How You Can Live Rent-Free
If you had no rent or mortgage payment, what would that mean to your bottom line? Free accommodations are available if you're willing to watch someone else's property.
House-sitting tends to be a quick-hit job, but two other gigs -- caretaking and "workamping" -- can last for months or years at a time. Best-case scenario: You fall into a sweet spot such as spending 51 weeks a year at a multimillionaire's Colorado ski retreat or secluded Hawaiian getaway.
An obvious way is through word of mouth. I've gotten house-sitting jobs in Los Angeles, Seattle and Anchorage just by letting friends know I'm available. For me, it's a cheap way to travel. Sometimes I get paid, and sometimes I do it in exchange for a free flop.
The most comprehensive sources I've seen, though, are The Caretaker Gazette, Workers on Wheels and Workamper News.
House-sitting websites exist, too. Keep in mind that these companies, like any other Internet site, may vanish without warning -- taking with them your subscription. By contrast, the three sources listed above have been publishing for 18 to 30 years and all three supplement their regular publications with daily or weekly job updates.
What you need to know
"Workamping" assumes you'll be working -- part or full time, paid or volunteer -- while living in an RV. Usually, that means free hookup and rent in a campground, but sometimes RVers are hired to care for private property.
"Caretaking" can mean full-time responsibility for a landscape and/or animals. It can also be as simple as living in a foreclosure or unsold property to keep away squatters and vandals.
"We are getting a lot more real-estate investors who are stuck with (homes) they can't sell," says Caretaker Gazette Publisher Gary Dunn.
You'll need references, of course. Would you hand someone the keys to your place just because he sounded nice on the phone? Some options: a current or former employer, a clergy member or even your family physician are good bets.
Or how about a previous house-sitting client? Put out the word among friends and acquaintances, get written references and parlay those experiences into other gigs.
Get it in writing
Ask for a written contract so there are no misunderstandings about what is and isn't expected. For example, will you be paying a share of the utilities? Are you supposed to mow the lawn?
Keep your side of the bargain. If it says "no parties," don't invite your friends over to check out the hot tub.
A few more tips:
Get renters insurance. The homeowners insurance doesn't cover nonresidents.
Prepare to couch-surf. If you plan to do this full time, you need places to land in case of gaps between jobs.
Organize your finances. Is there a branch of your bank in that town? Can you pay your bills online? Oh, and bring more cash than you think you need -- you can always put it back.
Have an exit strategy. Suppose the homeowner forgot to mention his six cats -- and you're allergic? Make sure you have bus fare or gas money back home.