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How To Barter For Housing

By James  Stout, Writer For BarterNews

We can barter for our own home.  

  1. 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 one-to-one trade.
  2. We can furnish our home by bartering. We can trade for the furniture, drapery, rugs, hot tub, and other features.
  3. We can barter for domestic services. These services include housecleaning, yard work, home repairs, etc.
  4. 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.
  5. 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 additional work.
    • 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 employees.

We can 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.

  1. 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 our vacation.
  2. 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 to visit.
    • The other family must want to stay in our hometown.
    • Our two families must be able to vacation at the same time.
  3. 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 another city. (Online a classified ad in or
  4. 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."
  5. 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 mansion.

  1. 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 security check.
    • 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 burglars.
      • 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.

We 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.

  1. 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 proposals:
    • 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 right person."
    • "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 children."

For 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 legal document.)

  1. Our background. We might be required to supply "references" (i.e., a list of people for whom we have previously provided this service).
  2. Our special skills or training. We might need to offer our services in cooking, nursing, gardening, tutoring (for a child), home repair, etc.
  3. Our personal characteristics. The homeowner might want someone who is of a particular age, gender, or marital status.
  4. Our responsibilities. We might need to do housework, gardening, driving, babysitting, care for pets and houseplants, and other chores.
  5. 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?"
  6. 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.).
  7. Restrictions. The restrictions might include: visitors, noise level, etc.
  8. 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.
  9. Our personal relationship with the family. We might be viewed as merely a worker, or perhaps we will be welcomed as a member of the family.
  10. 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 or intentionally.