Chasing cheap rent: Pains, trains and automobiles

Sick of paying through the nose to rent a dank, cramped house in a prime location? How about bunking down for the night in a makeshift camper van or catching some Zs on a train?

Tried out house-sitting for size? Pondering property guardianship?

These are a few of the solutions some people have found to solve their housing woes and save some cash.

With Sydney, Melbourne and Auckland now among the top five least affordable housing markets in the world, it’s little wonder “Generation Rent” is having to be more creative with its choice of digs.

But are these alternatives really all they’re cracked up to be?

And hey, if all else fails, there’s always the less innovative option of moving back in with your folks or in-laws – like this blogger…

Creative housing options: The pros and cons

Carry on camper-vanning

A software engineer in San Francisco took the equivalent of three months’ rent and bought a 1969 VW camper van with “a hole in the floor and a family of spiders” to live in after seeing how crazily expensive it was to rent in the area. She blogs about her experience doing up the van and living in it.


  1. You can live as close as possible to your work/wherever you want to be.
  2. You can (probably should) change which view you wake up to on a regular basis.


  1. You have to find somewhere to store your valuables in case of a break-in.
  2. Get used to brushing your teeth on the side of the road.
  3. You’ll probably need to either have access to a shower at work or a gym/pool membership.
  4. Maintenance/renovations if your van needs work.


House-sitting is a great option for anyone looking to save on rent – whether you’re saving for a deposit on your first home or planning to travel. Renting and saving can be a tough old slog. House-sitting opportunities come up by word-of-mouth or through an agency and can last anywhere from a few weeks to a year. Bear in mind that house-sitting often includes pet-sitting too. A couple who have been house-sitting around the world for years share some of their tips here.


  1. Live rent free often without having to fork out for power, water and internet bills.
  2. Get the chance to live in some amazing properties you couldn’t afford to rent.
  3. Pet-sitting – great for animal-lovers who haven’t been able to own pets while renting.


  1. Potentially lots of moving about if they are short-term.
  2. Having to store or sell off most of your possessions and travel light.
  3. Added responsibility of taking care of pets and maintaining someone else’s house and garden.
  4. You can’t really head off on spontaneous trips away.

Your carriage awaits

This German student gave up her apartment to live on a train. Leonie Müller has a subscription which allows her to board every train in the country, where she washes her hair in the train bathroom travelling at speeds of up to 300 kmh. [Note: before you throw caution to the wind and make a run for the station – she does also crash at friends’ and family’s places.] You can read more on her bilingual blog.


  1. Apparently this arrangement has worked wonders for her long-distance relationship.
  2. The scenery? (… I’m struggling with pros on this one.)


  1. You have to carry your stuff with you wherever you go.
  2. Anyone who commutes daily knows how annoying fellow passengers can be. Imagine living with them.
  3. Washing your hair in a train bathroom.

Property guardianship

Property Guardian schemes have been a popular option for years for people looking for affordable accommodation in the UK and Europe . I haven’t heard so much of this in New Zealand and Australia though.
It’s a win-win for all involved. A person gets incredibly cheap rent to occupy some form of abandoned building – it could be a hospital, office block, theatre, swimming pool, mansion – you name it. This allows the building owner to avoid having to hire security or install CCTV to prevent damage or squatters.
property guardianship


  1. Ridiculously cheap rent.
  2. You can end up living in some really cool places.


  1. The arrangement is temporary and guardians can be turfed out with only a few weeks’ notice.
  2. Buildings are mostly unfurnished and not always exactly homely.
  3. The Shining anyone?

Are you a seasoned house-sitter? Or have you got your own tips to avoiding extortionate rents? What do you think of these alternative ways of living?

Share your thoughts in the comments below, or on our Facebook page.

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