’re working not just living.

(Image credit: Ellie Arciaga Lillstrom)

3. You should have repair or maintenance skills

Most homeowners and management companies look for house caretakers with the skills to properly maintain a property. Sometimes this can mean someone who is good with a wrench and hammer, and sometimes it means a professional carpenter with 15+ years of experience. Just recently, I spotted an ad for a boat home. It was beautiful, but to work there, you had to have at least three years of boat handling experience as well as experience in sailing. So, make sure to read the fine print on an ad before applying.

4. Watch out for scams

The internet is a beautiful, beautiful place—but it’s also a place where even the savviest person can get scammed. Be wary of advertisements, and, as always, use caution when it comes to your personal information on the internet. Do your due diligence when it comes to finding a network to partner with.

Please remember that this article isn’t an exhaustive resource for getting into house caretaking. Opportunities can come up where you least expect it: You could become a house caretaker by speaking to a couple down the street who is selling their home, or you could get a gig after contacting a property management company and see if any of their clients need additional help. The list of resources I provided is only a starting point. There are so many ways to go about this, but the good thing is they all lead to the same result—lower rent.