How to Live on $0 a Day: Assessing Your Real Estate Options

05/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

If you're anything like me, right now you're trying desperately to ignore the vague fear that you can no longer afford to continue your current housing situation. You probably keep hoping you'll get a new job, inherit a fortune, the government will intervene or that Armaggedon will strike before your next bill is due and you won't have to deal with it.


Here are a few clues that it may be time to confront the situation head on: You consider housing and utilities an either/or situation. Your home payments are eating into your insurance premiums. Your home has been padlocked and there's an armed guard at the door.

Now that you realize the gravity of the situation, you may be asking yourself "how will I find a new place to live when I have no income, cash or credit rating? Seriously, where the f*$k will I go?" Don't panic. Let's calmly and rationally go over your options.

Move in with family
2010-03-12-dallascast.jpg 2010-03-12-menendezfamily.jpg 2010-03-12-oedipus.jpg

If you have a parent, child, cousin, or a third niece removed who has a home or dorm room, moving in with them makes good economic sense.

For some families, it's an ideal way to bond and reconnect. I left my parents' home and moved 3,000 miles away when I was an angry teenager. Moving in with them so many years later allowed us to reconnect and let them get to know me as an angry adult. It's also given me an opportunity to understand why I'm angry.

Of course, living in such close proximity to family can reawaken old dysfunctions and unresolved issues. It may not be right for you if:

  • This is all their fault!
  • You have sibling rivalry with the family dog.
  • The first time you heard the story of Oedipus, you thought 'woah, did Sophocles know my family?'
  • At the last family Thanksgiving dinner you broke out in stigmata.
  • The sound of their breathing really bugs you.
  • You're off your medication.
  • They're off their medication.
  • You have to give the Menendez brothers credit for standing up to their parents.

It's a squatters' market!

2010-03-11-sFORELCOSURElarge.jpg 2010-03-11-emptyhousesliverpool.jpg 2010-03-18-100_0750746683.jpg

There are already 19 million vacant properties in America. The number is rising, as "for sale", "for rent" and foreclosure signs dot the landscape with more frequency than Starbucks. It's the perfect storm for squatters!

If you're a soon to be ex-homeowner, you can always squat in your own house after the bank kicks you out. But now is a great time to trade up.

Have you been longing to live in a nicer neighborhood? Dreamed of owning a pool and tennis court? Maybe you just want a more modern kitchen or a playroom for the kids. Your dream house is out there, you just have to keep your eyes open and be ready to stake your claim before someone else beats you to it..

There are also schools, hospitals, factories, stores and restaurants that are move-in ready. It's almost like a government incentive program for people who want to start their own business!

Here are some great resources for potential squatters:
A website devoted to squatting.
Top abandoned towns
Brokers' guide to vacant property.

Become a troglodyte
2010-03-17-60.jpg 2010-03-17-forestieregardenscavelg.jpg 2010-03-17-Snowyrivercaveshelf.jpg
Maybe neanderthals had the right idea. Most caves are larger and better equipped than my NYC apartment was, without the nasty landlord, loud neighbors and rent.

There are caves available to suit almost every lifestyle. If you can't let go of your grandmother's armoire, your 48" flatscreen or treadmill, find a spacious cave with lots of storage space. If you're trying to cut back on stuff, grab a quaint, cozy cave with built in fireplace.

They're usually sound-proof and very private, making them the choice of several rich ex-Saudis who can afford to live in palaces. Some come with fabulous built-ins, like shelves and tables (how cute would those Liberty of London mugs they're selling at Target for only $5 look on them?). Some have indoor pools. Art lovers can even find caves with their own built in art collections.

The only real downside to living in a cave is since they're often in remote locations, internet access and phone reception can be limited. Of course, this can be a plus if you've got creditors, the IRS or FBI after you.

Container dwelling
2010-03-18-portabach.jpg 2010-03-18-2475291560103691965S500x500Q85.jpg 2010-03-18-MentorMiniStorage_0008.JPG.jpeg
There was a time when it was considered pathetic to live in a refrigerator box or container. Now it's environmentally correct and a chic choice for anyone who lives in a city. I'm a fan of refrigerator boxes (especially sub-zero), but I'm single and somewhat nomadic.

For those who prefer a more stable home, shipping containers, dumpsters old railway cargo cars make a fine abode. I believe they may be the next housing bubble, so act now!

Remember, as demand rises, it'll become harder and harder to trade up. This is no time to settle. And when you find your dream container, grab it without hesitation. There are several people already interested in it and who knows when you'll find another one you like half as much.

If you have 100 bucks or so a month to spare, you might want to consider renting storage space in a public facility. 10x10 is enough space for a bed and mini-fridge. Not recommended for anyone who suffers from claustrophobia, it's a great option if you're broke, but really need to live in a gated community

Affordable ideas for when you're ready to buy
2010-03-18-doghouse.jpg 2010-03-18-images.jpeg 2010-03-18-1aaaatombwithsatellite.jpg
I understand the desire to own your own home. It's the American dream. The problem is, if you have to borrow to buy it, you don't really own it. We've seen how that works out.

Even with the declining price of homes, you probably think you'll never be able to buy a home or a nice plot of land outright. It's possible, you just have to think within your means. That 4500 square foot home with a movie theater in the west wing was a little excessive anyways.

For example, you can get a nice 4x9 funeral plot for less than a thousand dollars (depending on the property and location). That's room enough for a bunk bed and you can always build on (or in) it later. Guaranteed you'll have quiet neighbors.

You might want to check and see if you've already got a plot in your family. A friend of mine discovered a family mausoleum his grandfather built and has set up residence there. All my grandparents left were urns which serve no earthly purpose except to take up space in my shopping cart.

You can also get a basic starter doghouse for only $59.00, or something as lavish as a sprawling two floor Spanish hacienda for $30,000 (rumor has it Lloyd Blankfein's dog has one of these).

Tool and storage sheds can be quite economical if you get a kit (from $150 to $500). If your tastes demand something more luxurious, consider having yours custom ordered for $1,500 and up.

If you love the outdoors and live in a warm environment, a gazebo may be right for you. You can get one with UV Guard-protected polyester taffeta side panels to keep out harmful ultraviolet rays for $274 on Target also has several choices, from sleek to rustic. Don't buy the first one you see. Attend a few open houses to get a feel for the market.

Happy hunting!


Economic indicators suggest that this might be a good time to read my blog about being broke in France.