Finding stable housing as a freelancer

By Marc McDougall

I’ve often questioned how feasible it would actually be to live in a car.

When I was much younger, I was so confused as to how entrepreneurs actually stayed alive.  To me, it was as simple as this:

If you don’t have a job, how would you pay your bills!?17 year-old me

Like most of us, I had been raised with a suite of preconceived notions about how the world worked, and I simply could not understand how anyone could do anything else.

That is…until I did something else.

Given that I’ve been successfully freelancing for about 2 years as of this post, I’ve learned a few things:

  1. How to use a crock pot, and less¬†importantly…
  2. How to find housing when you don’t have a traditional job.
..just look at that chicken & salsa deliciousness!
…just look at that chicken & salsa deliciousness!

Today, I’m gonna drop some of them sweet sweet tips into your brain!

Let’s do this.

The Fundamentals

Alright so let’s start with the basics. ¬†How do you best set yourself up to find some decent housing as a freelancer?

Note that some of these things will not change quickly, but I’m listing them here because they¬†do¬†help you find housing.

In a nutshell, here’s what you helps:

  1. Ask yourself why you need independent housing.
  2. Maintain good credit.
  3. Figure out if you want to buy or lease.
  4. Have a long employment history.
  5. Have a quality rental history.
  6. Figure out if you want to live alone or with roommates.

Now, let’s dive a little deeper into each of these…

Do you really need independent housing?

I know this sounds silly, but I’m an advocate for living with your family for as long as reasonably-possible. ¬†Rent (or a mortgage) is a¬†huge drain on capital, and when you first start freelancing you have very little capital.

Ask yourself this:

What would be so bad about continuing to live with my parents until I get off the ground?

Let’s be real for a moment: it’s¬†very hard to build a business from scratch. ¬†When you’re looking at your bank account slowly dwindle, you’ll be glad that you aren’t paying $1000+ each month for rent!

..and hey, if you really can’t stand living with your family, you can always have them co-sign the lease to help you out! ¬†(Hint: This works well when your parents really¬†want you to leave.)

Make sure your credit is A-OK!

I know you can’t really just do this at the drop of a hat, but let me level with you: the art of convincing someone to let you rent their room comes down to trust. ¬†You should take advantage of anything that you can do to instill trust in a potential landlord.

A healthy¬†credit score simply says: “hey, I pay my debts regularly and on time!”.

If your credit score is poor right now, perhaps consider other options for housing (see below) until it clears up.

Do you want to buy or lease?

If you want to buy, and you’ve been doing this for less than 2 years…you’re gonna have a bad time.


Mortgage brokers are very hesitant nowadays to lend to anyone that is deemed as “high risk”. ¬†Sadly, unless you’ve been employed anywhere for 2 years straight you’re going to be put inside the “high risk” box, and there’s just about nothing you can do about it.

Buying is the preferred option, because you can then rent out the rooms and minimize your monthly expenses, but unless you already have a mortgage you’re out of luck until you’re so deep in the freelancing game that you’ve probably already figured out this housing game anyway.

Have a killer employment history.

Remember what I said earlier about your potential land lord needing to trust you?  That comes into play yet again here!

When you’re self-employed, your landlord is going to be asking a few questions:

  • Why don’t you have a “regular” job?
  • Is s/he self-employed because nobody will hire them?

If you can drop a few big names of past employers, your potential landlord will see you as more trustworthy and subsequently may let you rent the space!

Have a killer rental history.

If you’re transitioning to freelancing from a full-time position (and I recommend that you do), you probably already have a decent rental history.

What you’ll want to do here is reach out to your previous landlords (or leasing agencies), and give them permission to release your rental records to your new landlord. ¬†Then, tell your prospective landlord that you have a list of previous renter references, and¬†boom!

You’ve got yourself some trust juice.

Find roommates with more stable income.

One neat little trick to use when finding (usually) your first rental space after going freelance is to sign up with 2-3 roomates with stable incomes.

Landlords are obviously going to be much more willing to deal with a “wildcard” when they know that there’s 3 other solid renters in the home paying their rent.

Now, where do you find quality rentals?

This advice isn’t really specific to freelance, but I’ll let you in on how I found my first 2 rentals:

  • Check out Zillow, and filter based on the criteria that mean the most to you.
  • Regularly check into Craigslist – there’s usually some killer cheap deals on there (just be way of crazies).
  • As a last resort (and usually only if you have other roommates), just use Google Maps to find local apartment complexes, and visit them.

…and that’s it!

This is me, cooking a delicious-ass steak in a rental home that I found on Craigslist. There's definitely some hidden gems on there!
This is me, cooking a delicious-ass steak in a rental home that I found on Craigslist. There’s definitely some hidden gems on there!

When you’re talking to these folks, just be up-front about your situation and (at least in my experience), they’re usually much more willing to compromise.

I did a separate blog post on managing expectations that’s quite fitting here, actually.

Alright, so I’ve found a potential landlord…what now?

After the hunt is over, you now have to seduce your potential landlord into allowing you to live in their killer apartment. ¬†There’s a few little things you can do to increase your odds of them saying “I do”, so here they are…

I’m a web designer at Kilobyte Studios

When asked about your employment, simply state your role and the legal entity for your freelance business. ¬†For me, that’s “Web Designer at Kilobyte Studios”.

At a glance, most people won’t question this, though if they do, all you need to do is clarify that you also run the firm ;).

Rental history referrals

Remember the rental history referrals that we talked about before? ¬†That’s right, this is the time to pull them out and “wow” your prospective landlord.

Make sure you have consent beforehand, then give out their contact details. ¬†If you do this without being prompted, your prospective landlord will likely be super impressed (and s/he’ll have a hard time questioning your ability to rent later, too!).

Offer a cosigner

If your potential¬†landlord still won’t budge, and your parent or guardian are/is willing to help you out, then feel free to offer up a cosigner!

Landlords love cosigners, because it’s as close to a payment guarantee that they can get.

But alas, if this is not an option for you (or if you’re stubborn and don’t want your parents on the hook for your rent like I was), then you can take advantage of the last resort…

My secret weapon: the P&L statement 

Most apartment complexes that are run by large agencies will¬†require a W-2 from your employer. ¬†But…if you’re a freelancer you won’t have an employer! ¬†Hell yeah, take that establishment!

When someone asks to see a W-2, they’re really saying this:

All bullshit aside, is this person more than capable of regularly paying their rent at the marked rate?

So, you can accomplish this without actually giving them a W-2. ¬†Simply offer to hand over a P&L statement. ¬†Not only do most people not know how to read these statements, they’ll also just assume that you’re more than capable of paying rent (otherwise, you wouldn’t have disclosed your financial details to them, would you?)


As always, there’s a huge added bonus if you send this over unsolicited. ¬†It shows that you’re super proactive, and you know what? ¬†Proactive people tend to pay their rent on time.

In a nutshell…

Finding housing is definitely harder when you’re self-employed (before you can just buy your dream mansion with cash), but it can be done if you’re more proactive about the process!

Call to action: If you’re looking for housing, create a “landlord package” today with all the necessary documents Ive listed above and send it to anyone you’re looking to convince to let you rent. ¬†You’ll be so glad you’ve done the work up front!

That’s all for now folks, let me know if you have any tricks on how to find housing as a freelancer in the comment below, and have a wonderful day. ūüôā