Moving is usually a challenging experience.
That’s probably why most Americans only move about 11 times in their lifetimes. And even then, many of those moves are bunched together in the post-college years, when our possessions are few enough that we can move them with the help of two or three friends (who are duly rewarded with beer and pizza).
But even as we get older — after having accumulated a lifetime’s worth of things — moving is still a straightforward process. You, your family and your things move from Home A to Home B, right?
Not so fast.
Life has a funny way of throwing us curveballs. And sometimes, those curveballs keep our definitions of “home” in limbo for a little while, and we have to piece together a few months in short-term rentals or other temporary housing.
Each short-term move is its own unique story: Maybe it’s a young professional pursuing a job opportunity, maybe it’s a family whose dream home is still being built, or maybe it’s someone searching for a new beginning after a relationship has ended.
Whatever the case, many of us in our lifetimes will have to set up short-term residency somewhere, even if it’s just for a couple of months. This period of feeling in between homes can be a challenging one.
That’s why we created this guide. We’ve reached out to real estate professionals, personal finance experts and even long-term nomads who understand the difficulties of making a short-term space feel like home for a little while.
Let their expertise guide you through your own transition.
You can navigate to a specific section using these links below, or simply scroll down for the entire piece:
- Why Do People Need Short-Term Housing, Anyway?
- How to Find Temporary Housing Options That Work For You
- Turning Your Temporary House Into a Home
Why Do People Need Short-Term Housing, Anyway?
Very few of us ever plan to need a temporary residence. The idea of home, of having a place of your own to plant roots, is a civilizational cornerstone.
And yet, think about all of the things that happen to people every day that force them to leave their homes before they’ve had a chance to find a new one. It’s easy to imagine any of these scenarios:
- You’ve been offered a promotion that will send you to a new city — and you have to be there in a month.
- Your partner is a Marine, and she has received PCS orders that will take your family across the country to a new post.
- You’ve ended a romantic relationship, and now you need to find an apartment that will let you get back on your feet.
- You’re finally able to build the home of your dreams. It’s still three months from completion, but you’ve just received an offer on your current home that you can’t refuse, and you need to sell now.
- You’ve been offered a prestigious three-month internship in New York.
Americans might not move around as much as we used to, but there are still plenty of modern stories of people who have had to make big moves in a hurry. Here are just a couple of examples of how people use their grit and resourcefulness to make these transitions work:
When Your Job Takes You Cross-Country
A few years ago, the team at HotPads, a digital marketplace for apartments, interviewed their new product and email marketing manager, Pursarth Tuladhar, who drove across the country from New Jersey to the company’s offices in San Francisco for the job.
Tuladhar knew he wouldn’t be able to find the apartment he wanted on such short notice, so he gave himself a buffer of about three months to meet with landlords and brokers in San Francisco. Meanwhile, he pieced together accommodations from Airbnb and Craigslist.
“Start early and go to as many showings as you can, even if you’re not actually looking to sign a lease,” he advises anyone else in his position. “That way, when you actually sign you know what you’re getting into. It gives you a lot of context. If you’re renting from smaller landlords, it helps to talk to them and establish a connection.”
When Your Dream Home Isn’t Quite Ready
In mid-2016, blogger Abby Lawson and her family sold the townhouse they had called home for seven years. They were building a new home nearby, but the townhouse sold a little bit faster than they’d expected. That left the Lawsons with a two-month gap in which they needed to find a home.
They ended up bridging that gap with a furnished apartment. And while that temporary home got the job done, Lawson admits she learned a few lessons the hard way. Namely, don’t sacrifice your location needs, even if it’s just for a couple of months:
“Since we were looking for furnished short-term rentals and couldn’t find any in the school district our kids attend, we opted for a place just one school district over, which seemed like it would still be convenient enough.
“The problem was that it was the opposite direction of our boys’ schools and the places we frequent most often. In addition, the road that connects our apartment to everything else in our life, though short mileage wise, is highly congested on a regular basis and they happened to be doing construction on it almost the entire time we have been living in our temporary space. This left us feeling cut off from our normal day-to-day life and somewhat stuck in our apartment complex at times.”
Still, she says the family enjoyed the short-stay apartment — but they were definitely ready to spread out in their new home and get back into the routines they were comfortable with.
How to Find Temporary Housing Options That Work For You
There are probably more short-term housing options out there than you would have ever considered. Each one comes with its own trade-offs, too, so the keys to finding the right space for you will be your ability to prioritize certain features — price, location, etc. — and being flexible on others.
This section will help guide you through those decisions.
Short-Term Housing Options (and How to Find Them)
Ideally, you should put yourself in a position where you have multiple choices for a short-term accommodation. This is what the team at BluePipes, a site that helps traveling healthcare professionals find work, recommends for traveling nurses.
“Book an inexpensive hotel for the first few days of your assignment while you check out the housing options you had lined up,” BluePipes Marketing Director Kyle Schmidt says. “In the meantime, you can continue to line up more options as backups. Chances are good that you’ll find a great option for a very reasonable price if you have any flexibility at all.”
Here are a few reliable options you’ll find just about anywhere in the US.
These are plentiful, especially in larger cities, and the rental process is much easier than, say, signing a lease. How much are extended stay hotels per month? On average, studio rates range from $40 to $150 per night in the upscale chains.
- Price: $$-$$$
- The Good: Linens and housekeeping taken care of for you
- The Tradeoff: Expensive option, and you probably won’t have a kitchen
- Where to Look: Extended Stay America, MainStay Suites, Residence Inn
Corporate housing is most common among business travelers, who find it easier to have a go-to home in the places where they frequently travel. There are also corporate housing providers that work directly with businesses to help employees on the move find a short-term place to stay.
- Price: $$$
- The Good: Furnished, comfortable
- The Tradeoff: Can be expensive
- Where to Look: National Corporate Housing, Corporate Housing By Owner, ApartmentGuide.com
Some hotels offer weekly discounts. It’s worth checking to see whether this option is within your budget.
- Price: $$$$
- The Good: All of the amenities of a hotel
- The Tradeoff: Potentially very expensive, and you might not have a kitchen
- Where to Look: Expedia, Kayak, Booking.com
Airbnb and Vacation Homes
In low season, a vacation rental can be a steal. Also, be sure to check Airbnb for full apartments, or even single rooms for rent. If you can survive a roommate arrangement, you can save big this way.
- Price: $–$$$
- The Good: Easy booking, paying rent with a credit card
- The Tradeoff: You will be living in someone else’s home, prices still above market rates
- Where to Look: Airbnb.com/sublets, VRBO
Month to Month Apartments and Sublets
Renting an apartment or a room on a monthly basis tends to be the cheaper option because you end up paying local market rates, not tourist rates as with Airbnb or VRBO. And as the team at Leasebreak says, if you can find someone who needs a tenant to take over his or her lease, you could save even more money.
“When you take over a lease, you will usually be paying the price that was negotiated months and months ago: the price you pay can be BELOW the current market value,” they write. “Not only will you often not pay a brokerage fee, but you will be paying yesterday’s rental rates.”
Pro tip: Go to Facebook and do a Groups search for your city’s name and “housing” (e.g. “Richmond VA housing”). Chances are, you will find renters and landlords who are willing to work with you directly. This keeps their properties full of tenants, and it lets you maneuver around the bureaucracy that sometimes accompanies renting.
- Price: $–$$
- The Good: Price
- The Tradeoff: Paperwork, likely a deposit, possibly brokerage fees
- Where to Look: Craigslist, Sublets.com
Staying With Family or Friends
If you are lucky, you have a friend or family member with a spare bedroom or couch where you can lay your head. Whether you are a single person sleeping on a friend’s couch for a week or a family of four in your mother’s basement for a couple of months, this arrangement can be mutually beneficial if you are a gracious guest. Later on, we will offer some tips for being a great house guest.
- Price: $
- The Good: Companionship during a period of transition
- The Tradeoff: Cohabitating with a friend or family member can be a minefield of emotions and uncommunicated expectations.
- Where to Look: Your Contacts list and social media
Unconventional Short-Term Housing Options (You May Not Have Considered)
If none of the short-term accommodation options above will meet your needs, or if you have some flexibility to negotiate your lifestyle during your in-between stage, we have a few more ideas. These ideas are a bit more advanced and require more flexibility on your side, but it’s better to know all the options available to you.
If you need to sell your current home before you have the chance to close on a new one, it’s possible to negotiate a deal with your old home’s new owner to let you stay for a little while.
The price and duration of that stay would be up to the buyer, though, Michele Lerner writes at Realtor.com. “Typically, since the buyers will start paying the mortgage and other costs of the home after the closing, you’ll be charged the equivalent of the buyers’ principal, interest, taxes and insurance on a prorated basis. For example, if their mortgage payment is $2000, they may charge you $67 per day.
“[…] You and your listing agent and the buyers and their agent can negotiate the rent back terms, but the buyers typically have the upper hand in this situation because they’re the new owners of your home.”
Rent a Vacant House While It’s On the Market
“There are always sellers in the opposite position from yours,” writes Newsday’s Kristin Taveira. “They moved out before selling, leaving an empty house on the market. Many sellers will be more than happy to rent out a vacant property. The income helps them pay that extra mortgage, and your furnishings can help it show better, improving their chances of selling.”
This arrangement comes with its own tradeoffs, she says. On the plus side, the owners might be more flexible on rent and the duration of your stay. However, you would need to be prepared to move again on short notice.
Taveira says there are likely several vacant homes not being advertised as rentals. In many cases, the homeowners might not have even considered renting those properties. Have a listing agent ask around on your behalf, she says.
Rent a Trailer, Cabin or Tiny House
Similar to vacation rentals found on Airbnb and VRBO, trailers, cabins and tiny houses can be excellent short-term rentals for anyone who has a sense of adventure. Granted, you will be trading off a considerable amount of space if you are downsizing from a house to one of these options, but it’s a fun opportunity to push the limits of your own lifestyle.
Megan Barber at Curbed has a handful of awesome tiny homes available for nightly rental (prices tend to be in the range of $100 per night), and there is even a Tiny House Hotel in Portland where you can hang out in a community of tiny home and caravan enthusiasts while you’re in accommodational limbo.
Rent an RV and Go On an Adventure
But if you have the time (or at least a job that you can do from home), then the most fun option in this situation is to rent an RV and hit the road. RV blog Axle Addict says it’s possible to keep daily living costs — that’s food, gas and campground fees — down to between $30 and $50. The trick is to budget carefully and refrain from driving long distances day after day.
RV rental costs themselves vary from company to company, and also depend on the size of the vehicle and the time of the year (July and August are high season). To get a feel for options and prices, have a look at the listings at USA RV Rentals, Cruise America and Go RVing.
Understanding Your Own Needs
Get a feel for what you cannot be flexible about in a temporary home. For most people, the list of must-haves break down into three categories:
Let’s take these one by one.
Know your monthly upper limit on what you can afford. In fact, it’s best to aim for accommodation that’s comfortably under your budget because, as we will see later, big life transitions can get unexpectedly expensive.
Saving a little money on your monthly rent will give you some buffer there.
Darrow Kirkpatrick at the Can I Retire Yet? blog has some useful rules of thumb about what you can expect to pay for various types of accommodation:
Start with the nightly rate for a big-chain hotel in your area. If that’s way above budget, realize that weekly VRBO or Airbnb rentals (and often weekly down-market hotel rooms) will cut that nightly number in half.
Price is often a factor of duration: The longer your stay, the lower the nightly costs of accommodation become.
So, if you’re thinking in terms of months rather than weeks, your opportunities to save dramatically increase because you will then be in the market for sublets and long-stay options. Even on Airbnb, you’ll find most hosts give steep discounts to people who rent monthly.
If you are renting a month-to-month apartment or taking over a sublet, you will likely find both furnished and unfurnished listings.
If you are moving with your own furniture, this might be a moot point. You will need an unfurnished place.
If you aren’t moving with furniture, or if your furniture can go into storage, then you might be better off renting an already-furnished home. As Courtney Craig at Apartment Guide points out, a furnished apartment might be a little more expensive, but that price difference might wash out when you factor in moving costs.
Not every form of accommodation will welcome pets, unfortunately. For anyone moving with a larger pet such as a cat or a dog, there are essentially two options: Find pet-friendly accommodations, or find someone who can house your pet in the short-term.
If you are facing the second option, then the team at Las Vegas Dog Hotel has an excellent guide to help you with your decision. First, they say to consider family and friends who can look after your dog or cat for a few months. Failing that, they recommend being very diligent in researching pet-boarding facilities.
In fact, they have a four-senses rubric for helping you differentiate a good facility from a bad one:
- Look to see that the animals are well-cared-for and happy.
- Listen to how the staff interacts with the animals, and how much noise the animals are making on their own.
- Touch everything in the facility, from the softness of the beds to the fences to ensure there aren’t any sharp edges that could harm your pet. Cutting corners here might indicate systematic negligence across the whole facility.
- Smell the facility. Does it smell a little doggy but mostly clean, or does it straight-up smell unclean?
Turning Your Temporary House Into a Home
Once you’ve identified the right kind of short-term accommodation for your unique circumstances, it’s time to get settled in so you can find your groove.
There is an art to creating that sense of home wherever you find yourself. We thought some of the best people to speak to this would be the ultimate experts in the art: digital nomads.
Below, we’ll explore the practical, emotional and financial nuances of getting yourself to the point where you can say, “I’m finally at home.”
Making a Temporary Space Feel Like Home
If you’re used to having a home that’s full of personal touches, a furnished room or an Airbnb might feel especially foreign to you.
But even if you cannot change the furniture or the decor, there are a few things you can do to give your temporary space your own personal touch.
For example, writer and digital nomad Dante Harker travels with some personal items that can go up unobtrusively anywhere in the world he and his partner find themselves. “We have a lot of photos in frames of our travels that are easy to put up and don’t mess up a temporary place,” Harker tells us. “We travel with our own pillows and a couple of ornaments that remind us of happy times.”
Debbie and Michael Campbell — or The Senior Nomads as they’re better known — say they also travel with pillows from home. Those pillows have seen the world, too: More than 60 countries since 2013.
“It seemed like a silly idea when we first started traveling four years ago, but in all that time, we are still so relieved when we pull them out of our suitcases, put on fresh pillow slips and set them on whatever bed we will be using for the next few days,” Debbie says. “It is an instant touch of comfort — both mentally and physically.”
Things You Can Buy On Arrival
Of course, there are some ephemeral touches you can add to a short-term home. The Campbells like to buy candles and fresh flowers wherever they go. These are inexpensive, high-impact ways to change the ambiance of any room, but they can also be left behind so as not to weigh down suitcases when it’s time to go.
Note, too, the importance of smell, the sense that has the strongest link to your brain’s memory stores. When you smell something familiar, it can take your imagination right back to a specific place in time. That’s why Dawn M. Smith at MilitaryByOwner recommends military families on a PCS bring or buy a scent that reminds them of home.
Travel writer and digital nomad Megan Jerrard from Mapping Megan tells us that simply having a glass to put her toothbrush in gives her a sense of being at home. “It’s a small thing, and it might sound silly, but after many years of traveling almost full time, home became where-ever my toothbrush was.
“It’s such a hassle and a pain to place a wet toothbrush in glad wrap, paper towel, or air tight travel containers, and makes temporary accommodation feel more like home when you have a place for something as intimate as a toothbrush.”
How to Be Mobile Without Blowing Your Budget
Personal finance expert J.D. Roth, founder of Money Boss, says the average American budget has two big expenses: Housing and transportation.
And when you’re in that short-term-living limbo, those costs can escalate quickly. Just imagine if you like to cook: You’ll run up a huge grocery bill in your first week just because you need to re-stock your kitchen with spices, olive oils and other ingredients you’re accustomed to.
But Roth recommends taking this opportunity to cut costs down and get down to your essential needs, at least “until you’ve regained some semblance of stability,” he says.
“When you’re experiencing big changes in your life, that’s a great time to cut housing costs. According to government figures, one-third of average household spending goes to maintaining a home. That’s huge. It gets a lot of people into trouble. … The less you spend, the better off you’ll be. Look for something affordable, something that doesn’t make you feel stretched.
“Transportation is the second-largest portion of the average American budget. We love our cars. Transition periods are perfect for finding ways to drive less too. Even if you’re not an environmentalist, there are big benefits to spending less time behind the wheel. For one, you save big bucks. For another, you gain time to do more important things like walk the dog or hang out with your family. The best way to cut drive time is to make a move closer to where you work.”
If baselining isn’t something you’re comfortable with or able to do right now, personal finance expert and author Ali Shanti offers a different path. “In our teachings, budgets are the wrong way to think about transition,” she tells us. “Instead, what we want to do is get clear on what the transition will cost, and then to clarify where the resources will come from to support the transition.
“So it starts with taking a good, hard and honest look at the transition you want to make and what it will really cost for you to make the transition. Then, instead of trying to curtail spending, look at where you can access resources you haven’t seen before.”
Shanti and her team have put together a Money Map Life Plan tool to help readers consciously harmonize those aspects of their financial lives.
Getting Into Your Personal Routines
A good rubric for assessing whether a place feels home-like is if you can comfortably settle into your natural rhythms in that space.
Again, we turn to the digital nomads who have ironed out the wrinkles in this particular process.
Start in the Kitchen
“Ritual-wise, when we land in a new place the first thing we do is hit the local grocery store,” Jerrard tells us. “We always book accommodation with kitchen facilities so we can self cater. It saves an incredible chunk of money if you can cook vs eating out for every meal, and is always a fun adventure trying to read food labels in Icelandic!”
Granted, you’ll probably not be out shopping for kæstur hákarl, but if you’ve got a meal or two up your sleeve that you can make better than anyone you know, the first week in your new place is the perfect time to break that recipe out.
Or, you might find that you’re simply too busy during this transition for leisurely cooking. This can be dangerous for budgets (and waistlines) because the temptation is to simply eat out. The team at Travelers Haven has a better solution: Cook a big, one-pot meal that you can portion out across the week.
“Yes, cooking one-pot meals will take time, but if you cook a couple in one go, you could create five or ten meals at once,” the team says. “The more you cook, the more variety you have. If the freezer in your rental has enough space, the only limitation is your taste.”
Keep an Eye on What Things You Need — And What Things You Don’t
Soon enough — unless you decide to go full-on nomad, too — you’ll be packing up your temporary home so you can move into your new permanent home. That means you’ll have to play the game of keep/store/discard with all of your stuff again.
Think of this temporary living situation as a trial run. You can experiment with the boundaries of your lifestyle during these months, and you might just discover that you need a lot less in your day-to-day life than you thought.
Roth tells us he looks forward to these kinds of personal audits.
“Whenever something major happens to me — my divorce five years ago, the move I’ll make next month — I set aside extra time for packing. A lot of people just throw all of their stuff into boxes, moving EVERYTHING from one place to another. Not me. I’ve learned that just keeps me stressed. Instead, I deliberately sort through my stuff, asking myself if it’s something that I use and/or appreciate.”
Roth says since his divorce, he has accumulated enough clothing that his “closets are bulging.” Same thing with his bookshelves.
If you’re in a similar situation, this transition is a great time to find local charities that will accept gently used clothes, second-hand bookstores that are looking for more books or perhaps storage spaces where you can tuck these possessions away for later.
How to Be the Perfect Tenant or House Guest
Whether you’re renting a month-to-month apartment, using Airbnb sublets, or staying with friends or family, it’s important to realize that you’re in someone else’s home.
If you haven’t rented in a while, you might find yourself walking on eggshells a little bit because you’re not as familiar with the boundaries of tenancy or being a house guest.
No worries. Here are a handful of tips that will cover guest etiquette wherever you find yourself.
Keep Your Monthly Rental Tidy
Landlords love a clean tenant. Anyone who has rented out a home for very long probably has a horror story about someone who was messy or “allergic to soap,” as one DC-area landlord tells The Washington Post’s Beth Marlowe.
“The worst thing is to come back and find the place has been turned upside down,” the landlord says.
If You Use Airbnb, Communication is Key
“It sounds simple enough, but the single most important thing to do as an Airbnb guest is to communicate,” Reema Desai at The Everygirl writes. “From the moment you inquire about a listing, make sure your communication game is strong. Be clear about the dates you’re looking at, don’t leave out any details, and ask any (and all!) questions you may have.”
Remember, you as a renter get scored on Airbnb. So, if you want to rent again one day, it behooves you to shoot for a five-star score.
Treat Friends Who Let You Stay At Their Place
If a friend offers you a couch or spare bedroom, even if just for a few nights, it’s good manners to either come bearing gifts or to be prepared to take them out.
“A week long stay in a NYC hotel worth its salt could easily cost you over a thousand dollars,” Lifehacker’s Jason Fitzpatrick says. “If a Big Apple friend has put you up for an equal amount of time it’s hardly unreasonable to give a small gift or take them out to dinner. For extra bonus points, pay attention to what your host needs around the house.”
Oh, and follow up with a thank you note. It’s an extra-nice touch, and doing so will make your mother incredibly proud.
Speaking of which…
Set Clear Boundaries If You Are Going to Stay With Your Parents
We’ve written before about the challenges of navigating the parent-child relationship when you’re both adults under the same roof, but this one begs repeating: Be honest and transparent when communicating your needs, and invite your parents to do the same.
Kate Bigam at xoJane says when she was 30 years old and moved in with her mother, one of her biggest challenges was not to regress to her teenage self, but to speak as an adult with her mother.
“It only took about a month for most of the arguing to subside,” Bigam says. “We learned to become more upfront and honest with one another about what we needed from our living situation, which sometimes meant being blunt — e.g., ‘I would rather be alone right now,’ or ‘You’re talking too much and it’s annoying the crap out of me.’ — which helped us avoid arguments born of passive-aggressiveness.”
And just as with your friends, being helpful around the house or even coming home with pleasant surprises is always welcome.
“As much as you’d like to think your parents love having you around, the smiles on their beaming faces definitely start to fade once they’ve seen the water bill rocket and they realise they’ve got another contender for the TV remote to deal with,” the team at The College Investor writes.
“Soften the blow by going the extra mile. Make dinner when your mom least expects you to, fix that bike that’s been lying around for ages, paint that fence that’s been neglected for a while. Surpass their expectations and stay firmly in the good books. Trust me — put a lid on the rebellious kid. Their badgering will subside, making your life (and theirs) so much easier.”
If You Are Temporarily Blending Families, Make Sure Everyone’s Role is Clear
It’s common for multigenerational households to blend in the United States. According to Dr. Georgia Witkin at Grandparents.com, there are about 6 million such households in the US, and nearly two-thirds are composed of younger families who have moved in with an older parent, mostly for financial reasons.
Dr. Witkin says this is an excellent opportunity to bridge generational divides: “We humans are built for family life. In a crisis, or after a disaster, it’s always family that gets us through.”
Of course, anyone who has moved a family into a parent’s home (or an in-law’s home) knows that family can create as many crises as it can help us through them. Consider the story of Allie Casazza, who writes at Successful Homemakers that her husband’s union had initiated a strike just as she was due to deliver the family’s third child.
With money tight, the five of them moved in with Allie’s parents. She learned quickly that a blended household requires multiple people to step up to take charge. “Just because your name isn’t on the lease does not mean you’re stepping out of your role as wife and mother,” she writes. “You and the woman of the house are joining your two families together — this is a big job that certainly calls for two women in charge!”
Casazza recommends keeping all housework duties as routine as possible, but make sure you coordinate with the home’s owners to make sure your efforts help take some responsibilities off of their plates rather than get in their way.
And finally, don’t lean on your children’s grandparents, Offbeat Home says: The kids are their grandkids and are deeply loved, but they are not their kids. The hardest parts of parenting — being up at night, or up early, potty training, discipline, and all the rest — are over for them (for the most part).”