Eight Ways to Live Rent-Free

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FROM THESTREET.COM:

Everyone would like lower housing costs. But what would it take to live rent-free?

A lot of homeowners are running smack into financial troubles these days. Roughly 900,000 U.S. homes are in foreclosure -- up 71% from a year ago.

Overall household finances aren't much better. More than 800,000 Americans declared bankruptcy in 2007 despite tougher bankruptcy laws now on the books -- an increase of nearly 40% from 2006.

That means a lot of people are looking for ways to slash their housing costs as a way to shore up their finances. You can live rent-free if you are flexible and think beyond typical home ownership. Sure, this calls for sacrifices and isn't feasible for everyone. It helps to be single or married without children to find free housing, although in special circumstances it may be possible to do so with a family.

Being flexible with where you live is also important since those who can live anywhere have more opportunities to live rent-free than those who need to live in a particular city.

Consider these eight alternative ways to get housing and you may find that your bank account has never looked better:

1. Live on the Water
If you live in a city that has a waterfront, your best bet to find free housing may not be on land. You may not at first imagine that a boat would be a place you could live, but the fact is that these are expensive pieces of equipment that rarely get used.

A growing number of boat owners prefer having someone on board to keep the boat clean and to make sure that it doesn't suffer damage from vandals or thieves.

We're not talking dinky motorboats and shoddy houseboats. Many are luxurious vessels that can compete with any apartment and are docked year round. Most harbors have shower and toilet facilities a short walk away.

These arrangements are best for singles who have few belongings since you will need to vacate a few times a year when the boat is being used by the owners. It also helps to have basic boating knowledge for upkeep.

It's also one area where you are on your own to find the opportunity since there isn't a central place on the Internet to find these positions. If you are willing to do some legwork and put the word out in local papers and at boat docks, however, it can be a way for someone with a bit of a sense of adventure to have a place to stay at no cost.

2. Share a Place
A number of cities across the country such as Seattle offer free home-sharing programs. These programs match tenants with elderly homeowners who have a spare room, but need a little help with basic chores around the house such as cooking, cleaning or providing transportation.

The Seattle program, for example, considers "an average of 12 to 15 hours a week to be a fair exchange for a private bedroom in a Seattle home with a shared bath."

3. Be a House-Sitter
In exchange for performing basic maintenance such as taking care of the yard and keeping the house clean while the owners are away, a house-sitter gets to live in the house rent-free.

People need a house-sitter for two main reasons: They have multiple houses and some aren't occupied much of the time; or, their work keeps them away from their home for long periods. In both cases, owners feel better having someone live in and take care of the houses rather than have them sit empty.

This means that houses near vacation resorts and in cities with colleges and universities tend to be prime locations for finding house-sitting opportunities. This also means many of the houses available for house-sitting are quite nice and even luxurious.

The key to being able to successfully live rent-free by house-sitting is to be extremely flexible with where you would live.

House-sitting lengths vary, but long-term opportunities usually are from three months to a year. This means that a move of at least once a year, and usually more, is standard. There are also numerous short-term two- to four-week opportunities for those with truly flexible schedules.

If you have flexible working conditions such as being able to work from home, it makes it much easier to do house-sitting long term.

4. Travel the World
House-sitting and other free rent exchanges are not limited to the U.S.

If you are looking for free accommodations around the world, the Caretaker Gazette ($30 membership), offers up a list of opportunities in all parts of the world where people can take care of homes, do basic chores for the elderly or do a work exchange for free rent.

5. Work and Learn
World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (may be a small fee for access) and Organic Volunteers ($20 membership) both cater to organic farms, gardens and ranches.

In exchange for your help in running these enterprises, you receive accommodations and food. In addition to basic gardening skills, you will also receive on-the-job training in many of the skills that are helpful in most free-rent positions such as cooking, maintenance and handy work.

6. Move Back Home
Granted, this option is heavily reliant on your relationship with your parents. But it can be an excellent way to live rent-free while you build up your finances.

This is a common way for college graduates to get on their financial feet after graduating, but should also be considered as an option at other ages when finances dictate it and when it's appropriate.

It's important to remember that the parents are doing you a huge favor and you should perform the same work that you would in any other arrangement where you don't pay rent.

7. Take in Boarders
If you can't move in with others, consider having others move in with you and pay rent. Their payments can cover your mortgage payments meaning you live in the place at no cost.

If you are considering a purchase of a house, looking for ones that can accommodate boarders can be a way of paying off the mortgage from day one without a penny of your own money.

This will help ensure you have a positive cash flow no matter how the current economic troubles affect you, and you'll continue to have a place to live even when income is lost.

8. Manage an Apartment
If you are handy with basic housing repairs, you have a good chance of being able to land an apartment manager position.

In exchange for being on call when residents in the apartment complex have troubles, you can get your housing for free. The amount of work this will entail depends heavily on the quality of the building and residents, so it pays to do your homework before committing to one of these rent free opportunities.

These offers can be found in local papers' job listings as well as on Web sites like Craigslist.


For those with the flexibility and sense of adventure, free housing can be a perfect way to drastically cut one of the most expensive monthly costs for most people.

It also shows that, while maybe not the perfect solution, there are more ways to survive the current economic turmoil than most people have probably considered.

 

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