How to Live in Luxurious Homes for Free

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We’ve recently written about how to drive across the country for free. Would it surprise you to hear that some people live in plush homes for free too?

It’s nothing new. It’s house sitting, and Sandra Holmes has been doing it for seven years.

“I don’t pay any taxes, insurance, the mortgage, or electric. Everything is already done – all I do is make their home look really nice,” says Holmes, a professional home stager, someone who helps people sell their homes by making them look better. You don’t have to do both – stage and sit – but it works out for her.

“It’s like being on vacation all the time,” says Holmes. If you’re ready to pack your bags, check out the video below from Money Talks News founder Stacy Johnson. Then read on to learn more about considerations for house sitters, because it certainly isn’t for everyone.

The best way to find a house to sit is by word of mouth. For example, Money Talks News founder Stacy Johnson said he did it for clients back when he was a stockbroker years ago and stayed in places “way nicer than I could have afforded, especially back then.”

There are many ways to find a house-sitting gig, although some may not be totally free. Many businesses that specialize in matching sitters with homeowners charge membership fees, and a handful even charge “rent,” although it may be a fraction of the going rate. There’s also no guarantee that once registered you’ll find a place to live. Here are a few starting points:

  • Caretaker.org claims to have published a bimonthly newsletter since 1983 containing listings and advice for house sitting, and also emails new listings several times a week. An annual subscription is $30.
  • HouseSittersAmerica.com allows sitters to view openings for free, but charges $30 per year for a membership that allows sitters to contact owners. Owners can list for free.
  • HouseSitWorld.com has had global listings since 1999, and sitters can register for $40 a year. Owners can place want ads for free.
  • Vacant Home Solutions lists available sitting properties online along with photos, floor plans, and “monthly membership fees” (rent), which, as of this writing, range from $550 to $2,400.
  • ShowHomes.com is a staging company that also finds sitters, which they call “home managers.” The catch here is you often have to provide furniture of “the style and grade appropriate to the home” in addition to rent-like charges. Although they may be substantially discounted from the going rate, luxury homes will still have hefty fees.

House sitting listings also sometimes pop up on Craigslist, and although there is no dedicated section for it, would-be sitters can always post under the “housing wanted” section for free. Wherever you go, though, here are some things to keep in mind:

  1. No playing Realtor. If you do find a job like Sandra’s from the video above – house sitter/home stager – your job is only to keep things looking good, not to sell houses. You don’t have to know much about the place besides how to maintain it by following the instructions left for you.
  2. Be flexible. Sitting gigs can range from a week to months, and if the house is for sale, could end suddenly and without much warning. “You have to be prepared to move out at any time,” says Holmes. The terms of the gig, including what you pay and what you’re responsible for, can also vary widely.
  3. Travel light. Houseowners don’t usually want pets, although you may be caring for theirs in some cases. Kids might be OK, though a vagabond lifestyle probably isn’t for most families. And possessions? “I only have a few things hanging [in the closet]. Everything else is hidden in the drawers. The homes are for sale, so I don’t want it to look like someone is living here,” says Holmes. “All I really need is my suitcase, curling iron, my hair dryer, make-up, and tooth brush.”
  4. Think ahead. Because you never know when to expect the boot, it’s important to always have another arrangement waiting. “Have another one lined up so you’re not homeless,” says Holmes. “I always have people that want me to stay in their properties.”
  5. Be professional. As Stacy mentioned, competition can be fierce. Having previous house-sitting experience is a plus, as are good references. Keep your car – and yourself – looking nice.
  6. Keep some stability. Always moving can be an adventure, but it’s a lot to keep up with too – especially for your poor mail carrier and everyone trying to reach you. Maintaining a PO Box or fixed address might be a good idea for important correspondence.

Bottom line? There’s a tradeoff for free or reduced rent that may not be worth it for everybody. But if you’re single, frugal, or just plain adventurous, it may be a great way to save money and see new places.

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Comments & discussion

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  • http://twitter.com/explorepr Rachel Martin

    Another great house sitting website which has many luxury homes in Europe as well as US, is http://www.trustedhousesitters.com – this is a really comprehensive website and apparently the fastest growing.  It has hundreds of homes worldwide and you just pay a subscription fee for $30.  I’n house sitting in the Dordogne, France in a beautiful villa with swimming pool nestled between vineyards – they are even giving me the car to use whilst there for two weeks.  This would have cost me a fortune had a rented a villa out! So it’s a good way to go on holiday as well… 

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=819350393 Andy Peck

    Hi,

    People house sit for a variety of reasons, but the most common aside from cost saving seems to be that it offers a chance to retreat ‘off the beaten track’ rather than staying in a home or hotel – to immerse within a local culture and enjoy somewhere ‘different’ and enjoy more ‘local’ experiences than you would likely find in any guidebook.

    It also provides a great option for many rather than foreign home investment as it saves on the ties of visiting one location or the red tape involved. House sitting is growing in popularity as more and more homeowners realise the benefit of having someone look after their home and sometimes pets when away, often as homes are not insured if left empty for long periods of time. 
    I have house sat on many occasions, and have met many people globally that enjoy house sitting whether as a holiday option, or house sit ‘full time’ enjoying travelling around the world. Last year, I set up Trustedhousesitters.com which was not mentioned in your list above, but is now growing faster than any other house sitting website worldwide. The site features house sitting opportunities in over 30 countries worldwide and if you fancy visiting the UK for example, we have over 150 homes there that need house sitters. When a member joins, they are emailed alerts each time a new house sitting opportunity becomes available so this is a big help, rather than just chancing upon a house sit.

    Also, importantly for the homeowner, rather than risking just being contacted by anyone via the likes of a newspaper ad, by joining a house sitting website such as mine or any of the above, a homeowner has the peace of mind that a sitter has already registered as a house sitter, information about that sitter is laid out, and the sitter can leave relevant experience and reference information, photos, even video profiles for the homeowners to peruse. 

    This all helps a homeowner find a sitter that they would like to contact, and vice-versa, often, like people are drawn to like people, so friendships develop between the homeowner and sitter – often via Skype as they chat to arrange the house sit, and if you find a dream house sitting assignment, who are the owners going to ask back if you’ve done a great job for them house sitting in the past? You! House sitting is exploding in popularity, and especially in this economic climate is a fantastic win-win for everyone.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_WHHWC52UEG4EX6JDXE3ONWCRYI beau10

    I though the article headlined with “free”.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Daisy-Wood/100001634658311 Daisy Wood

    Thanks for writing about rent-free living as a housesitter. I have tried all the housesitting websites and have found The Caretaker Gazette to be the best for housesitting assignments. I recently started using their website and have found two housesitting opportunities there so far.