Pros/cons to having "housesitter"?
April 30, 2012 12:09 PM   Subscribe

What would the drawbacks/benefits be to having someone stay in our currently vacant house?

Our house is currently for sale and vacant. We now live about an hour away. A friend approached us wondering if a friend of theirs*would be able to stay in our house for a few months.

At first, we thought about "officially" renting. This person would not be able to shoulder the normal full-house rental, but could help shave a bit off our mortgage amount. However, after investigating the amount our insurance would rise vs. how much this person could pay, we decided we can't really afford that option.

We are now torn as to whether to offer the ability to stay in the house to the person. Having someone there to maintain it (normal upkeep, we would not be asking them to do any crazy repairs) and keep it from looking vacant is probably a good thing, however then we have to coordinate having someone there with agent showings, etc. We would continue to cover utilities, so that would be a rise in cost for us, but I'm wary of accepting any money in this situation.

What benefits and drawbacks aren't we thinking of? Is this worth doing or should we just drop it? What would you do? Thanks!

*Note: please assume that these are all upstanding people in the community, dealing with other quality people. We are well aware of the usual slings and arrows of renting and people trashing places, etc. The person in question is currently staying elsewhere and taking care of it nicely.
posted by stefnet to Home & Garden (7 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Ask your insurance agent what the ramifications would be of having a housesitter vs. having a tenant. This varies tremendously from policy to policy, and from locality to locality. With some policies, in some localities, it is cheaper to insure an occupied house than an unoccupied house; where it might be more expensive to insure a rented house, it might be less expensive to insure a house that's being house-sat.

If I were your housesitter, I would want to recompense you in some way; perhaps encouraging them to make a donation to a local charity for the homeless or the recently homeless would be the way to handle that if your housesitter has the same impulse.
posted by Sidhedevil at 12:16 PM on April 30, 2012

I would prefer someone was in my house. If they are there and not paying rent, I would consider the co-ordination with agent showings, etc. as part of the agreement. Meaning they would agree to have the house in constant readiness to show.
posted by Vaike at 12:20 PM on April 30, 2012 [2 favorites]

When my house sat vacant for three months, my house insurance was invalid since the house was unoccupied, and I had to buy a special unoccupied property insurance, which was very expensive. I would check if your current insurance covers you while the house is empty. Personally, I would prefer to have a trusted person live there, as an unoccupied house is a prime target for break-ins, vandalism, and you won't notice if it springs a leak etc.
posted by Joh at 12:48 PM on April 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

I am a real estate investor. I don't like buying houses with a tennant.
Most investor want an empty house - to do repairs and to start clean with a tennant that I screened myself. Obviously, people that are looking to buy a residence do not want a tennant either. They want to live there.

Also, having someone in the house makes it harder to check out the house. Vacant houses, where you have a code to a lock box, you can check out anytime. With a tennant, you can't just pop over and take a quick look.

This is the biggest problem with having someone in the house - but if the person is willing to be very cooperative about showing the house, and is willing to say to everyone that he will be moved out be closing date, and you are willing to include a clause in the contract saying that the house will be delivered vacant - then it is not a problem. At least not from my perspective.
posted by Flood at 1:25 PM on April 30, 2012

Try to do some due diligence before letting *anyone* stay in your house for money for a while. They may acquire tenant rights and be very difficult to evict, should that need arise. Have them sign some kind of rental agreement outlining everyone's responsibilities and expectations. And find out why they friend of a friend needs a place to live, they are probably a fine, upstanding individual but maybe they got evicted from the last house by running a grow operation (a sadly frequent problem in cheap rentals) or having an animal rescue operation going or too many loud parties. This is your most expensive possession, put as least as much care in finding out who is taking care of it as you would when buying the property. And lastly, if they do check out then you should rent to them, if for no other reason that it will preserve the house much better. I have seen more than one vacant house near me get trashed, wiring stripped, vagrants/tresspassers start fires and just generally rot from vacancy.
posted by bartonlong at 1:30 PM on April 30, 2012

Yeah, even if they are just "housesitting" rather than renting, make sure that you put it in writing -- in particular that they agree to move out on 24 or 48 hours notice, that they'll keep the house in showable condition as defined by the real estate agent, that they agree to let the agent and anyone the agent accompanies into the house, etc. etc. In exchange, you should also put down that you'll pay for all utilities and that they'll get to live in it rent-free. That way you are both protected and everything is spelled out.

If they're not comfortable and happy living in a house that's actively being shown and has to be kept in immaculate shape at all times, then I'd back away. You shouldn't have to do any "coordination" with them if they're not paying rent; part of what they're getting for free should be the responsibility of keeping the place up to that standard. At least IMO.

And be sure you are keeping your real estate agent involved in this process; they need to know under what circumstances they can show the house, and they might (if they're good at their job) be able to help you avoid any common pitfalls in your jurisdiction. I expect this is a situation that comes up fairly frequently. Also, they can assure any buyers' agents of the situation, so it's not mistaken as a house with a tenant whose lease will convey with the property. When I recently bought a house, our agent previewed houses for us and knocked off the list anything that had any signs of being rented (legally or especially illegally or by squatters) since it can easily become a huge hassle for the buyer. The last thing you want is for some potential buyer to nix your house because they think it's being illegally rented or squatted in.
posted by Kadin2048 at 4:36 PM on April 30, 2012

Thanks everyone! Great advice, as per usual for AskMe.
posted by stefnet at 8:42 PM on April 30, 2012

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