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Housing for Traveling Nurses

December 2, 2016

Travel Nurse Housing

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For many travel nurses, housing is the most important piece of the pay package. For me and my husband, it is the first thing we want details on once we decide to apply for a position. (My husband is a travel nurse, and I’m along for the ride!).

Housing can certainly become a deal breaker for us. We will not sign a contract until the housing aspect is wrapped up and we know 100% what we are getting into.  On the flip side, I know some travelers are a bit less concerned as long as they are making good money and have a place to sleep at night.

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But from our experience, housing can make or break the overall experience of an assignment. Even with as much time as we and most traveling nurses spend out and about sight-seeing our new city, a lot of time is spent in our temporary housing. Making it feel like a home away from home is important especially for travelers who have been doing this for several years.  You still have the instinct to want to feel somewhat settled for the time being and comfortable in your new digs.  We have seen many travelers decide they dislike travel nursing primarily because they hated where they lived.

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Travel Nurse Housing Options

Travel nurse housing can be broken down into two options: 1) agency placed (arranged by the agency) or 2) stipend pay (you receive a stipend and make your own housing arrangements). We tend to go back and forth depending on the assignment with which option we choose.  I know several travelers that only take agency provided housing–it is simple and is one less thing they have to worry about.  I also know several travelers that only take the stipend and always find their own housing (or travel in an RV). There really isn’t an overall better way; you just have to decide which is the best way for you.  I do however recommend that all first time travelers take agency provided housing the first time because the first assignment can be overwhelming. It’s easier to let them deal with the housing piece while you figure the rest out. Once you are a seasoned traveler, you have a little more freedom to decide which option is best.

Agency Placed Housing

The more common option is to allow your agency to find your housing. Most agencies have a housing department that will find a place that will place you in a  short term lease (often they have long leases that they rotate travelers in and out of).  The agency will rent your furniture package, pay your utilities, and can even get your housewares (linens and dishes – typically for an extra fee). I’ve even heard of some agencies paying for cable and internet (not nearly as common). This means that as the traveler all of that stress of organizing all of those details isn’t on your plate.

Keep in mind, most assignments are booked within 1-2 weeks or even 1-2 days before your start date. Most agencies will send you 2-3 housing options to choose from, if available and if you ask, but when it comes down to it,  they are going to place you where is most convenient for them (probably currently available and the cheapest). You can request what you want, but there is no guarantee you will get it.

Benefits of Agency Placed Housing:

  • The simplicity of it. If you aren’t super concerned about your housing or are new to traveling, it is definitely the easier way to do things. You don’t have to worry about deposits and getting utilities turned on, etc.
  • The availability of housing. It may be difficult to find housing on your own in smaller cities with limited housing options meaning this may be the better way to go.
  • Better prices on housing.  Agency placed housing may provide better options than the offered stipend can afford (this can happen – try finding a furnished, short term lease including utilities during the holidays in a safe neighborhood of Manhattan for $1600).
  • Better treatment.  Landlords/management seem to be more attentive/helpful when they are trying to please a large corporation with potential for a long term contract versus a measly individual needing a 3 month lease.
  • No money up-front.  You don’t have to come up with money out of pocket for lease/deposits/etc.
  • Safeguard for cancellations.  You eliminate potentially expensive problems if your assignment gets canceled (see below).

Stipend Pay

The dollar amount will differ greatly based on the location and specific contract.  The amount they quote you is a monthly rate (so 30-31 days) and is broken down and paid out on a weekly basis in your paycheck. When you choose this option you are responsible for finding, booking, and paying for all of your own housing and the expenses that go along with it. Don’t be discouraged by having to find your own housing if you go the stipend route – you will have several options to go with.

We usually rent a vacation type rental that is completely furnished and includes utilities and even cable and internet. It seems to be the easiest option for us. These usually even include all housewares so you pretty much just need your clothes and you are good to go.  Another route would be to rent a standard apartment or house and then rent/bring/buy your furniture, setup utilities, etc. Others travel in an RV which is financially the smartest decision if you are cool with living in such a small space and living wherever you can find hookups (likely not right in the city action). I’ve tried to convince my husband to do this off and on but he’s right, we would kill each other.

The main challenge with finding housing is often finding a place within the budget that they give you. If you find a great place for $2000 per month, but you’re only getting a $1000 stipend, well, you do the math. To make the stipend pay option work for us we often have to roll our travel allowance and/or any bonuses into housing.  Something to keep in mind with this option is that although the stipend might sound like a lot, finding a 3 month rental isn’t easy, especially furnished (or renting furniture) and that includes utilities. When you do find one, they will charge a premium (often double or triple the normal rent) for such a short term lease. To us, the big risk with taking the stipend is the chance of getting cancelled. It isn’t something we ever really thought about because it had never happened to us until Hurricane Sandy.  We had a contract booked several weeks in advance in NYC and I was looking for our housing. We wanted to live in a hip Manhattan neighborhood and truly feel like New Yorkers for 8 weeks. As you can imagine, rent there is insane, but I found a place and was ready to book it. Thank God the landlord backed out because a few days later Sandy hit and the hospital closed and my husband’s contract was cancelled before it even started.  I asked our recruiter what would have happened had we already booked and paid for our housing and the response scared us to death – it would have been our problem to deal with. They would have tried to find us another

Traveling Nurse House

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assignment in NYC, but the problem was that all the assignments paid about half of what the original one did.  I was looking for housing based on a much higher pay rate. If we were to take a lower pay rate, with the same high rent, we couldn’t have afforded it. Scary!  That one scenario caused us to slow down on finding our own housing as often. We still will sometimes, but we are much more cautious and will likely try to find landlord that will allow us an out in case of being cancelled. But not to scare you, there are still a lot of benefits to taking the stipend and finding your own housing.

Benefits of Stipend Pay and Finding Your Own Housing:

  • You have control of where you live. Our favorite houses and best memories come from finding our own housing. To us, travel nursing is all about immersing ourselves into new cities. We lived beachfront in Hermosa Beach, CA; in the Gaslamp District in Downtown San Diego, CA; in a converted Candy Factory Loft near the Riverwalk in San Antonio, TX; and on a Golf Course in Old Town Scottsdale, AZ. Trust me, your agency housing will never be that cool! I have heard of the occasional awesome agency placed travel nurse housing, but more often than not you are going to be in a bit dated, cookie cutter apartment community. Not necessarily a bad thing, but if you find it on your own your options are limitless!
  • You have control of how you want to live. For instance, having a washer & dryer in unit is extremely important to us. Most agencies don’t include that as part of their housing package (sometimes the housing they find you does include it, but often times it does not and you either have to pay extra for it or use laundromats). Another example is that we prefer to get two bedroom apartments because we tend to get a lot of company (and now we have a baby). An agency is usually going to place you in a one bedroom or even studio in some cases. If you want larger you have to pay extra (sometimes a lot extra).
  • You can make money off of the housing stipends. Some nurses find somewhere cheap to live and bank the rest of their housing money. I know some travelers that take all of their own furniture or buy used stuff when they get there to save a good chunk of money that way. Or as I mentioned above you can travel in an RV and bank a huge portion of your stipend. Lots of options!When traveling with another travel nurse this option is ideal. One of you can take the housing and the other take the stipend and split it or both take the stipend and find a place to live and bank the excess. For this reason, I so wish I was a nurse too! Husband/wife travel nursing teams can make some good money!!!
  • You have extra time to get settled in.  When taking agency housing, you are typically allotted two days to move in before your start date and two days following the last day of your contract. That is honestly usually enough, but the flexibility with finding your own and having a little more time is kind of nice. We like to have a few days before his start date to check out the new city, get settled, find the hospital, go grocery shopping, etc. At the end of an assignment we are usually high tailing it out to make it to our next assignment  on time, or heading home for a bit. The flexibility of setting your own move in/out dates is nice. As you can see, there are pros and cons to each housing scenario. Neither way is the right way. It completely depends on your preferences and travel nursing style. Like I said, we tend to mix it up based on each assignment. Below I have answered a few specific questions I have gotten regarding travel nurse housing.

Housing Q&A

Q: Does the agency pay for 100% of my housing?

A: It depends. If you take agency provided housing and don’t ask for any upgrades, then yes. If you take the stipend and can find something within that budget the answer is also yes. But if you want upgrades like two bedrooms, a vacuum, a washer/dryer in unit, etc., you will have to pay extra. Likewise, if you can’t find what you want for the stipend amount, you may have to pay a little out of pocket.

Q: Will the agency pay for gas, electric, water, cable, etc?

A:Most pay for utilities (gas, electric, water) up to a certain limit (we have never had an issue going over this limit). Cable and internet are usually your own expense, although some companies do pay for that as well.

Q: How do I set up cable/internet?

A:Once our agency has found our housing (or we have arranged for our own housing), I contact the property manager or landlord and ask who the providers in that area are. Then I get online or on the phone and compare price packages and try to set something up for our move in day. You typically have to be present for this to be set up. Just keep in mind that whatever you choose doesn’t require a long term contract. It often works out great because cable companies generally offer some sort of freebee for the first 3 months as a promotion. Since you are only staying for 3 months in most cases, you get a premium service at a base level price!

Q: Will my housing be furnished (kitchen supplies, TV, bedding, etc.)?

A:For most agencies, “furnished” means that they will provide: a queen size bed, 1 night stand, 1 dresser, and a lamp for the bedroom; a small kitchen table with 4 chairs for the dining room; a couch, a chair, an end table, a coffee table, a lamp, and a TV stand for the living room. Extras such as dishes, linens, TV, bedding, vacuum, etc. often cost extra. A washer/dryer and even microwave are not necessarily considered standard all the time. You can however negotiate some of these items in. We tend to travel with most of these “extra” items. Other travelers I know buy them cheap each time so they have less to move with.

Q: If I take the stipend, what is the best way to find my own housing?

A:Options are endless. You can use traditional methods for house hunting (forrent.com, apartments.com, etc.). Or you can use vacation rental websites like I typically do (VRBO.com, homeaway.com, etc.). There are temporary housing sites (sublet.com, airbnb.com, etc.). And even non-traditional housing options like couchsurfing.org or a monthly rental on a houseboat (easiest to Google by city for results). You can always look into extended stay hotels (Candlewood, Extended Stay America, Residence Inn, etc.). Or hire a realtor if that makes you more comfortable. And of course there’s always Craigslist.com and Classfiedads.com (use with caution as there is no guarantees when dealing with individuals). Heck, if you are lucky maybe you know somebody that would rent a room to you, or better yet family that will let you stay for free. Just keep in mind that safety should be your first concern. Even if couch surfing sounds like a great money-saver, don’t do it if it’s a risk to your safety.

Q: If the agency arranges my housing, do I have a say in where I stay? Will they give me options?

A:Most agencies will give you 2-3 options if you ask and if they have more than one available. They will all give you the spiel though that you can put in your request but it isn’t guaranteed. To be honest, most agencies aren’t typically overly accommodating when it comes to housing. If housing is important to you it is important to know what your deal breakers are and be very upfront with your recruiter about that from the get-go. Even at that, you might end up disappointed from time to time. Housing seems to be our biggest conflict area when booking an assignment.

Q: If I make my own housing arrangements, i.e. stay with family or friends, do I still get a housing stipend? If so, how is amount determined?

A:Yes. The amount is determined based on the city, the contract, and how that particular agency breaks down its pay package.

Q: Will I have a roommate?

A:Usually, no. Although some short term assignments like strikes do require you to room with somebody or take less pay to get a private room. You should know this before you even apply though.

Q: What agencies are best as far as housing stipends/arranging housing?

A:We have only worked with a handful of agencies so I don’t have a great answer for this one. You tend to hear both horror stories and unbelievably amazing stories about most companies. One company, for instance, placed our friends in a beach front 3 bedroom house on a golf course in Hawaii. That same company placed a friend of my mom’s in a tiny, insufficient, dingy basement apartment of one of the hospital employees with almost no furniture. And our personal experience with this same company has been an array from a very nice upgraded apartment, to average dated cookie cutter (typical), to a little disappointing. The same goes for stipends – although I find more times than not you are always wishing the stipend was more. It is such a moving target. From our experience though, Randstad’s housing department was the nicest/easiest to work with. We only worked one contract with them for other reasons so I only have that one case to base it on, but housing alone that one time they were great to work with in what was a difficult housing market (small town).

Q: Can I bring a pet?

A:Yes. It is something you will need to discuss with your recruiter though as they will have to find pet friendly housing and you will likely have to pay a pet deposit.

Q: What if I get to my assignment and dislike my housing?

A:Unfortunately, this does happen. You should immediately contact your recruiter and let them know why it is insufficient and in most cases they will fix the problem if it is truly unacceptable. I know a girl that after a couple of days realized her housing was right next door to a methadone clinic. She of course freaked out and contacted her agency. They had no idea and were very apologetic and quickly got her (and the other travelers) moved to a much nicer neighborhood and living situation. On the flip side, if you get there and it is just more run down than you would prefer they may not do anything; which is why I can’t stress enough to do your due diligence before you leave for an assignment. I am not a fan of housing surprises!

Q: Will my housing be a rental house, apartment, facility-owned housing, or what?

A: It can be any of the above, or even a hotel. In most cases, we have taken assignments in large cities. Therefore we have been housed in apartment communities. But in smaller towns especially, where options are much more limited, it could be anything.

Q: What should I do if something breaks or malfunctions in my apartment, or wherever I’m living?

A:Contact your recruiter or someone else at your agency immediately. One time the sewage backed up in the house that the agency rented us. (Yes, it was as disgusting as it sounds! Luckily I have owned a few homes in my past and knew what was happening and even knew that it was likely because tree roots had grown into the pipes – so it didn’t freak me out too bad.) We contacted our recruiter and the landlord both and they had somebody out that day to take care of the problem. The agency also offered to put us up in a hotel overnight if it wasn’t cleaned up by then, which it was. Usually issues are much more minor than this, if there are any at all.

Q: If I do not like the housing arranged by my travel nurse company, can I refuse it and find my own place? If so, how is housing budget determined?

A: I would say this would have to be handled on a case-by-case basis. If your agency is locked into a lease they can’t get out of they are going to give you a lot of resistance if you try to back out. If the circumstances are unacceptable, they should right the situation. But if it is just because you changed your mind, you might have some issues changing housing options last minute like that. Again, this is why I stress that you know in advance what the housing situation is going to be. If you don’t like the options your agency sends over you should either find your own housing from the get-go or decline the contract. Housing for a travel nurse can often be the most stressful part of the whole deal. Just stay on top of it and always be very upfront about your housing concerns and expectations with your recruiter.  They can’t solve problems that they are unaware of. Do your due diligence in the planning stages (read property reviews, research your new city, ask questions, etc.) and your travel nurse housing should be what you plan for it to be. If you play your cards right you can live in a lot of really cool houses during your travel nurse career and have endless stories and memories of living like a local across the country!  Start your adventure today.

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By Kelli Leach

Traveling Nurse House

Kelli Leach and her husband Skyler have been traveling since July 2010. Skyler is a CVICU RN and Kelli writes a blog www.kellitravels.com all about their traveling adventures. They are from Missouri and had a baby boy in November 2013 so they are now a traveling family of 3! Connect with Kelli on Facebook and Google+