12 ways to make your house a cash cow

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Want to earn some extra cash? Turn your home into a money-making machine.

If you’re like most, you’ve never made a dime off your dwelling (aside from appreciation) even though your house and yard likely represent your single largest asset.

What’s up with that? You’ve got tons of extra space in that spare bedroom, garage or basement that you’re already heating, cooling and paying taxes on. And don’t forget that idle front yard and backyard.

Why not make the old homestead earn its keep?

“There’s something very positive to be said for becoming self-sufficient through assets you already own,” says Katina Z. Jones, author of “The 200 Best Home Businesses.” “With gas prices being what they are these days, there’s a huge financial advantage to keeping your overhead low with a home-based source of income. The tax deductions associated with operating a business from home help on the back end as well.”

Barbara Brabec, author of ”
Handmade for Profit!“, agrees:

“Every dollar you can cut in expenses is a dollar you don’t have to bring in. The need for extra income right now is so severe,” she says.

Of course, local ordinances and homeowner association rules may prohibit or restrict your home moneymaking plans.

Always check first with local authorities, and be sure to ask about licenses, fees and other requirements. And whatever you do, don’t forget to report your earnings on your income tax return.

Disclaimers aside, the fact is you’re sitting on a gold mine, friend. What are you waiting for?

Here are 12 ways to get your home a part-time job.

12 money-making ideas
Make your home earn its keep with these dozen ideas for generating income.
1. Attract a crowd with yard sales 7. Go to the dogs (and cats)
2. Fire up a bakery or production kitchen 8. Grow your own money
3. Make room for renters 9. Seek inner fulfillment
4. Create a home studio 10. Make a daycare connection
5. Throw party sales 11. Ready for your close-up?
6. Share your garage 12. Become a sitter, baby!

Attract a crowd with yard sales
Yard sales have one built-in advantage over garage sales or indoor sales: curb appeal.

“One crafter who had steady traffic in front of her house decided one day to put several items out in her front yard,” Brabec says. “She had a big shade tree and made it very festive with an umbrella and a couple of eye-catching items and she sold up a storm that day. She didn’t have to advertise or anything.”

In addition to gently used clothing and household items, consider selling homemade jams, jellies, cakes and breads, but only where local and state food kitchen laws allow it. Also, be aware of local zoning and homeowner association restrictions pertaining to yard and garage sales.

No product? No problem. Rent out your attractive front yard to yardless folks or apartment dwellers looking to clean out their storage unit.
Craigslist.org is a great place to advertise your own sale, or to farm out your yard to someone else who wants to sell.

Fire up a bakery or production kitchen
Do you have an unused mother-in-law apartment or an industrial-size kitchen that sits vacant all day? Rent it out as a food production facility.

Food-oriented businesses tend to be very successful.

Custom cookies and cupcakes, delivered gourmet meals and birthday-party catering are popular services that don’t require a storefront but may need additional ovens and kitchen space.

“Food-oriented businesses tend to be very successful,” Jones says.

Make room for renters
Renting that spare bedroom or mother-in-law apartment to a college student or quiet single can be a great way to turn empty space into cash, as long as local ordinances permit it.

For homeowners with the skills, taking in elderly roomers on a room-and-board basis can generate even more income.

“For someone who is a retired nurse or who has experience in geriatric care, this could be a good option,” Brabec says. “You don’t want just anybody taking care of your mother, but this could work for a nutritionist or somebody with experience in the field.”

Create a home studio
DeWitt Young was helping a friend move when he dropped a TV down a flight of stairs.

Inside the smashed set, Young found his calling: making tiny “capacitor people” figurines, charms and jewelry from the brightly colored motherboard bits of discarded electronics that would otherwise wind up in landfills.

Today, Young sells his artwork in galleries as well as online through his Web site,
Obviousfront.com, and the arts and crafts portal

What is the best part of a home studio?

“Being able to multitask,” Young says. “I can build, take a quick laundry break, pack up an order, then go pick the kids up from school.”

The downside of a home studio is that it takes time to amass a following.

“The market is very competitive,” he says. “Internet customers will know if you’re overpriced, but it’s important not to underprice your product; it looks sad and you won’t make any money.”

Not the artistic type? Rent out your available space to art students, photographers, crafters, scrapbook enthusiasts, musicians or other creative sorts who don’t have sufficient room to express themselves in their dorm or apartment.

Throw party sales
Some homes are just natural gathering places. Turn yours into a selling place by hosting a party sale.

Products such as Avon cosmetics and Tupperware started the craze. But today, anything goes: lingerie, essential oils, bath and body products, children’s apparel, etc.

And you don’t have to be the salesperson; independent sellers may be willing to part with a share of their profits to use your home instead of theirs.

Share your garage
If you have a garage you never use — or an extra spot in a three-car garage — consider renting out that unused space.

A weekend mechanic who lives in an apartment may pay for the chance to work on his or her ride in your garage. Others may be looking to store a motorcycle, boat, trailer or recreational vehicle.

Still others may prefer the location or convenience of your garage to the local self-storage options, especially if the price is right. If your home is out in the country, you might even discover the next U2 by renting your garage to a local rock band.

Go to the dogs (and cats)
Are you wild about animals?

“Consider opening your house as a boarding place for dogs and cats,” Brabec says. “Think of all the widows who are tied to their home because they can’t get anyone to take care of their pets.”

Many pet owners would prefer to board their animals in a private home rather than a commercial kennel. If you have the space and inclination, call a few local boarding facilities to get an idea of pricing.

Not ready for extended pet stays? Open a grooming, bathing or pet food distributing business in your home.

“My favorite would probably have to be an animal massage therapist,” Jones says. “It’s rough work being a dog or cat, isn’t it?”

Grow your own money
If you’ve got a green thumb and a bit of tillable land, consider growing a cash crop.

Although commodities, such as wheat and cattle, are well beyond the scope of most backyards, berries, flower bulbs, vegetables, grapes, florist products and landscape plants can be cultivated and sold to wholesalers, at farmer’s markets or on your front porch.

In the Northeast, you can even tap your maple trees and sell the sap to a sugaring operation.

If you didn’t get the green-thumb gene, take a slightly different approach.

For example, enterprising Princeton classmates Tom Szaky and Jon Beyer started their own worm gin, which produces a potent organic fertilizer from worm waste.

Their company, TerraCycle, now sells its products to Home Depot and Wal-Mart. Although Szaky and Beyer started their worm gin in the basement of an office building, you could start a similar venture from the comfort of your home.

Seek inner fulfillment
Home-based entrepreneurs create products for shipment all over the world. Somebody’s got to do the shipping, and that’s where your spare space can help.

If you have room to store their items as well as the shipping supplies (boxes, packing material, etc.), open your own order fulfillment center.

With a little research, you can determine how much to charge. Then, look for companies that would rather hire you than some faceless, out-of-state fulfillment giant.

If you are computer-savvy, it’s easy to take on their inventory control as well.

Make a day care connection
If you’re a parent, you know that quality day care is expensive. Enterprising stay-at-home parents may consider starting a home day care facility.

“A full-time day care center with a dozen kids in your home year-round is a very profitable business,” Brabec says.

Such businesses have become heavily regulated in many jurisdictions. Be sure to check with your local and state agencies to make sure you can legally operate a day care where you live.

A full-time day care center with a dozen kids in your home year-round is a very profitable business.

If you have the room and the temperament to consider a home day care business, there are dozens of books available that walk you through the steps.

Ready for your close-up?
Does your home have star potential? You might be surprised. According to Gary Bond, director of film marketing for the Austin (Texas) Film Commission, ordinary houses can be the hardest to find when scouting film locations in Texas.

“The toughest houses for me to find are the ones that have no character, because we just don’t take photographs of those houses,” he says.

How can you turn your house into a film location?

“We have a location database,” Bond says. “We will either come and photograph it or accept your digital photos, which we put on our Web database.”

When a film crew comes looking for locations, Bond prepares a digital casting call from properties in the commission’s database that match the director’s needs.

If your house has the setting or visual features to star in a major Hollywood film, Bond estimates you might receive $1,000 a day for use of the exterior and considerably more if you have to be relocated so the crew can use the interior.

On a lower-budget film, you may receive anywhere from nothing to a weekend at the Four Seasons.

Before you sign on, remember that script demands sometimes call for the house to be “taken down,” or aged, to show the passage of time. Interior shots sometimes involve carving holes in the wall or removing walls entirely to get the right camera angles.

Be sure to stipulate in the location agreement that you will choose the contractor to repair the set designer’s damage.

If you think your house oughta be in pictures, contact your local or state film office.

Become a sitter, baby!
It may seem old-school, but baby-sitting is also one of the easiest and most lucrative ways to make money in your home.

“That’s so obvious that it’s often overlooked,” Brabec says. “But do you know what baby sitters are getting right now? About $20 an hour here in affluent Naperville, Ill.”

And it’s no longer limited to Friday and Saturday nights, either. Today, there’s a growing need for supervision of “latchkey kids” on weekdays between the time they leave school and their parents arrive home.

“A neighbor teacher of mine took two kids in last summer and kept them two or three hours until their parents got home, and she made a lot of money,” Brabec says. “It really solves a problem for parents.”

Jay MacDonald is a contributing editor based in Texas.