I once had the opportunity to live in a house, all to myself, rent-free.
It was in the country-club neighborhood of Lincoln, Nebraska — tree-lined streets of Tudor, Cape Cod, and colonial homes spread across gently rolling hills. BMWs were parked in many of the driveways.
When I graduated from college and began working for a financial technology company, I lived in the house rent-free from 2012 to 2014.
The house was a brick 1940s Cape Cod on a quiet street. It had its original hardwood floors. The kitchen and bathrooms had just been remodeled.
But enough about the picturesque neighborhood and house. You want to know how I got to live there rent-free.
The story starts with, “I knew a guy…”
I knew a guy when I was in high school. He owned a vineyard and I worked for him there when I was 14. That’s how I spent many nights and weekends in high school — working at his vineyard and eventually in his restaurant. He was a mentor to me.
He had bought a house for his mother, but she became ill before she could move in. The house was sitting empty. My boss didn’t want to deal with tenants, so he asked if I would like to live there and watch over the place.
He didn't want me to pay rent — he just asked me to paint a few rooms when the time came to sell the house. He was very grateful to have me there, and I didn't feel like a freeloader — I cared for that home like it was my own.
I loved the arrangement. I didn’t even have to take care of the lawn. A neighbor did all of that in exchange for parking his car in our driveway. My boss eventually sold the house after giving me plenty of notice.
My cousin’s friend found a similar money-saving opportunity: He lived in a woman’s basement. He would run errands for her in exchange for not paying rent. The errands never took him more than an hour each week. For roughly four hours of his time each month, he lived rent-free.
There was another man who lived rent-free in a swanky New York City neighborhood. His story: He “kept an eye” on an older woman who lived in the house. Her family loved his being there, and he lived rent-free in a fantastic neighborhood.
My sister lived rent-free in a beautiful home by babysitting her younger cousin. What she considered — as everyone should — was the value of her time.
How to Live Rent-Free: Top Tips
Let’s say you save $500 on rent each month. How many hours are you working?
If you value your time at $20 per hour, you should be babysitting no more than 25 hours per month, unless the task gives you great joy and money isn’t your main motivator.
I lived in another home dirt cheap. I got a good deal because I was willing to care for two border collies. Dogs are a big responsibility, and people will pay for dog walkers, dog sitters, etc. Having a live-in dog sitter is a good deal for everyone.
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How can you get a sweet arrangement of your own? Network. Consider Craigslist.
By far the best opportunities come from knowing the right people. Make sure to network with older people, as well.
Show them you’re responsible. Tell them about your work. Who doesn’t like associating with someone who has a good work ethic?
Tell them about places where you volunteer. Talk about your family. I stayed in one house for a cheap rent a few years ago. The homeowner said it was “refreshing” to know a “young person” who was family-oriented.
These opportunities can be a win-win for everyone, whether it’s dog-sitting a border collie or providing a helping hand to a human resident.