Can you imagine that you can live in a rental apartment without paying any rent? Read the below story from someone who has been doing it, and then follow his footsteps if you are interested:
Trying to get out of the city, or just scraping together enough cash to do what you really want right where you are. . . either one can be hard when you have to cope with the cost of urban living. I’ve been there myself: struggled along in town for a few years, got nowhere with my savings, and wound up frustrated. How was I supposed to put by any money when—on top of paying for food, transportation, and other needs—I had to hand out a big chunk of my income for rent and utilities?
Then, one day, a casual glance through the classified section of the local newspaper showed me an answer I now wish I’d thought of long before: I could care for an apartment house and live there rent-free.
Once I was on the lookout for caretaking jobs, I found no lack of openings. A good Sunday edition of our Cincinnati paper generally lists half a dozen positions available (under the headings “Janitor”, “Apartment Manager”, or “Couple Wanted”), and I’ve never failed to see at least two such ads. The larger the town, the more opportunities. In fact, now that I’m used to earning my lodging this way, I’m surprised that most people would rather pay cash for shelter than work for it directly.
OK, there were plenty of jobs going . . . but at first my longish hair and beard made me hesitate to apply. I needn’t have worried. Any city is packed with apartment houses, and most such buildings have at least some freaky tenants. Why shouldn’t one of those longhairs sweep out the hallways and drag out the trash instead of paying rent?
If you scan the “Caretaker Wanted” ads you’ll find, as I did, that some list phone numbers, but more are write-ins. Don’t avoid the second kind.., they’re often the better openings. Which is more hassle: to hand over hard-earned cash every 30 days or to sit down and write a letter?
Whichever ads you decide to answer, you may want to fry a few pointers I’ve used with success. For example: Exaggerate when necessary! Don’t be afraid to build yourself up a little. In particular, always say that you’re handy with your hands.
Most caretaker deals require a small amount of maintenance work, but almost never a job you won’t be able to handle. Just because you’ve never done any simple repairs doesn’t mean that you can’t. Changing fuses, replacing leaky washers, plunging a stopped-up toilet: These are all minor problems which anyone can set right if he tries. Most things go back together the same way they come apart.
You won’t normally be expected to do any but trivial jobs. Most real estate companies have crews to maintain their property, and if real trouble comes up the management calls in a professional. (If you are thoroughly qualified at any trade, by the way, be sure to mention the fact. You may be able to pick up some extra income.)
I’ve personally discovered hidden talents just by tackling some everyday household repairs for the first time, and you can do the same. A fix-it book will help you learn by doing:
My own bible is a Better Homes and Gardens guide that shows the basics of just about everything I’ll ever have to fry.
Remember, in general, that getting the job you want requires salesmanship. Convince the management you have enough assets, and they’ll buy. Just be confident and assure them that you can handle the whole situation.
By the time you’ve talked to a few potential employers you’ll be amazed at the variety of caretaking positions. Some are full time and require you to handle the rentals along with building and grounds maintenance. Jobs in large complexes may demand 30—40 hours of work per week, but may also bring you $200—$500 a month in addition to your no-cost apartment. Other openings offer free living space only in exchange for light duties. . – and there are all sorts of in-between deals.
The spot to look for is the one that fits in well with your personal situation. If you have a good job now and like it, you can still be a part-time caretaker and at least live rent-free. One way or another, you have to work for shelter . . . but it seems that the effort that goes into getting free lodging is usually much less than the equivalent required to earn rent money at another job.
The facts of your private life don’t limit your employability as much as you might think from looking at some of the ads. For instance, those “Couple Wanted” notices don’t necessarily mean that one of you will be stuck in the building at all times. The management may have chosen that wording because they consider a pair more stable and reliable than a single person, or because the job includes a variety of duties which a man and a woman could share. If you’re single, try for those positions anyhow. On the other hand, an advertisement that specifies a male or a female doesn’t have to mean that a couple won’t be considered. It’s worth applying even for jobs you don’t get, just for the tips you pick up.
Maybe nothing offered in the papers will appeal to you. . – in which case I suggest that you go around and ask all the local realtors about upcoming janitorial openings which haven’t yet been advertised. (The early bird and all that.) If the owners can’t use you as a caretaker right then, they may still want you to clean and paint an apartment, haul away trash, or whatever. Impress them as a hard worker and they’ll most likely remember you when they do need a building tended.
The first caretaking job my wife and I took—about three years ago—was also the first we applied for. Getting hired was easy, even though we weren’t legally married at the time (it’s probably best, in such a case, to say that you’re wed).
Our building, a big old place with twelve apartments, also happened to be one of the most beautiful and famous landmarks in this part of town. The duties consisted of sweeping and mopping the hallways, looking after the garbage, and doing a little yard work or snow removal as the season required. For about ten hours of effort a month we received free rent, utilities, and $50.00 in salary. Not bad!
Our new job also gave us a great deal of freedom: As long as the work got done we didn’t have to be around at set hours. And, like most such situations, this one had its unadvertised fringe benefits. Each floor of the building contained about a dozen rooms and one apartment which had once been quarters for a live-in maid. Since we had the entire top story to ourselves, we expanded our living space into most of the unused rooms on that level. . . and furnished our “mansion” with some nice junk which had been left there and which we found in the tenants’ trash. One way and another, the two years and three months we spent at the “Netamora” were very enjoyable.
That period of our lives was profitable, too, because I used my ample free time to start a side business of roofing, painting, hauling, etc. The building’s large basement gave me storage space for my materials. (If you get into such a sideline, by the way, remember that your own employers may need help on some of their other pieces of property.)
When we quit our first caretaking job several months ago, Nancy and I still weren’t ready to settle down. We thought we’d do some traveling. . . starting with a winter inFlorida. Within one week after our move south, we’d landed a position as managers of an apartment house located just four miles from the beach. It’s set in a big yard that’s loaded with fruit trees. (Living in the city doesn’t have to cut you off from nature. Many owners of urban buildings will let their care takers plant gardens on the surrounding land.)
A tip to remember when you leave a janitorial position:
Ask your boss for a letter of reference. If you’ve done a good job he should be glad to oblige you, and you’ll find that testimonial very handy later . . . especially if you move to another town.
Finally, anyone who wants to get into the caretaking business should keep in mind that all the jobs aren’t in apartment buildings. . – or even in the city. Some friends of ours found a good deal taking care of a beautiful country estate, where they have their own house and large garden (and access to a 16-acre lake), keep chickens and bees, and produce enough extra food to stock a roadside stand. Their duties—two days’ housework a week plus the care of the yard and garden—bring the couple a good salary along with the pleasure of living in such mellow surroundings.
If it’s a rural position you’re after, watch your local paper for a few days to get an idea of the possibilities in your area. I’ve seen advertisements for people to take care of horses, feed cattle, or merely occupy a country place and look after it for an owner who prefers to stay in town. It’s a fine chance to live and learn if you’re planning your own homestead. . . and, with yow former rent money going into a land fund, you’ll be able to afford the place you want a lot sooner. Then, if you start slowly with your own property—maybe work it only on weekends for a while—you’ll find when you’re ready to make the move that everything falls into place.
City or country, caretaking can be a good way to live . . . and a good moneysaving start for a new life. Good luck and happy job hunting.