Knock 75% off your rental costs!
Serena Cowdy investigates a way of living that could save you thousands of pounds a year.
Are you struggling to make ends meet? Fighting to meet debt repayments? Or perhaps you're trying to save up for a house deposit?
Here, I'm going to have a look at a trend that taking the country by storm. If you become a 'guardian' of an empty property, you could cut your rental costs by 75% or even more!
How does it work?
There are now several companies in the UK operating property guardian schemes. One of the largest - Camelot Property Protection - expanded to the UK from Holland, where the idea is really well established.
In a nutshell, these companies find empty buildings that need redevelopment, renovation or demolition. They then charge the owners of these properties fees for protecting them (from squatters, vandals and looters), using property 'guardians'.
And that's where you come in. You pay the guardianship company a monthly 'living fee', and it temporarily installs you - the guardian - in the property.
You get a place to live for next to nothing, and the building's owner gets 'protection through occupation' for much less than they'd pay a professional security outfit.
The money you'll save
Many of the buildings involved are in prime city centre locations. Guardians typically pay between £25 and £60 a week in living fees (depending on the size, type and location of the property).
If you're a city dweller, you could easily knock three-quarters off your current rent by getting involved. Hurrah!
What are the properties like?
So where might you expect to end up? Well, there aren't many restrictions on the kind of buildings guardianship companies will work with, as long as they're safe to inhabit.
You might be placed in a standard residential house that's lying vacant. Or you could be offered a room in commercial premises - anything from an old office block, fire station or school to a care home, warehouse, church or even a listed building!
Standards of living
If you're now picturing a cold draughty warehouse with no toilet, don't panic. Wherever you end up, it will be 'habitable'. This means it will be secure and safe, with hot running water, lighting, heating and (shared) bathroom and kitchen facilities.
The number of guardians in each property will depend on its size - a large former nursing home, for example, may have a dozen or more.
What you may have to provide yourself is furniture - along with all your usual home comforts, like a TV and cooking utensils.
You'll be in the property to protect it from intruders - but that doesn't mean you need to challenge or confront anyone (in fact, you definitely shouldn't). Your constant presence in the property is meant to act as a deterrent in itself.
In this respect, you're meant to treat the property like it's your own home. That means calling the police if there's a break-in - not acting the role of security guard!
As a property guardian, it's also crucial you take out adequate home contents insurance for all your belongings - this won't be covered by the company.
So what's the catch?
Despite its huge moneysaving potential, this style of living isn't for everyone. Each property guardian company operates on slightly different basis, but here are the main restrictions you're likely to face:
- You won't be protected by security of tenure. You may be asked to vacate a property at just a fortnight's notice, so if you're looking for long-term stability, this isn't the solution for you! That said, most guardians end up staying in the same place for at least three months - and the company may well be able to move you into another property.
- No children or pets are likely to be allowed.
- Smoking is not likely to be allowed.
- Bathroom and kitchen facilities will probably be shared.
- Parties won't be allowed, and your company may ask to be informed about any overnight guests.
- Your property will be inspected regularly, and additional copies of room keys may be held by the company.
- You'll be expected to keep your living space clean, tidy and presentable.
- You'll need to be in the property frequently (not, for example, staying elsewhere at the weekends).
- You may be asked for extra initial payments - like a deposit and an administration fee.
If you think the pros outweigh the cons, you'll need to beat off some pretty fierce competition. These schemes are generally very oversubscribed, and are particularly popular with young key workers like police, junior doctors, nurses and teachers - as well as 'creative types' like artists, actors and musicians.
As the recession worsens, I think more people are going to be looking for this sort of affordable living solution.
Find out more
If you want to find out more - or apply to become a property guardian - one of the following three companies is probably a good place to start:
- Camelot Property Management: Find out how Camelot guardianship works, and which UK properties are currently available.
- Ad Hoc: Register to become an Ad Hoc property guardian, or contact them directly to find out more about what guardianship involves.
- Ambika: Find out how to become an Ambika 'caretaker' here.
Good news for all renters
If guardianship doesn't appeal, take heart - it looks like rents are going down for all of us.
According to the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS), rents dropped across the residential lettings sector in the fourth quarter of last year, as people who couldn't sell their homes continued to flood the rental market.