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How you can live rent-free

House-sitting, caretaking or 'workamping' can be a huge budget boost. Just think: No monthly housing costs.

By Donna_Freedman Jun 26, 2012 3:53PM

Image: House keys (© Comstock Select/Corbis)

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.

 

Where do you look for a job like that? (Post continues after video.)

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.

More on MSN Money:

38Comments
Jun 26, 2012 8:44PM
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I am the live-in night and weekend keyholder for a 150 unit high-rise for older folks. I rarely get called. Most of my calls are to admit people who have accidentally locked themselves out of their apartments. Every 3rd week I also take a turn as the on-call night and weekend maintenance man for a week to give the full-time staff time off from their night and weekend on-call status. I get a free ground floor apartment, free electricity, a reserved parking spot, plus $500/month in pay. And I can take time off whenever I want for travel, etc. I am a retired firefighter and also receiving monthly retirement pay for life. I am a few years too young to receive social security benefits. When that happens I plan to retire outside of the US. I found this position in the job ads on CraigsList.
Jun 26, 2012 9:08PM
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I live rent-free, and have been living this way for over two-years. I am a caretaker for a large farm, but I wake up early, go to bed late; dirty 24/7, and at times I have to killed coyotes and such. Anything that is a threat to the farm animals has to be dealt with. I was a city woman, now 100% country, and although it took me years to adapt; I finally have and never want to leave. I have a lot of funny stories on how I did adapt. I have broken my leg, hit my head, fell in mud, got kicked by a goat, and so much more. People want my position, but when I fully explain to them what I have to do 7days a week; they always say, “Forget that.” Now my my degree I am looking for a job online, because this does not pay all the bills. Student loans, car, insurance, food, net, cable, so if anyone is interested in what I do; contact me, and perhaps when we are done talking you might say, "Hey, that is for me," or say, "Forget it."

Jul 1, 2012 4:13PM
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Oh...my son  knows how to live rent free. Get laid off, move back home
Jun 27, 2012 3:48PM
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I knew this would be a Freedman article before I even clicked on the link. Something like this is, naturally, only feasible for a very small minority, which is right up Freedman's alley: articles useless to the masses.
Jun 26, 2012 6:01PM
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Thanks for writing about housesitting. I have tried all the housesitting websites and I have found www.caretaker.org to be the best for housesitting assignments. I have accepted housesitting on two properties that I found through their listings in the Caretaker's Gazette.
Joan

Jun 27, 2012 11:20AM
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Enjoyed this piece, Donna. I've been working my way around the world as a caretaker and house sitter for a decade or more. The Caretaker Gazette has been my best source for these. The publisher Gary and his staff are great people.
Jun 27, 2012 1:05PM
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Great article about living rent-free. I have used www.caretaker.org and have not paid rent in five years now. And I get new rent-free opportunities emailed to me from Caretaker Gazette almost every day - so I have my pick of rent-free opportunities throughout America and even in other countries!
Jane
Jul 1, 2012 6:41PM
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I live rent free, I have for 5 years now.

The key to rent free living is work hard and live within your means. Any extra money put toward your mortgage and believe it or not within 10 years you will be paid off. Then take your previous mortgage payment and invest or save it, you must do this to make up for your previous 10 years of not saving. But beleive me it adds up extremely fast. Dont wory what the Jones have next door! Its all bull^%$# And they are totally in debt up to their eyeballs. I paid off my house in 2007 did fall for the RV, Boat, New kitchen remodel, Extravagant vacations, Off road toys etc..... Refinance and cash out equity blah blah blah. I am happy me and my wife made the right decision.

Jul 1, 2012 8:03PM
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I live rent free; I live in a motel and do housekeeping for my $802 per month rent.                                    I get  whopping $10 a day salary and occassionally an extra $5 if I have to work a split shift and the room is trashed.                                                                                                                                          It may not be much money, but I survive on it.                                                                                           
Jul 1, 2012 8:48PM
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I pay $625 including utilities.. Not rent free but not complaning
Jun 27, 2012 2:03PM
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Thank you for a helpful article. I need to live free and pay nothing. However, I already know that this world is not 100% FREE. I have to accept pay everything and save $$$ NOTHING. 
Jul 1, 2012 5:33PM
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I didn't get the cash for clunkers deal since I drive a responsible vehicle. I didn't get the first time home buyer tax credit of $8, 000 because I bought in only a year or two too early even though this is my first home. I made no "green" upgrades to the home because I can't afford them on my low middle class salary. My HVAC system broke a year after I bought my first home...I ate it and paid $6000 for a new HVAC unit--not "green" friendly so no Obama tax credit. I make all my payments (pay my bills on time) yet I can't afford a home telephone, cable television or satellite tv,  and even trash service and I had to buy in a really rural area on the outskirts of town, and I barely can pay my bills each month. Oh, and once my dad died I inherited his home which I can't even afford. Now I am faced with selling my primary home at a loss--I'm hoping to break even and not write a check to the bank at closing **if it sells** in this lousy real estate market. What I want to know is where did all of the equity go--how could a home appraise for $330k and two years later is only worth $150 k? My question is...where is my break--oh--just remembered...I'm in the low middle class so I pay for everyone else's stuff--can I buy your cable tv this month? How about letting me pick up the tab for your irresponsible real estate purchase--can I? Just go into foreclosure and I've got it covered.

 

My plan after I sell--move in with mom and live rent-free right before I turn 40...awesome!  

Jul 1, 2012 4:42PM
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My spouse has been living rent free for 10 years. free food and gas for her truck too. Then again free truck. Dang i wish i could do that but somebody has to pay for it.
Jun 27, 2012 12:38PM
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Sounds G U D to me.....I've been to every continent except africa repeatedly, and it's never been free

I am tired of paying rent already, and I just sold my house in January.moved to the big city and leased a cab for 420 a week, and so far I have made 90 bucks a week after gas and rent, including tips, not including supplies(cards, 5 hour energy, mcYuk, etc.) so, yeah I'm game for that hawaii would be cool, I used to spend my summers exploring the islands with my kid.I like most of Europe and southern china.

Jun 27, 2012 1:56PM
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How can I get Susan's email or contact need more information about living free!!!
Jul 1, 2012 4:04PM
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I'm looking to house sit for anyone, I'm drug free, and have a stella crima history

Jun 26, 2012 7:25PM
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I live rent-free, and have been living this way for over two-years. I am a caretaker for a large farm, but I wake up early, go to bed late; dirty 24/7.  I was a city woman, now 100% country, and although it took me years to adapt; I finally have and never want to leave. I have a lot of funny stories on how I did adapt. I have broken my leg, hit my head, fell in mud, got kicked by a goat, and so much more. People want my position, but when I fully explain to them what I have to do 7 days a week; they always say, “Forget that.” Now my my degree I am looking for a job online, because this does not pay all the bills. Student loans, car, insurance, food, net, cable, so if anyone is interested in what I do; contact me, and perhaps when we are done talking you might say, "Hey, that is for me," or say, "Forget it."

Jun 26, 2012 8:44PM
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If twenty people buy 40 houses, and lease them out for 700.00 dollars per month. They will have over a thousand dollars per month income from them.

It would be a good supplement for them when they retire, or it would make their payment on their own house.

If two thousand people would invest two hundred dollars per month as a group they would be able to invest 400,000.00 dollars per month it would not take long to own many houses.

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ABOUT DONNA FREEDMAN

Donna Freedman

Donna Freedman, a writer based in Anchorage, Alaska, writes the Frugal Nation blog for MSN Money. She won regional and national prizes during an 18-year newspaper career and earned a college degree in midlife without taking out student loans. Donna also writes about the frugal life for her own site, Surviving and Thriving.

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