Living rent-free isn't something many of us can do past our teenage years – but for the right kind of person, it's possible. Learn how and see if you have what it takes to be a house-sitting pro.
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.”
- 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.”
- 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.
- 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.