“Please sign right here” – four of the scariest words in the English language, ranking right up there with “Here come the clowns” and “We need to talk.” Signing on the dotted line is especially daunting when you’re sitting in a realtor’s office. As you stare down at the ream of paperwork in front of you, festooned with a multitude of multicolored tabs, you’ll slowly come to the realization that with every page you sign, you’re one step closer to change.
This mixture of fear and excitement should be a familiar sensation for anyone who has ever signed a mortgage on home. It’s understandable; a house is a huge commitment, one that is not entered into lightly. The long journey to homeownership is filled with numerous open houses, detailed budget discussions, and sometimes a bit of heartache. By the time you are handed that pen, you might be a little apprehensive, but you’re more than prepared to move onto the next phase. But once the ink is dry and the boxes are all moved in, what’s next?
My wife and I were faced with this same question several years ago with our home in Boulder, Colorado. Would we simply continue to make our monthly mortgage payments waiting for the day in the distant future when all of the equity would be ours? Or was there a way to put our home to work for us? We decided it was time for the house to pitch in and start paying us for a change. Making that decision was one of the best things we have ever done.
It all started one night when my wife asked me what my thoughts were about doing a home exchange. I had never heard of it before. Trading houses with strangers seemed to go against everything my parents had instilled in me about home ownership. The idea of someone sleeping in my bed, eating in my kitchen, and sipping wine in my backyard was uncomfortable. But after a bit of research, we realized that we would have a chance to “meet” our home exchange “hosts”—first online, then through email, and even via phone or video call. Many were similar to us—with older or grown children—and often our exchange partners were swapping second homes, which allowed for non-simultaneous exchanges. By the time we made the swap, they often felt more like friends than strangers.
We decided to make the leap and list our house on HomeExchange.com. For an annual fee, the website allowed us to search for homes and peruse a gallery of pictures to find homes that were right for us. Very quickly we began to receive offers from across the globe for exchanges ranging from a week to a year. Since joining the program, we have relaxed on the North Shore of Maui, sipped margaritas in the Mexican Rivera and spent a week wine tasting in Napa Valley.
Our biggest and best home exchange adventure is currently underway. Three months ago, we packed up our family (which included our furry friends), and moved to Lyon, France; the family we’re swapping with is enjoying life at our house in Boulder.
Taking part in home exchanges has allowed us to go on more vacations to locations far and wide, due to the fact that we don’t need to pay for lodging, which is often the most expensive part of a trip. All we need to do is find a cheap plane ticket and away we go. As for my fears about someone trashing my home? It has never been a problem. Instead, our exchange partners have all treated our home with the same care that they treat their own.
The cost-saving home office
One of the first steps we took was to use our home office as a home office… as opposed to a storage room. The office conversion was necessary—my wife left her company in town, and started to work for a company in California. Every month, she had to travel to company headquarters for a week, but could spend the other three weeks working from home. One year later, I followed her when I left my corporate job and became a full-time freelance writer.
With a commute of about five seconds, we’re able to spend more time together as a family, and less money on gas. Outside of the obvious benefits, the death of our daily commute also meant less wear and tear on our cars, lower insurance rates, and the freedom to take a bike for a quick spin at lunch. On top of this, we were able to take advantage of tax deductions for home offices, and just like that, our office was a revenue-generating machine.
Maybe you are not able to work from home right now, or you think that a home exchange is not in the cards for you. Luckily, there are other ways to make your brick and mortar asset start earning.
One of the legacies of the Great Recession is the birth of the sharing society, which includes the growing popularity of short-term rentals. Got a guest bedroom, basement suite, or even a large backyard? For a small fee you can list your property online to rent out to travellers looking for an alternative to overpriced hotel rooms. You could easily begin earning a few hundred dollars a month from an asset that was sitting dormant. Make sure you check out your local regulations about such rentals, procure any required licenses, and pay applicable taxes. Start here.
If you don’t want overnight guests, how about daytime use? With a reliable Internet connection, a separate room can be rented out to someone looking for a small office space to run a business. You get a tenant that pays, and is only there during the day while you are away at work.
If you’re feeling super adventurous, there are other parts of your house that could be put to good use by people willing to pay a few bucks. Parking or driveway spaces, storage space, or even garden space can be rented out. All it takes is a little bit of ingenuity, the right online listing, and time spent finding the right renter.
Try it for yourself
If you’re looking to make more money from your home, do your research about taxes and licenses online before you start. While it may seem like a lot of work in the beginning, it will pay for itself in the long run. All it takes to make any of these ideas work is one thing, the ability to change your view of your home. Sure, it’s a long-term asset that hopefully will return all of your money invested (plus some extra), but at the same time, it can also be something that returns immediate returns. So what are your waiting for?
Hudson Lindenberger is a full-time freelance writer who believes life is full of interesting stories that are dying to be told. He has been published in many national magazines and is the co-author of On Thin Ice.
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