House Hacking, to cover your mortgage and more? What does that even mean? In this article, I’m going to explain what that means to my family and how we’ve been able to house hack our way to income that covers our mortgage+ more in our primary residence.
The Back Story
In order to explain this to you, I need to give you the back story. When I met my husband, he owned a condo in another town and he lived there full time. Once we got serious, we moved in together in the city where I lived. While we rented from other people, he became a landlord and rented his place out to a friend from his gym. That guy ended up not paying his rent and trashing the place. After the “gym trasher” moved out and my husband lost quite a bit of money, he decided that maybe he wasn’t the best landlord after all.
So to be sure this doesn’t happen again, he hired a property management company to manage the property going forward. At first, he didn’t see any additional income but eventually, the property became income positive. The rental prices in the area he owned were still low until a few years ago. Colorado’s real estate prices for rent and sale have been increasing year over year for the past several years. Eventually, he started to make a profit on this rental property that’s still not located in the best part of town.
Where we are Today
Fast forward to today and we now own that condo and another one that we bought together after we got married. Before we decided to have kids. We really did think we’d be a dual income, no kids couple. At the time, living in a two-bedroom condo with amenities seemed like a great bet for us. One thing is certain, things definitely change! Once we had our twins, our living situation suddenly seemed to not be the best bet anymore.
Condo life was great until the twins arrived and then it was extremely hard for me to get in and out of the condo due to the stairs. We had lots of stairs and they were super steep! I couldn’t carry both babies down in their car seats at the same time. I didn’t like leaving one at the bottom of the stairs while I ran back upstairs to get the other one and then come back down.
At first, this process was extremely hard and took me a good 30 minutes from the time I went out the front door to get them both secured in the back seat of my car. I got faster with time, but man it was difficult. Especially after a C-section and a 7-week hospital stay. So to make this process not so long and excruciating, we started looking for a house as soon as I was up for it (when the twins were about 6 months old) with infants in tow.
My husband had one condition to buying a house and moving out of the condo. The new house had to be income-producing. What that means to us, is we had to have a part of the house, preferably the basement, an apartment over the garage, or an in-law suite in the back yard that we could rent out long or short term. We looked at probably close to 100 properties and even made offers on a few, but thankfully those didn’t work out in the end. Just when I was ready to throw in the towel and say forget it, exclaiming “we can just make the condo work!”, we found the perfect house!
Finding the PERFECT Property to House Hack
By perfect, I mean it had a fully finished basement with a separate entrance. Other than that, well, let’s just say…it needed some serious TLC. We closed on 10/22/19 and moved in on 11/7/19. Before we moved in, we started working on the basement to get it ready to be able to rent it out and hopefully make income with it. By we, I mean a contractor and our awesome handyman. The work seemed to be never-ending and every time we turned around the price kept going up for this and that.
I actually learned a lot through this process about how to work with contractors and handymen. I love our handyman, but the contractor that we hired nickel and dimed us a bit. I would ask him to paint a room, and he would give me a quote and I’d say ok, yes please do that. Then he wouldn’t paint the ceiling. When I asked him when he was going to paint the ceiling, he said that wasn’t included in the original price. I thought the ceiling was part of the room, but apparently, it’s separate! So lesson learned.
Be specific when asking contractors to do work. You have to ask them about every little thing to be sure your expectations are the same as what they are expecting to do for work. In the end, we are very happy with the final outcome, it just took a bit longer than we hoped and cost quite a bit more than expected.
I’ll share some before and after photos below that show the difference in what it looked like when we moved in and how it looks now. But first, let me explain the meaning of House Hacking (to us anyway)…
What is House Hacking?
According to Forbes.com, “Simply put, House Hacking is a strategy that involves renting out portions of your primary residence to generate income that is used to offset the cost of your mortgage and other expenses associated with owning a home. When done correctly, it allows people to live in expensive areas completely for free, or even generate positive income through home ownership. Not too shabby right?” Read the full article to learn more.
We are house hacking according to this definition for sure!
Our Version of House Hacking
For us, we chose to short term rent our basement. That way, we controlled the calendar and when friends or family had plans to come to visit (which we’ve had a lot of company since finishing the basement) we have space and can block the dates out so that they aren’t available for short term rentals. We still make a good income even with friends and family coming to stay often.
We are even trading a stay in our basement with some past guests in exchange for trimming our trees. The price we were quoted to have our trees trimmed by a local company was a lot more expensive than what it will cost us to host these guests for 5 or 6 nights. So it’s a win-win for all of us.
I follow Graham Stephan on YouTube. He’s a professional house hacker and has made a business and successful YouTube Channel out of house hacking. You can see his videos and subscribe to his channel here.
Make sure Short Term Rentals are Legit
Before short term renting any part of your property, do your due diligence and make sure it’s legal where you live. If you have a Home Owners Association and pay fees each month or annually, there may be limitations on renting a room or an entire part of your home for short periods of time. Be sure to check your HOA and city’s by-laws before you start our plan for a construction project to turn your residence into a house hacking opportunity.
If there are limitations on the amount of time you can rent your space out, you may be able to still rent it out but in a different way. Traveling nurses need furnished places to stay and normally have contracts for more than a month. Some business travelers need longer-term stays and prefer to stay in a furnished place that feels homier than staying in a hotel.
House Hacking Ideas other than Basements
- An attic that you could add an outside staircase to make it a separate entrance.
- A shipping container or other type of building in your yard or on your property.
- If you live in a rural area and have acreage, you could add an airstream or other type of camper or set up a camping site to rent out through Tentrr or Hipcamp.
- A garage you could turn into a separate unit.
- A second master bedroom/bathroom or a room and bathroom in your home that is away from the main part of the house. Some short term renters don’t mind renting a room in a home and sharing the main spaces with others, but during the pandemic, most travelers prefer a private, separate space.
Our Punch List
Here’s a list of the things we had to do to get our basement ready for guests of any kind, paying or non-paying. We use our basement as an in-law suite when my parents, my husband’s parents, or any other friends/family come to visit. We don’t charge friends and family for staying with us. One of the main reasons we decided to short term rent our space is so we could control the calendar.
Our Punch List items:
- We had mold! UGH! That news was devastating! We had 8-month-old twins who were premature and one of them came home on oxygen. I was very worried about their health. We had to mitigate the mold in the laundry room and bathroom. The contractor did a great job of covering the vents and putting up a plastic zipper-like door in the entryway to the space that was being mitigated. That eased my worries a bit. We hadn’t planned on replacing the drywall, so that added to the cost because we had to have new drywall installed, mudded, and painted in the laundry room/kitchenette, hallway and bathroom.
- We installed two egress windows, one in each bedroom. See the photos below.
- We replaced all of the original aluminum windows with energy-efficient windows that are pretty and help to keep the space warm.
- We added trim around all of the windows & painted it white. The old windows didn’t have any trim.
- Our handyman built a wall with shelving on our side of the basement (where we go in and out) and installed a door with a one-way lock. The lock is on our side, so the renters can’t come to our part of the house without a key. This keeps it truly separate. Most short term renters want separate, private spaces right now during the pandemic. He painted the wall, door, trim, and shelving white and it all turned out great. See the before and after photos below.
- We took the laundry room completely apart and removed everything so we could start over with a new layout.
- We installed new LVT flooring in the laundry room turned kitchenette, hallway, and bathroom.
- Our handyman took the existing cabinets out, painted them, and cleaned up the countertops so we didn’t have to buy new countertops or cabinets. Then we moved them to a different wall for better use of the space.
- We installed a brand new utility sink with storage to use as a “kitchenette” sink.
- We installed a new 7.0 cubic ft fridge that is the perfect size for the space and short term renters.
It Cost How Much?!
All of this cost us approximately $30,000. We haven’t made that all back yet since we only started renting our space out in July due to the pandemic. We are on track to earn this money back over the next 6 to 8 months though. Once we earn the money we spent to get the space ready to rent out, we will be in the black, and then we have an idea to turn another space on our property into another income-producing space. More on that later.
Before and After Photos
For now, here are some before and after photos that I can’t wait to share with you. Read the captions about what we specifically changed.
As you can see from the photos. I only painted the laundry room, hallway, and bathroom. Even though I don’t love the peachy color on the other walls, it was in good shape. It wasn’t worth the time and money to repaint it until we are going to do other improvements. I really was trying to maximize the work we were having done and do it the most cost-effective way possible.
We decorated the sunroom since this is the first thing our guests see when they arrive. This is currently how they enter the property. We have plans to do extensive landscaping next summer, so when that is done, the entrance to the basement guest suite will be through the yard on a paved path. For now, they come into our decorated sunroom, see the second photo below.
I will be writing more about how we got ready to short term rent our basement. In future articles, I’ll cover, what we had to purchase, how we are keeping it top-rated, and occupied regularly. We plans to make a few more improvements to the basement suite. We will also be adding a few higher-end amenities to our property, so that we can rent our space out for top dollar and keep it occupied for more nights each month.
I’m not a professional interior designer or contractor by any means. I just love houses, design, and DIY projects. I dabble with designing and creating my own spaces when I have the time. If you aren’t comfortable or confident doing this on your own, you should absolutely consult with a professional or maybe a few professionals. I found a great article written by another blog, “The Fill” by Budget Dumpster. This article gives you a step by step guide if you are considering turning your basement into an apartment.
Please subscribe to get my newsletter and ensure you don’t miss an future articles with information about how we are house hacking to cover the cost of our mortgage and more expenses!
If you are house hacking in any way, I’d love to hear from you. What are you doing for your house hack? How did you come up with the idea? How are you managing it; are you managing your property yourself or did you hire a property management company? And, last but not least…What would you suggest to other house hackers to maximize their income from house hacking? Please comment below!
Other Resources that may Interest You
TV shows about short term rentals that you may like to watch. I’ve watched most of them!
- On Netflix; Stay Here: Designer Genevieve Gorder and real estate expert Peter Lorimer show property owners how to turn their short-term rentals into moneymaking showstoppers.
- On Netflix: Instant Hotel; Teams of Australian homeowners compete for the title of the best Instant Hotel by staying overnight in each other’s rentals and rating their experience.
- On HGTV: Vacation House Rules; Real estate expert and contractor Scott McGillivray shows homeowners how to unlock their vacation property’s full rental potential. He offers tips on how to transform the most neglected and unlivable spaces into showstopping pieces of paradise.
- On NBC.com: Cash Pad; Former stars of The Bachelorette and serious house flippers JoJo Fletcher and Jordan Rodgers partner with homeowners hoping to turn their properties into thriving short-term rentals. JoJo and Jordan will transform these ordinary spaces with unrealized potential into profitable vacation-rental hot spots.
- On FYI.com: Vacation Rental Potential; Ever dream of buying a vacation home that generates income? In conjunction with vacation rental online marketplace HomeAway (now part of VRBO), A&E Network presents a series that illustrates how investors make money by renting homes to travelers. Each episode features host Holly Baker, a real estate professional and longtime vacation rental owner, working with buyers in popular vacation destinations to weigh price, location, and design preferences to select the property of their dreams. Viewers then have the opportunity to stay in the actual properties featured on the series.