Getting Started – What is House Sitting & Is it for me?
The picture below is of the first house sit we did in Australia - six glorious weeks in the Victorian Alps. It remains one of our favorite sits for many different reasons, but this property has been sold now, so a repeat house sit is sadly out of the question! But this was just the start of our house sitting lifestyle - we've now been on the road, fully sold up for 7 years and we've completed almost 100 house sits all over the world.
Seeing a beautiful house sit property like this with a pool might inspire you to get started house sitting too, but, you might first be wondering, "What is house sitting and is it for me?" So, Let us tell you a bit more about what is involved, then you can make an informed decision about whether it's the right option for your world-wide travel.
This is part one of our 6 part - How to become a house sitter guide, which will provide you with all the information you need to get yourself started as a house sitter.
How does house sitting work?
House sitting is a vacation and pet care solution that has become extremely popular over the past few years. In some countries like the UK & Europe, USA, Canada and Australia, it has been long established. More recently it's expanded into other expat destinations like Mexico, Central America, Asia and even Africa.
It's now recognized as an alternative to a regular short term vacation, and house sitting also provides a great accommodation option for longer term travel and lifestyle living especially in retirement. For some, international house sitting has even become a way of life.
Individuals, couples like us, digital nomads, and even families use it as a way to travel, live and work remotely, while providing a valuable service to pet owners so that they can enjoy their own travel adventures free from the guilt of boarding their pets.
Keeping the pets happy in their homes is the number one priority for a house sitter, and that provides enormous reassurance for the pet owner trusting their home and pets to a stranger.
In this value exchange, home owners offer accommodation, giving house sitters a place to stay for free, in return for looking after their home and pets. In the case of overseas house sitting, this is almost always built around trust (not money), and it is at the heart of the international house sitting community.
Reasons to become a house sitter
1. Because you adore having pets in your life
Last time we checked all the international house sit sites, we found only 2% of overseas sits were being offered without pets! So, most importantly you really must enjoy having pets along with you on your travels. Of course, it's a huge plus to get to cuddle up with and care for furry friends during your time away!
2. Try before you buy
House sitting offers a way to live temporarily in a variety of locations around the world, and even to "try before you buy". You can test out an area before permanently relocating as an expat. A perfect way to find out more about the house sitting services you might find yourself using once relocated and settled!
3. To experience slow travel
What we love most about house sitting is the opportunity to really become immersed in the culture of another region or country. The opportunity for slow travel. As a house sitter you get to live more like a local than a regular tourist. You'll shop for food and cook at home, possibly get to know the neighbors, and depending on the length of the house sit, you might even be able to participate in local events.
4. To extend your travel budget
Your money goes much further when house sitting. You'll make considerable savings by traveling as a house sitter - no accommodation costs, no utilities, WiFi generally paid for, and sometimes a car is provided. Cars will depend on the home owner, the location and the country - insurance is often a factor when using someone else's car overseas. Eating at home offers further cost savings when compared to a standard hotel vacation. But it isn't all about saving money.
We are always very disheartened by travel bloggers and news media, who tout house sitting as "free travel", or claim huge savings on accommodation, without being honest about the responsibilities and potential costs involved. A Plan B is part of good preparation, and that could easily negate all the savings you've made on accommodation.
What about house sitter responsibilities?
Most house sits involved pets and a varying degree of daily duties like walking the dogs, cleaning out cat litter trays, feeding, grooming, providing company, keeping the house clean and secure. This needs to be factored into your daily routine, and can impact on the amount of time you can be away from the home. Dogs can often only be left for up to 4 hours, although cats can generally be left longer - all things to think about, especially if you are working. Think about the age of the pets too... a puppy or a kitten requires a lot more regular care, while an older pet may need frequent medications.
House sitter duties can restrict you from leaving the property and pets for long periods, so you really need to consider what tasks you are willing to take on in exchange for your place to stay. House sitting should never be seen as a chore in your life, it's something to embrace and see as an enhancement to travel - think carefully about whether this is the travel option that works for you.
What type of person enjoys being a house sitter?
How long is a piece of string? It works for some, but not for others. But... during our time working in the house sitting community, we've seen a number of traits that definitely help house sitters adjust to living in other people's homes following other people's routines.
1. A love of animals - the number one must for house sitters
2. Able to travel with some degree of flexibility
3. Adaptable and able to embrace change - cancellations happen, dates change.
4. Can do attitude - the dishwasher breaks down... you organize a repair or wash the dishes by hand.
5. Not prone to perfectionism - not all homes are as clean as a 5-star hotel.
6. Resourceful and resilient - you can deal with any kind of emergency situation.
7. Respectful of the way other people choose to live and care for their pets.
What costs are involved in house sitting travel?
There's no way you can ever travel for free, as we mentioned above. House sitting can certainly make travel more affordable, or provide more occasions to get away on holiday. For nomads, it can dramatically reduce living expenses. There is no doubt about the savings, but what about the hidden costs that will need to be taken into account :
- Airline Tickets
- Visas and vaccinations
- Cost of travel to and from a sit
- Transport for getting around while at the sit (if no car provided)
- Food and other living / entertainment expenses
- A backup fund should a sit be unexpectedly cancelled
When we are house sitting, all our focus is on looking after the home and pets, and we see our "travel" adventures as separate "between sit" experiences and we budget for these accordingly.
Make sure you think carefully about any commitment that you make and consider it seriously - once booked you shouldn't cancel except in an absolute emergency! Think about the effect of your actions on the lives of others - the home owners and the pets, both mentally and financially.
It's also very important to have a "Plan B" - just in case things change, a sit gets cancelled for unforeseen reasons, or world events disrupt travel plans. A back up fund and an alternative place to stay should always be considered. We've only ever had one cancellation, but on more than one occasion dates have been amended by home owners, and pets change between the time of booking a sit to arrival. This is where "adaptable" comes in very handy!
Why do people use house sitters?
A vacant home is more vulnerable to theft or maintenance issues, and insurance companies generally prefer a property to be occupied when the owners are away for an extended period of time.
But pets are usually the most important factor when home owners consider using house sitters. There's a reluctance to disrupt our pets’ routines by boarding them in expensive kennels and catteries. Especially when you can use a sitter to love and care for pets in your own home. This become particularly important as pets age or need medications. It also provides better, more consistent care for rescue pets who need to feel settled in their new homes.
Home owners might be leaving for a vacation, for business or for family reasons. As well as pet care they may also need help with gardens, swimming pools, livestock or land management - its all about finding a match where both parties' expectations are met.
Will I need special skills to become a house sitter?
If you have looked after your own property and pets as an owner or renter, then this is pretty much all that house and pet sitting involves. But, if you have a specialist house sitting skill such as living in an "off-grid" property or experience with swimming pools, you may find yourself looking after some unusual properties, possibly in very exotic locations! This extra skills will also help you if you are applying to more competitive sits - so make sure you highlight these when you are building your house sitter profile.
Before selling up, we used international house sitters to look after our home on our Panamanian island. We needed someone with solar, rainwater collection and most importantly, boat handling skills. This is a much smaller sub-set of sitters to choose from.
To make yourself attractive to home owners, think carefully about what skills you can add to your house sitting profile:
- Owned or rented a property?
- Looked after yours or other people's pets?
- Worked at a pet rescue centre?
- Attended a pet first aid course?
- Volunteered with animals?
- Traveled extensively?
- Enjoyed gardening or land management?
- Been an Airbnb host?
The list is endless. All of these are skill sets that will help achieve credibility as a new house and pet sitter. Give some thought to what you've done in life that might be relevant - you'll probably be surprised at what you remember.
Do house sits always have pets?
Looking after pets is the number one reason for using house sitters. As mentioned above, our recent analysis of sits shows that only 2% of house sits have no pets at all. You'll generally find that cats, dogs or even exotic animals become your temporary charges. This provides an important service to home owners. But some pets take more care than others so it's important to assess what you are happy to take on.
For this reason it's key to review your relevant pet or animal experience, as well as how comfortable you are with looking after another person's home and pets. Consider your confidence with different pets, your experience with large breeds, your ability to walk and control dogs around other pets and people, how many animals you'd be comfortable caring for at any one time. We've had house sits with 30 rare breed sheep, goats, numerous dogs and cats, and even horses - the more animals you take on, the more your day will be devoted to animal care.
TIP - House sitting isn't for everyone - try a short local house sit before committing to overseas house sit jobs.
It is possible to find those house sits without pets but you'll need to work harder to make yourself stand out to the home owners advertising pet free sits. It's important to remember that any pet care might be replaced by additional home maintenance or security duties, and possibly staff management.
To find house sits without pets, you'll need to be a little more patient, or be open to widening your search area - try towns and villages a little further away from your primary location choice.
Can I house sit with my own pet?
If you have your own pets, you will also find less house sitting jobs available. That said it is possible to house sit with your own pets, particularly dogs. One way to increase your chances of success, is to start house sitting locally where you can offer to meet the owners to see how well the pets socialize together.
Can I house sit with kids?
We admit, it probably is easier to secure house sitting jobs as a couple, but we have actually been turned down after reaching the shortlist on two occasions. The reason? Because the home owner wanted to offer the opportunity to a house sitting family.
It’s easy to assume that home owners will be less likely to want a family with kids looking after their property. But in reality it just isn't true. TrustedHousesitters have a family friendly filter and HouseSitMatch have helped a number of families start their house sitting adventures with their personal approach. You can read more about one family's experience here: https://housesittingmagazine.com/family-house-sitting/
How much free time do house sitters get?
House sitting is more about living and integrating into a local area, and not so much about traveling or sightseeing for long periods away from your home base. So think carefully about your expectations in this respect.
Remember the home and pets are your priority when you are a house sitter.
While cats are more independent, dogs cannot always be left alone for long periods, and they may not be well adjusted to traveling in cars. Some dogs are used to having retired owners at home all day, and may suffer anxiety if left at home along. These are all discussion points for when you make an application.
Short day trips away are usually fine, but you should always discuss this with the home owner before accepting a house sit. Local sight-seeing is usually not a problem, and if you're able to take the dogs with you, then longer walks, hikes and explorations can be possible. For this you'll probably need dog friendly transport, and you'll also need to check how comfortable the dogs are with traveling by car or when using public transport like buses or trains.
TIP - Be clear about your own expectations and honest about these when considering a house sitting assignment, otherwise, you could find yourself having a miserable experience.
Is it lonely being a house sitter?
Often a home owner leaves their home and pets to experience their own travel adventure. Knowing that people with the same life values are looking after their home, possessions and pets is extremely reassuring. It's common on longer sits to share an evening meal with the home owners as you carry out a handover and get to know the pet's routines. From these encounters, friendships are formed, repeat sits are commonly arranged, and all parties get to enjoy opportunities to travel further for longer periods and at a lower cost.
You'll also find yourself meeting up with other house sitters and travelers as you travel too, but it depends how much effort you put into making these connections.
We use mapahub - a map based resource that allows you to connect and meet up with sitters all over the world. You can try it free for a month (no credit card required), to see who will be in the same location as you while you travel, not only now, but also in the future. You can also get optional email alerts telling you who is going to be in the same area as you.
Where in the world can I house sit?
Overseas house sitting is commonly linked to expat communities or countries like the UK, USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Europe where it's been long established. As people venture further afield to explore alternative retirement locations, they also have a need to return home for short to medium term periods to visit friends and family.
Worldwide house sits can be found in both the countryside and popular city destinations, such as London, Paris, New York and Sydney. They can span anything from a few days to a few months, sometimes even longer. Some countries are definitely more popular than others, but new locations are popping up all the time.
By the end of last year, as long term house sitters, we had house sat in Australia, Fiji, England, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Botswana, and Barbados. Last year we spent 4 months in St Vincent in the Caribbean and a month in Thailand.
What else to consider as a first time house sitter?
Becoming a successful house sitter is a bit like applying for a job. You need to "promote" yourself and your experience to the homeowner. As with any job application, the more effort you apply, the more likely you are to get the position.
And references are very important too. In fact, building up your house sitting references as quickly as you can could make all the difference to being selected.
You'll need to think about these things too:
1. Where in the world do you want to house sit?
2. Is your passport up-to-date and will you need a special travel visa?
3. Do you have the travel budget necessary to take sits overseas?
4. Will I be happy living in someone else's house with their stuff?
Great .. how do I get into house sitting?
As the house sitting community flourishes, more and more websites are being created with the purpose of matching house sitters with home owners. Some are international and others are regional. But each has their own unique features and services that suit the needs of everyone involved.
You may need to pay an annual subscription charge, and it's often a good idea to sign up to a couple of different sites to widen your choices. However, the investment you'll make is tiny compared to the savings on accommodation. Hotels, B&Bs or rental properties are often one of the most expensive elements of your vacation.
Take a read of our popular comparison guide which is regularly updated:
Create an engaging house sit profile
Once you've selected a house sitting platform you'll need to creating an impressive house sitting profile - it really is the key to your house sitting success.
Unless you’re meeting with the homeowners in person, your application letter and profile are the first impressions you give to them. They will either get you short-listed or rejected. Your application letter is your personalized introduction, but your profile is a carefully-crafted sales pitch. Besides looking professional, it needs to make a connection with the homeowners
Where else can I get house sitter help?
Reading through the free back issues of House Sitting Magazine, will provide you with lots of house sitting info. And, there's plenty of guidance on the house sitting platforms if you look at the "FAQs". To chat with other newcomers to house sitting and seasoned sitters too, you can join our very active and engaged Facebook group here.
If you really want to short-cut all the research, you should consider taking our own video course that will take you from beginner to pro, leading you through every step of the house sitting process in easy stages. We've also included checklists and templates that will make the process of applying for and securing sits simple from the very start. Take a look here:
Now... are you ready to become a house sitter?
Become a House Sitter: Articles 1-6
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Last updated on February 16th, 2020