Property Guardians – How not to be flat broke

SO you’ve just secured your graduate job – great! It’s located in your favourite city – great! But the average rent in that city swallows up your entire monthly salary – not so great.

But what if there was a way you could live in a beautiful building in a prime location for around £60 per week, bills included. Sound tempting? Welcome to the world of a property guardian. Let ALICE CRUICKSHANK show you round…

What are property guardians?

With the number of empty buildings all over Britain higher than ever before, many owners these days are turning to agencies, such as Ad Hoc, Camelot and Dot Dot Dot to find house sitters, or ‘property guardians’ as they are known, to look after their properties and prevent squatters.

The principles of property guardianship are fairly simple. Anyone who is employed can apply to stay in an empty property.

In exchange for very low rent, the guardians are tasked with minding the building until the landlord needs it back- this could be for a month, six months or even longer.

Of the students we asked, all said they would consider it as an option if they got a job in a city where rent prices were high. Some had even lived as a property guardian already.

Lucy (20) from Linlithgow stayed in an empty house with her boyfriend. “It was generally a really positive experience,” she says. “The owner extended our stay twice, and we had no issues with them at all.

“The only negative for me was the house we lived in was very old, and it needed a lot of attention. The owner also had chickens that became our responsibility too and were very hard work at times!

“But overall, I would do it again if I was asked.”

Be the King of Your Castle

Who wouldn’t like to live like royalty for a few months?

Ad Hoc Scotland says so far they have had a mansion with its own lake, a pub, a care home, listed buildings and a leisure centre amongst the quirky residences on their books, while Camelot’s properties include a pink castle in Holland.

Property guardian schemes are becoming increasingly popular.

This means that from Glasgow to London to Paris, there’s a good chance you’ll be able to benefit from this scheme.

Save Money and Change Lives

One property guardian community that is really making waves is Dot Dot Dot, based in London.

Their goal is to provide cheap accommodation so residents can spend less time working and more time helping the local community.

To be a guardian with Dot Dot Dot, you must do at least 16 hours a month volunteering.

This could be litter picking, tutoring underprivileged kids, working with animals… anything that makes you feel good and benefits others.

Considering the average monthly rent in London according to The Guardian is £1,118, this is a deal definitely worth considering. Jasmine (25) is a property guardian with Dot Dot Dot and says the financial and social benefits have been huge.

“I was paying over £700 a month to live in a small privately rented studio flat and I was skint, lonely and miserable,” she explains.

“There were times when I had to choose between paying a bill and buying food. I would lie awake at night stressed about money and hating my flat because the landlord wasn’t answering my calls about all the problems with the building.

“As soon as I became a property guardian I was living in a much bigger flat and part of an amazing community of people. I was actively encouraged to become a part of charitable work in my area. I was able to pay the bills, rent and put money aside – something I truly thought would never happen living in London.”

Too Good to Be True?

Being a property guardian may not suit everyone. Ultimately, guardians are only ‘borrowing’ a property and don’t have the same rights as tenants.

The owner may want the property back at any time and most agencies offer a very short notice period, usually a few weeks.

So to be a guardian you have to be flexible and open to change.

There are also some extra costs to bear in mind. Most companies require a damage deposit, ‘processing’ or ‘administration’ fee and the purchase of a fire safety pack. In most cases, properties will be shared by other guardians.

University has probably already taught you about the joy of sharing with strangers! And wild parties? Not a chance.

“Being a property guardian isn’t for the faint hearted,” says Jasmine.

“It can be tough. My flat was completely gutted of everything – no oven, no carpets… and it needed some TLC. But I have learnt a lot about DIY and Dot Dot Dot sign-post you to great places you can get cheap paint and furniture.

“If in doubt there is always one of the other guardians in the block who is likely to have a screwdriver or the technical know-how required!”