How You Can Live Rent-Free – Legally!
How to live for free or next to nothing while helping others.
From 2008 to 2014, I had the opportunity to live in a house, all to myself – for free.
It was in the country-club neighborhood of Lincoln, Nebraska. Tree-lined streets, tudor, Cape Cod, and colonial homes spread across gently rolling hills. BMWs were parked in many driveways.
In 2008, I began attending school nearby. Because I loathe commuting, I didn’t begin living in this house until I graduated 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 an especially curvy and quiet street. It still 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 for free.
As most interesting stories do, it starts with, “I knew a guy…”
I knew a guy who lived near my parent’s house when I was in high school. He started 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 owned a house in the capital city. Originally he bought it for his mother, but she got ill before she could move in. The house was sitting empty. My boss had enough money and 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 that I paint a few rooms a more neutral color for 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. The neighbor next door did all of that work in exchange for the ability to park his car in our driveway. My boss sold the house last year after giving me plenty of notice.
My cousin’s friend found a similar money-saving opportunity: he lived in an older lady’s basement.
He would run errands for her in exchange for free 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.
And the New York Post reported on another man who currently lives for free in a swanky NYC neighborhood. His story? He “keeps an eye” on an older woman who lives there. The family loves him being there, and he lives for free in a fantastic neighborhood.
HOW FANTASTIC? A ONE-BEDROOM APARTMENT RENTS FOR $2,732 A MONTH. HE’S A PH.D. STUDENT.
My sister lived rent-free in a beautiful home. She traded her services babysitting her younger cousin for free rent. What she considered – as everyone should – is the value of her time.
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 for dirt cheap. I think the reason they gave me such a good deal is that I was willing to care for their two border collies. Dogs are a big responsibility, and many people will pay big money for dog walkers, dog sitters, etc. Having a live-in dog sitter is a good deal for everyone.
How can you get a sweet arrangement of your own?
Network. Consider Craigslist. It is universally known and gets lots of activity.
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 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.