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To Live In, Or To Live Out: That is the Question

In the mid 1980’s I worked in ad sales for a local arts and entertainment newspaper in Denver called Westword. One of my co-workers was an American woman who had recently returned to the U.S. after working as an AuPair in Paris for a couple of years. Her employers were wealthy and she flew, sailed, and trekked her way all over Europe with the parents and their two kids. I was green with envy about the travel component of this ‘work’. When I asked her for details, she demurred and I suspected it was more to retain her mystique than a reluctance to share. Julie the Boulder, Coloradoan picked up many French ways in her 2-year tour; she was a bit aloof and un peu exotique in that touch annoying, out-of-place in the office way. Still, I admired her from afar as I remained ignorant about the details of her foreign post.

Three years later I was a newlywed living in Ithaca, New York where Cornell University is located. My new husband had decided to pursue an MBA there and we lived in a brick walk-up about a mile from campus. It was nice enough but the rent was worrying us. Tuition at the time was about $30,000 for 2 years, rent was around $600 a month, which we considered pretty pricey at the time. It was a complete coincidence that this apartment complex was located across the street from the Cornell chapter house of the sorority I’d belonged to in college, Pi Beta Phi. I introduced myself during one alumni weekend event they had and was surprised to meet a married couple, also graduate students, who lived in a separate apartment within the house as houseparents. The fraternities and sororities at my university had only housemothers, or ‘moms’ as the rule. No houseparents, and certainly no housedads existed at the University of Kansas.

A month or so later, Chris and Jen approached us to say they were leaving and to ask if we interested in taking over for them in the fall.  Not only did the position include room and board, we actually got paid a stipend each month ($150 I recall) plus there was a housekeeper and cook to provide for the 45 young women who lived in the three-story French Provincial. The one-bedroom apartment was just off the kitchen (a restaurant-quality chef’s dream of a facility with brand new stainless steel appointments and two huge, also brand new Vulcan gas ranges) and came with a sullen and lazy yet talented cook named Stanley.  My job was to manage the 2-person staff and keep the house running smoothly. I was also expected, as a Pi Phi alumnus, to attend chapter meetings and counsel the girls as needed as well as interact with visiting parents which was a real treat.

I wasn’t much older than these young women but being on the business end of sorority life included coming down hard on the utter slobs among them and acting as an armchair psychologist for the overwrought, anxiety-ridden and body-image tormented remainder. As I also worked on campus for various professors as an administrative assistant, I recall that year as being one of the most challenging work-wise with every penny being earned the hard way.

Was it worth it? Absolutely. However, since I did 90% of the work while my future ex-husband was free to earn his MBA and gain 20 pounds from Stanley’s cooking, the distribution of labor was less than equitable; it’s a facet I’d consider more thoroughly if I were to do it again.

I’ve enjoyed other ‘live-in’ opportunities over the decades, but they’ve been informal, casual posts that sometimes include a daily rate like house and pet sitting jobs, and sometimes merely have offered free rent in exchange for services, like taking care of horses, gardens or relatives. The value-added components have varied, but on the whole all of them have been positive experiences.

In today’s brutally high rent market, (current rents in my city of San Francisco are the highest in the nation and average $3,000/month for a modest 1-bedroom) it makes sense for some people who are game for it and have some useful, marketable skills to think creatively regarding living arrangements. London, Paris and New York City are on par with San Francisco and the ‘live-in’ option is gaining momentum as a viable and valuable employee ‘perk’; the latest statistics on worldwide rents suggest that offering some workers relief from the rental rat race will remain a sure, and sometimes a winning bet.

From the Employer’s Perspective

When you are or are seeking a Nanny/Manny, Estate Manager, Domestic Couple, Private Chef, or Butler, be aware that different staffing positions may call for different accommodation needs, and there are several combinations and factors for both parties to consider. Inviting strangers into your home necessitates giving the ‘live in or live out’ question considerable thought before answering:

  • Are you a highly private, shy and retiring sort, or do you enjoy being surrounded by people in a more social, convivial environment?
  • Are you staffing your primary residence or a vacation/auxiliary property?
  • Is the property’s location in a metropolitan center or a remote, rural, isolated one?
  • Does the property currently have separate living quarters in the main building or grounds or will the property’s existing footprint need to be adapted to provide habitable accommodation?
  • Do you have young children or family members that need extra care or constant monitoring or are you a frequent traveler who is rarely at home but needs staff on an as-needed basis?
  • Are you including accommodation as a ‘perk’ to attract a larger pool of candidates or because it is customary for accommodation to be provided for this particular role?
  • Does the nature of the position’s duties require an on-site member of staff or not?

Whether frequent access or close proximity to staff, 24-hour care, or maintaining a discreet, invisible presence or merely a comfortable distance is your ideal, the decision of whether to hire live-in or live-out staff is one that merits the time to weigh the advantages or disadvantages of each option. Whichever option you choose, finding the right people to fit your needs can be a time-consuming quest which a staffing agency can help conduct and expedite.

When looking at the live-in option from a prospective employee’s vantage point, it might be a very attractive option for them to consider exchanging their services for a place to stay, as sky-rocketing housing prices and rents are making it difficult to recruit and retain talented staff, with younger people, in particular, being priced out. From your point-of-view, it might make more sense on either a financial, logistical, or lifestyle sense to employ people who maintain their own residence or sleeping accommodation and keep a fixed, regular schedule for on-site working hours. If you can find people who are able to meet your staffing needs and can be available and on-time for your particular schedule and location, then a live-out option may be the best choice.

In most cases, live-in jobs are offering a lifestyle to people who are willing and able to consider jumping at the opportunity. Whether working in a lodge, on an estate or for an international school, the hours aren’t standard and can change from one day to the next. This is why a lot of employers offer the option of a live-in position.

Historical Context

Current London-area rents are making it difficult to recruit and keep hold of talented staff, with some of the very best candidates being priced out of the city market. The idea of housing workers in order to keep them in close proximity and to attract a better pool of skilled labor and avoid transportation issues isn’t a new one though, and was certainly a motivator in the era of the early twentieth century industrialists who created towns to serve the lumber, steel and textile industries.

In the 1890s, in remote locations such as railroad construction sites, lumber camps, coal mines, and huge country estates, jobs often existed far from established towns. As a pragmatic solution, the employer sometimes developed a company town, where an individual company owned all the buildings and businesses.  William Randolph Hearst’s famous castle, La Cuesta Encantada, (Enchanted Hill) was constructed a full five dusty, hot and rocky uphill 1920’s-era miles from the central California coastal port town of San Simeon. In order to attract the finest craftsmen for the many decades of construction on the castle, (it was never really finished due to Hearst’s perfectionism) Hearst provided barracks on the grounds for the artisans and household staff were housed in a separate wing of the main building.

Victorian businessmen such as George Cadbury created “model villages” and estates for their employees that remain thriving communities today. Bournville, a model village in Birmingham established by George Cadbury during the 1890s, was originally created to house chocolate factory workers and then gradually transitioned to be a self-governed community. In the nineteenth century, when organised labor first compelled factory owners to limit workday to 10 and later 8 hours, a standard 40-hour workweek, management was surprised to discover that output actually increased and that expensive mistakes and accidents decreased.

An experiment that Harvard Business School’s Leslie Perlow and Jessica Porter repeated over a century later with knowledge workers proves that this statistic still holds true today.

“Managers want employees to put in long days, respond to their emails at all hours, and willingly donate their off-hours – nights, weekends, vacation – without complaining.”

From the Employee’s Perspective: Home Sweet Work, or Home Sweet Home?

Although the idea of not paying rent can be very appealing, the decision between whether to pursue a live-in or live-out position demands careful consideration, as this is not just a new job but can also be a new home and, in many cases, situated in a new town or city.  Living rent-free can be liberating or confining. The first thing to consider for a live-in position is the living arrangement and quarters. Does it suit most, if not all of your needs and more importantly, is it right for you and can you imagine yourself being happy in the space and the employment situation? Would it be easier and maybe almost as convenient for you to maintain your own residence?

Some questions to ponder and then answer before accepting a live-in position:

  • Is the rent included in your salary, subsidised, or not included? Do the math ahead of time to make sure the financial remuneration is acceptable for your situation, and also consider tax implications that may occur if subsidised rent is not reflected in your before-tax salary. If rent isn’t included, who will be the payee on your rent check?
  • Will other staff be available to provide services for you, like a chef or housekeeper or will you have a kitchen for your own, private use? Is a company car provided? What kind of upkeep and maintenance are you expected to be responsible for?
  • Is the accommodation private enough to afford you a relatively autonomous lifestyle when not on-duty?
  • Are you required as a condition of employment, to live on the premises every day of the week?
  • Will you have a spouse, partner or children living with you? If single, will you be allowed to have overnight guests without stepping on anyone’s toes?
  • Do you consider work a haven from your personal life or is it the other way around for you?
  • If you quit or lose your post, how will your living arrangement be affected? How many days notice are you required to give your employer/landlord? Make sure this question is answered well in advance of accepting an offer, as the stress of being homeless if only for a day is something you’ll need to be able to cope with.
    • Service occupier: It is essential for you to live in the accommodation to do your job, OR
      your employment contract stipulates that it’s necessary to live in the accommodation to do your job better.
    • Service tenant: You are able to live in accommodation provided by their employer, but don’t have to live there to do your job.

Wage: Weighing the Options

Last, but not least of your considerations, is to compare your wage and living package with the current wage standards of the UK.

The National Living Wage is being phased in between April 2016 and April 2020, with the aim of reaching 60% of median UK earnings by 2020. For over-25-year-old employees, the wage is projected to rise to at least £9 per hour by April 2020.

This often isn’t just an hourly rate that staff are paid, but is a wage that can be offset and/or impacted by whether or not staff accommodation is provided as part the offer of employment. The rules on applying the accommodation are not new but are subject to changes which can incur extra costs and tax penalties if not managed properly.

Ultimately, the wage you earn compared to the demands and hours required of the job is the thing to be comfortable with. The goal is for you to be able to take the type of time off that best suits your personal needs. Do you prefer predictable time off, the name given to the designated periods of time that consultants are required to take off, or do you prefer a varied or fluid work schedule? Long hours may be just fine for you or you might function at your top performance level on a shorter workday?

Article by Kathleen Hershner