Housing can be the biggest question you might have as a travel nurse and odds are, it will continue to be throughout your entire travel career. Every company does things a little differently so it’s in your best interests to ask a lot of questions; do they provide housing? Do they allow you to choose between provided housing and the reimbursement? Does the company assist with housing or are you on your own? All options have pros and cons attached to them but you can secure a wonderful place simply by being aware of some things at the outset.
While some companies may offer housing to you, TRS Healthcare do not offer that specifically. There are many reasons but the most relevant to you is that provided housing eliminates your ability to receive the lodging reimbursement. Oftentimes, the reimbursement is a higher amount than what a company will spend when signing a long-term lease so it actually only benefits the company when they offer provided housing to you. The other drawback to provided housing is that you don’t have a choice in the size, location or amenities; it’s a take it or leave it situation. If this puts you in a bad neighborhood, unable to bring pets or family members or just doesn’t feel comfortable to you, you will have to find your own housing, usually without the reimbursement.
At TRS Healthcare, not only do we understand the value and peace of mind that comes with having a place to rest your head, we do our best to assist you with this by having a Housing Specialist available to help you. Let me stress here, they are there to help you, not do everything for you. This should ensure you have the amenities you need, an area of town that’s both convenient and safe and that you can spend the money you want to spend to create the perfect temporary home away from home. You make the choices; you are in control.
Part of your pay consists of a lodging reimbursement so you will be receiving money every week for the place where you will staying. This means that you are financially responsible for paying for your stay. Our Housing Department will be your new best friend because they will research some options in the area, including some places we have secured for previous travelers in the area, and send you this list.
In order to keep your expectations realistic, keep in mind a few things:
- Researching housing options more than 2 weeks prior to your arrival is utterly pointless. An extended stay hotel may have someone walk through the door minutes after we call and rent out the last room; an apartment complex might have the same thing happen; there may be a festival where rates go through the roof when you will be there and the rates today may not reflect those specific dates.
- Your Housing Specialist will do their part but you should also do research and see what’s available. And not just Google “cheap hotels” but also make calls and ask questions. Don’t rely on someone else to do it all for you, as you will be the one living there. Do you want to know if they have laundry facilities? Call them. Do you want to know the pet deposit for 14 dogs, 4 fish, a bird and 3 marmosets? Call them yourself so you can listen to them laugh.
- The more people and pets that you bring with you, the more expensive your housing costs will be. Your lodging reimbursement is established based on the government’s GSS tables and is set for one person. If you bring enough companions to need additional rooms, that costs more but the reimbursement stays the same. The more pets you bring, the higher the fees (some non-refundable) and only if they will accept multiple pets and specific breeds.
- Treat your Housing Specialist like your priest…confess the truth. If you have a pit bull, don’t tell them you have a terrier mix; not only does this waste the Housing Department’s time researching things that don’t apply to your specific needs but it could result in you being evicted and losing all deposits. Once again, that is your money so your financial hit. Be honest with numbers of family members, their ages, number of pets (their breeds and their weights), and whether you smoke or not. All these factors influence your cost.
- Temporary housing is not like renting an apartment for a year or making a house payment…it will be more than you think. Don’t think about how you pay $500 a month for your apartment now and therefore, it will be the same because you will be disappointed. Apartment complexes want longer term tenants than 3-month renters so for them to rent you a temporary place, they must charge you more in case that unit goes unrented while transitioning between your stay and someone else’s. Rather, think of it this way: if you are driving at night and get tired enough to want to crash in a motel room, you can expect to pay about $100 a night, after taxes and fees, right? So why would you expect a hotel to cost you $500 for 30 nights? Like an apartment, the longer you stay, the less it costs. Weekly extended stay hotel rates are around $250-$300 a week, depending on the city. Some places will charge over $1000 a week. These numbers can be scary but you have our Housing Specialist to help you find the best options.
- TRS Healthcare will not sign a lease on your behalf. We want a lease to be the last option for you but if you insist upon renting a place that requires one, you will have to sign it and be responsible for it.
The good news is that TRS will advance the money to secure you a place and we will make monthly payments on your behalf, if that’s easier for you. Please note though that as it is an “advance”, it will need to be repaid and we can deduct it from your paycheck, if you’d like.
However, we will not advance money for housing unless you have seen it with your own eyes first; anyone can post pictures of a beautiful place online and even if by some miracle, those pictures are accurate, how will you know about the smell? The neighborhood outside? The noisy neighbors? For your protection, we want you to see it in person…remember, this is your money so we are trying to be a good advocate for you by insisting on this tiny step.
If you are ready to help your Housing Specialist find some solid options for your next 13 weeks, know that there are good ways to do things and there are sometimes not-so-good methods to employ. It doesn’t mean one is necessarily “bad” but maybe doesn’t yield as desirable a result. When it comes to finding housing arrangements as a travel nurse, you probably have learned through trial and error the most effective courses of action but for a new traveler, there are some tricks to try to make things easier, cheaper, more efficient, etc. Here are some useful pieces of advice to consider:
The DO List
- DO ask any property upfront if they will accept a short-term lease and if there are any “short-term lease fees”. It can be surprising how many properties will not offer short-term leases. This will help you immediately narrow down viable options.
- DO ask about the property’s pet policy if you are planning on bringing your fur babies. This would include questions about pet fees, pet deposits, pet rent, weight restrictions and breed restrictions.
- DO ask whether or not the deposit is refundable. Often a property will tell you that there is a security deposit or even a pet deposit when it more accurately would be a security fee or pet fee. If the deposit is refundable, we suggest asking if it is 100% fully refundable or if there are cleaning fees taken out of it upon vacating the premises. These things ideally are written out in a lease but it’s always better to be safe than sorry.
- DO inquire about specifically what furniture is included in the unit. Although many times with online ads there are images of the unit, you are not always getting the property that is in the pictures. There are many places that won’t include things such as linens, dishes, house wares, etc. Some may only feature a bed, couch and dresser.
- DO talk with the owner of the property about what utilities are included in the rent and which ones you’ll need to set up on your own. If the utilities are already currently in the owner’s name, we suggest trying to negotiate with the owner to keep those in his/her name and just include an estimated monthly utility bill in the rent payment. This will help avoid having to pay additional bills each month and also circumvents required deposits and service fees when setting up utilities.
- DO make an appointment to view the property before putting any deposits down. Many apartment complexes will state online that they are closed on the weekends but if you make a call and ask, quite a few of them will make appointments for viewing on Saturdays and Sundays. We advise physically seeing your specific property ahead of time to confirm that the pictures you saw are current and accurate representations.
- DO ask to speak with the Sales Director or General Manager when discussing extended stay rates. Typically a front desk employee will not have the authority to lower the rate they’re required to offer a guest. Hotels benefit greatly from extended stay guests and the General Manager and Sales Director are in a position to get you get the best deal.
- DO use the ‘Map’ option on Craigslist, Zillow, and other online property listing sites if available. If you know where the facility you’ll be working is located on the map, you can better gauge where you will want to stay. There’s nothing worse than finding the perfect property first, and then when checking the address, finding out you would have to drive an hour to work each way.
- DO ask the properties when talking with them how long it will take to drive to the hospital you’ll be working at. Locals typically have a better sense of traffic in the area than online mapping systems.
- DO ask about what’s known as the EPP (Extended Plus Program) rate at the Extended Stay America chain. This rate typically cuts a standard nightly rate in half! When calling, you will need to press 2 on the main message menu rather than talking to the front desk because they will not be able to give you that rate. The EPP rate is only ever given out when specifically requested. It will never be offered to you, even if you tell them you’re staying 90 days or longer. The EPP rate however, will lock you into a minimum of a 60 night stay guarantee and it will require a credit card to secure the room upon booking.
Equally if not more useful, is our list of things to avoid which in turn, can greatly enhance your chances of finding something perfect. And without further ado, here they are:
The DON’T List
- DON’T be afraid of Craigslist. One thing that will immediately give you peace of mind that you’re not dealing with the Craigslist Killer is to just pick up the phone and call the property. If there’s not a number listed, there is always an option to email or message the owner and ask for a phone number to speak with them. If they are refusing to share a phone number, you may want to avoid that property.
- DON’T always trust hotel websites to give you the correct information on their amenities or policies. A quick solution is to just give the hotel a call and ask them your questions directly. For instance, a hotel may list that they have microwaves and mini fridges at the property; while that may be true, the microwave could be a communal microwave in the lobby and the mini fridges may only be in select rooms that have different rates.
- DON’T forget to mention extra family members or friends that may be staying with you during your time there. Whether it’s an apartment or a hotel, some locations do have policies that raise the rent, the rate or the deposits for extra guests.
- DON’T trust all hotel/apartment reviews that you see online. If Google tells you that the property has a 1.5 star rating and you want to immediately run the other way screaming, take a breath and think it through first. Read into those reviews a little more; are they recent? Are they about the things that are important to you? For example, they could have terrible reviews about their pet policy but be a stand-up property otherwise. If you aren’t bringing pets and just made a snap judgment based solely on the star rating, then you may have just passed up a great community.
- DON’T settle for standard hotel rates! One hidden Easter egg that many travelers don’t know about is that most hotels offer a ‘Hospital Rate’. You may need to tell them the exact hospital you’re working at to get this rate (or they may even be able to file it under a ‘Government Rate’) but those will save you quite a bit if you are planning to stay only a few nights a week.
- DON’T do online research too early before your start date. The more time between the date you’re researching and the day you start, the more time there is for properties to be rented or on the flip side, more properties to be listed online. If you are wanting to view it in person first but you’re not getting there until the week before you start, gathering a list of options months before you’ll arrive will not be useful to your search.
By now, surely someone will have suggested renting someone else’s home to you, and maybe you like the sound of that or had good experiences in the past; regardless, there are still some things worth considering. Behold, we break down the differences between AirBNB and VRBO:
- You will not get the address for the property until you put your first payment down and sign the lease agreement.
- Many of the properties are room shares, rather than a private property of your own. These listings will require a little bit more digging into the fine print listed to figure out whether or not you’ll be sharing a toothbrush holder with a stranger.
- You will not be able to talk to a property on the phone. AirBNB limits all communication and interaction to their website only. Even if the property messages you their number (or you message them yours), AirBNB blocks the numbers out.
- Now that AirBNB is becoming more popular, there are likely going to be more and more properties listed on this website.
- AirBNB charges third-party service fees on top of what the actual owner charges. Those service fees typically don’t look like much on a weekend getaway but for a three month stay, they rack up quite a bit. They could add up to hundreds of dollars on top of rent and deposits.
- Compared to AirBNB, VRBO has fewer options as a whole but has more private lodging rather than room shares.
- On VRBO, the phone number for the property owner is either already listed in the ad or you can message the owner through the website and request a phone number. VRBO will not block it out.
- VRBO also charges service fees. Their service fees drop as low as 5% of the total price, while AirBNB’s service fees only drop to 6% at the lowest.
- If you want to avoid service fees altogether, in our experience, owners working with VRBO are more willing to let you pay them directly without involving the site at all. On both sites, the owners get a portion of the rent you are paying them taken out by the company so if they haven’t signed a contract with them, they’re usually willing to work outside of the site.
If all of this seems overwhelming to you, have no fear; that is exactly the reason TRS Healthcare devotes the time to make a full-time Housing Specialist available to help you. And we can say with high confidence that after the first few travel contracts, you will be a master of securing housing and will probably be sharing your tips with us!