From the Magazine | Time Bonus Section September 2005: Generations

Workplace: Paradise

Retirees who take care of other people's property can live the good life rent-free

Posted Tuesday, Aug. 16, 2005
How's this for a job offer: Live rent-free for the summer on 64-acre Seguin Island off the coast of Maine. And for a small stipend, give tours of the historic lighthouse, work at the small store and museum attached to the lighthouse, and keep a daily log of the sunset, sunrise and tides. For retirees Michael Brzoza, 51, and his wife Marilyn Lucey, 60, it was irresistible. "We loved the idea of living on a beautiful island 2½ miles out to sea," says Lucey, a former toy designer. "We could see whales and migrating birds. We could pick wild raspberries and tend a vegetable garden."

They ended up working 12-hour days, taking tourists through the lighthouse, maintaining trails on the island, selling souvenirs at the gift shop and repairing the somewhat dilapidated keeper's house, where they lived. But they would do it again--if that particular caretaking position weren't so sought after. Instead, the couple returned to a home on Maquoit Bay, Maine, where they house-sit nine months of the year while the owner is in the Cook Islands doing research on whales.

Lucey and Brzoza are among a growing number of retirees who take care of other people's property. Variety, novelty and sometimes adventure come with the territory. While property caretaking is hardly new, the number and diversity of positions have grown in the past 10 years, says Gary Dunn, editor of the Caretaker Gazette, the only publication that connects property owners with property caretakers. Since the Gazette was launched in 1982, its subscription base has grown from 200 to 10,000. Dunn notes that 75% of his subscribers are 50 or older. "This is a job that practices reverse age discrimination," he says. "Many property owners only want people of a certain age because they have a maturity that equates with common sense and reliability."

Many property caretakers are people thinking about where they want to retire, and they take a short-term job in a certain location to see if it really is where they want to be. Caretaking is also attractive to people who have downsized in midlife and want to travel while living rent-free.

Typical advertisers in the Caretaker Gazette are people needing a house sitter while they go on an extended vacation; corporate retreats wanting to have someone on-site during months of vacancy; and national parks requiring a groundskeeper during the winter. Jobs can last from a few weeks to several years. Compensation runs the gamut from rent-free living in exchange for light chores to a small stipend for more extensive tasks to $60,000-to-80,000 a year plus living expenses for a more-than-full-time job.

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From the Aug. 15, 2005 issue of TIME magazine

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