I haven’t paid rent in a year: A guide to a rent-free life

Nine golden rules for living in a share house
Rule number seven: don't get drunk and let the cat out.

With the cost of living constantly going up, many renters are left wondering if there is any other way. Well, it turns out there is.

Since February this year, Rowie Geraerts has lived in several inner city apartments, a mansion in St Kilda and a villa in Bali – all without paying a cent of rent. She’s not a couch-surfer, or a really bad tenant. Her secret? House sitting.

For Geraerts, it all started when her relationship broke up and she had to look for a new place.

As a single twenty-something, Rowie Geraerts sees huge benefits in her lifestyle.As a single twenty-something, Rowie Geraerts sees huge benefits in her lifestyle. Photo: Stocksy

“I decided I’d go to New York in June, and that was only a few months away, so I thought it’d be really silly of me to find a new long-term place,” she says.

From there, house sitting just sort of happened organically, with Geraerts bouncing between friends’ and relatives’ homes while they were on holiday. It was August before she had to actually appeal to the public for help on her housing journey.

“I put a post up on Facebook saying, ‘Is anyone going away?'” says Geraerts. “Within a few hours I had my house sitting sorted for the rest of the year.”

RowieRowie Geraerts enjoying a house sitting experience in a villa in Uluwatu.

If your network isn’t as vast as Geraerts’s, there are other ones you can tap into – like website Aussie House Sitters.

“We’ve noticed over the last few years that house sitting has really taken off,” says Kylie Fuad, co-founder of Aussie House Sitters. “A lot of people are looking at it as an option, both as a house sitter and as a house owner.”

Aussie House Sitters is free for home owners to use, while sitters pay a small fee to register.

So what kinds of people become house sitters?

“It’s really, really varied,” says Fuad. “We get writers who want to go somewhere away from everyone else. We get people who are moving to a new area and want to suss it out. Some people do it to save money to buy their own house. And there are a lot of grey nomads who are travelling around in their caravans and want to break up their caravanning.”

As a single twenty-something, Geraerts sees huge benefits in her new lifestyle.

“I’ll be out and someone will ask me to do something with them, and I can say yes because I know I can get by with what’s in my bag or what’s in my car,” she says. “I’ve become so much more of a ‘yes’ person.”

RowieA yoga teacher by trade, Rowie Geraerts has adopted a minimalist attitude since house sitting.

Of course, this type of lifestyle isn’t for everyone. It requires a nomadic spirit and minimalist attitude – after all, you can’t be schlepping from place to place with ten pairs of shoes and your five favourite mugs.

But if it does appeal to you, how exactly can you get a piece of the rent-free pie? If Geraerts’s approach of “putting the feelers out” doesn’t work for you, Fuad has some advice for establishing a profile with Aussie House Sitters.

“It’s a really good thing to have a photo of yourself,” says Fuad. “If you’ve got experience with certain animals or with animal care, if you’re a gardener or you’ve been a home owner – all of these are key things that house owners are looking for. If you’ve been renting, you can get a rental reference. References from employers also definitely help.”

Once you’ve got some sitting work, it’s simply a matter of building good relationships with home owners and obtaining positive references. Kylie says that in this respect, communication is key.

Meanwhile, Geraerts plans to be a house sitter for as long as it makes sense.

“I know of people who’ve house sat for a while and then it just stops working,” she says. “That’s when I’ll stop: when it stops working for me.”