How To Barter For Housing
James Harvey Stout (deceased). This material is now in the public
domain. The complete collection of Mr. Stout's writing is now at
Jump to the following topics:
- We can barter for
our own home.
- We can
barter for a vacation home-exchange.
- We can get
housing by house-sitting.
can barter our skills in exchange for a room in someone's
any housing arrangement, we can create a written
We can barter for
our own home.
- We can build our home by bartering. Whether we barter directly
(one-to-one) or use a club's units, it is possible to pay for
virtually every stage of design and construction without spending
money. Some of the most active and available traders are in the
construction field as carpenters, plumbers, carpet-layers,
landscapers, etc. In our contract with these people, we will need
to specify whether we are bartering for both parts and labor; the
contractors might be willing to trade their labor but not the
expensive materials (e.g., lumber), particularly if they have to
pay cash to their supplier. Our options:
- Pay cash for supplies, and then barter only for the labor.
- Find a supplier who will provide the materials in exchange
for barter-club units or for our goods or services in a
- We can furnish our home by bartering. We can trade for the
furniture, drapery, rugs, hot tub, and other features.
- We can barter for domestic services. These services include
housecleaning, yardwork, home repairs, etc.
- We can barter for the use of features that we can't afford for
our home. For example, we might offer to clean someone's pool
periodically, in exchange for the privilege of swimming there.
When I was a child in Tobyhanna, Pennsylvania, my neighbors had a
clay tennis court which needed to be "rolled" with a big metal
roller after every rainstorm; I would do the task, in exchange for
the privilege of playing on the court. We might be able to barter
for the use of a garage, boat dock, parking space, storage
building, or other facilities.
- We can barter for housing in exchange for a service.
- We can work for an apartment complex. Apartment managers
receive free housing and utilities in exchange for tending the
property, and providing maintenance and policing.
- Even if we cannot obtain free housing as an
apartment manager, we might be able to reduce our rent
by working in other ways: painting the apartment (or the entire
building), doing some repairs, or assisting in the maintenance.
For example, one barter club reduced its office rent by $30 per
month when the director offered to help in the building's
upkeep (sweeping the sidewalk, emptying the litter can in the
hallway, and doing other small chores). If there is not enough
work to do at our apartment complex, we might ask whether the
landlord owns other properties where we could perform
- We can buy or rent a house which is much bigger than the
one we need, and then rent out the extra rooms. When I lived in
San Jose, I spent a month with a friend who was making mortgage
payments on a large Victorian house where four rooms were
rented out to other people. Those renters paid for most of the
house mortgage, and they also helped to clean the communal
areas (kitchen, living room, and yard). It was a barter deal:
in exchange for providing those rooms, my friend got her own
living area for almost no cost, and she built up her equity,
and she got free housekeeping from the renters.
- We can get a job in which housing is often a fringe
benefit; as such, it is a non-cash barter-payment for "services
rendered." For example, soldiers have barracks; nuns have
convents; governors have a "governor's mansion"; the U.S.
President has the White House. Many colleges, private
companies, and other organizations provide housing for their
barter for a vacation home-exchange. In this arrangement, we trade
homes only for the duration of our vacation -- for a few days or a
few weeks. For example, you would stay in my home in Louisiana, and I
would stay in your home in Norway.
- The benefits:
- Fewer expenses. We won't have to pay for hotels (or tips),
restaurants (if we eat in the person's home), pet boarding (if
the person is willing to care for our pet in our home), and car
rental (if we use one another's car).
- Use of the person's other resources. Those resources might
include club memberships, maid, babysitter, boat, etc.
- We won't have to "live out of our suitcase." We have an
entire house in which to relax, with the conveniences and
privacy of our own abode.
- With the money which we save, we might be able to extend
- The details regarding location and timing. Obviously, we must
consider these details:
- We need to find someone who lives in a place which we want
- The other family must want to stay in our hometown.
- Our two families must be able to vacation at the same time.
- Advertising for the offer. We might place an ad in the
newspaper of the city where we want to stay. A classified ad in
The San Francisco Chronicle, The New York Times, or any
other local newspaper might lead to a rent-free vacation in
- International home-trading clubs. These clubs can help us to
contact thousands of people who want to trade. The clubs put a
description of our home into their directories, which are
distributed to all of the members. One directory had these
intriguing listings (among many others):
- "A home in Ceylon. Sun, sea, swimming, golf, wildlife,
archaeology, skin-diving, servant, surfing, curries, bargain
gems, car exchange."
- "A residence in France. Exceptionally attractive flat in
modern luxury building near beach, all appliances, tennis
court, swimming pool, car exchange possible."
- The dangers of a vacation home-exchange. When the trip ends,
and we return to our home, are we going to find a wasteland of
vandalism and theft? Of course, that is a possibility. However,
the Vacation Exchange Club (a home-exchange organization) says
that it has received only a few mild complaints after thousands of
trades. Generally, people have been honorable with one another's
property -- perhaps because we know that the home-owner is staying
in our home, and because we feel like honored, personal
guests, rather than impersonal customers paying for a hotel room.
We can get
housing by house-sitting. House-sitting is a temporary arrangement in
which we live in someone's home while he or she is gone (perhaps for
a vacation or a business trip). Our job is to maintain the home's
security, lawn, plants, pets, etc. House-sitting is not an on-going
way of life; we will probably not be able to coordinate our schedule
such that we could immediately move into another available home when
each home-owner returns from a trip and we have to move out. However,
house-sitting can be an interesting adventure, because it might allow
us to live in homes which are (1) in exotic locations, or are (2)
very expensive and are thus our only opportunity to live in a
- Finding a house that needs a sitter:
- We can place a classified ad in our newspaper.
- We can register with a house-sitting service. There are
companies which coordinate these arrangements between
home-owners and house-sitters who are bonded, and have passed a
- We can contact a real-estate broker. If the real-estate
market is slow, a house might be empty for months. During that
period, we could live in the house (although we will have to
agree to move out when the house is sold). The absent owner
benefits in various ways:
- Our presence is a deterrent to vandals, squatters, and
- We can use our home-improvement skills to increase the
value of the house. For example, we could repaint the rooms,
repair a fence, build a deck, etc.
can barter our skills in exchange for a room in someone's home. Those
skills can include housekeeping, cooking, errands, personal care
(perhaps for a child, or a person who is elderly or ill or physically
challenged), etc. Instead of domestic chores, we might be helping
with the family's business, e.g., farming. The arrangement can be
worthwhile for someone who has a spare bedroom; our use of the room
costs virtually nothing, and the cost of our food is minimal -- but
our services (e.g., babysitting five days per week and some evenings)
can be very economical for the homeowner.
- Finding a room. We can put an ad on bulletin boards, or we
might contact an employment office which is sponsored by a college
or the state government. In a newspaper, we might find a
classified ad in a category such as Help Wanted, Rooms For Rent,
or Apartments For Rent. Or we can place our own ad in Situations
Wanted. One classified-ad section presented the following
- A guest house (with utilities paid) was offered to a
massage therapist who would work with an MS patient.
- An unmarried woman was sought, to move into a "nice
2-bedroom duplex" to look after an elderly woman in exchange
for room and board. There was a "possible small income for the
- "Lady wanted: $15/week plus own room in exchange for light
housekeeping, cooking, and driving man to do business."
- "Wanted: retired man to work part-time at small nursery in
exchange for living quarters."
- "Room and board plus $100 per month for live-in sitter."
- "Marsha L. has a private room for a retired individual or
couple who will serve as substitute grandparents for her
any housing arrangement, we can create a written agreement. Some of
the following details can be considered, depending upon our
arrangement: permanent live-in, or temporary house-sitting, or a
vacation home exchange. (We can ask our attorney to develop this
- Our background. We might be required to supply "references"
(i.e., a list of people for whom we have previously provided this
- Our special skills or training. We might need to offer our
services in cooking, nursing, gardening, tutoring (for a child),
home repair, etc.
- Our personal characteristics. The homeowner might want someone
who is of a particular age, gender, or marital status.
- Our responsibilities. We might need to do housework,
gardening, driving, babysitting, care for pets and houseplants,
and other chores.
- Our schedule. How many hours per day will we be expected to
work for the family? Days only? Nights only? Weekends only? Will
we be on-call 24 hours per day? When will we have some "time off?"
- Our privileges. The privileges might include: having guests,
driving the family car, using all parts of the home (including the
garage and the family kitchen), and using particular facilities
(e.g., the swimming pool, piano, boat, telephone, fireplace,
clothes washer, etc.).
- Restrictions. The restrictions might include: visitors, noise
- Our payment. The agreement might be strictly barter -- our
services for the homeowner's room. Or perhaps we will receive a
cash salary in addition to the room. Contrarily, perhaps
we will have to pay -- for our use of utilities
(electricity, water, etc.) and other expenses which will be
incurred by our use of the home and facilities.
- Our personal relationship with the family. We might be viewed
as merely a worker, or perhaps we will be welcomed as a member of
- Length of stay. One month? Six months? Perhaps we will start
on a short-term trial basis.
- Liability. The homeowner should be certain that the insurance
will cover any damage which is caused by a roomer -- accidentally