The Pros and Cons of House Sitting

La Sota house in green Cantabria

La Sota house in green Cantabria

[Editors’ Note: While in Hawaii making arrangements for our upcoming visit to Japan, we are also in a rare (for us) state of planning. We see another stint of house-sitting on our horizon, so offer this re-print of a column originally published by Kris on her blog, HMS Henning.]

Tom and I have been on the road for three years now. Even though our travels have taken us to five continents and 20 countries, we set out with the intention of biding our time in various select destinations, starting with Ecuador. We look at travel as a long distance event, not a sprint, and didn’t want to burn out chasing around the world.

The Dogs of MAzarron

Tom with Pepe and Fernando in Murcia, Spain

Twice in the past year we’ve chosen to housesit as a way of making a temporary home. Both times we were in Spain (spring 2012 in Murcia, winter 2012-13 in Cantabria) and in both these cases we found our connections through TrustedHousesitters.com. (We are also listed with MindMyHouse.com. TrustedHousesitters costs $40 for a 3-month membership; MindMyHouse is $20 annually.) For our purposes, we consider positions of no less than a month, and no more than three, mostly due to travel expenses and visa limitations, but also because of our low boredom threshold.
Once you look into housesitting opportunities, you’ll quickly realize it isn’t the house that is your concern, but the pets. Homeowners, yes, do want someone who will care for their home, but mostly they want your love, adoration, and undivided attention for their animal family. It’s important to know this before embarking on your adventure.

House-sitting

Yuki keeps an eye out in Cantabria

Here are some other points worth considering before you involve yourself in a housesitting situation.

On the Plus Side 

  • Pay no rent; that’s plainly good.
  • Enjoy the comforts of home while you are on the road. These might be the things you dream of when you’re fed up with hotels: laundry (wheee!), Wi-Fi (a must for us), a kitchen (more on that), and comfortable furniture for quality lounging outside of bed.
  • Other homey touches: having been a homeowner, I like seeing the details of the house itself, the art on the walls, the books and music on the shelves, the plants and gardens. I’m not a peeper, and find happiness in ignoring jammed closets.
  • Having a kitchen takes you to the local markets and the freshest local food, which vastly improves your diet. Of course this is cheaper than eating out all the time, too. The owners’ kitchens are invariable better equipped than rental property. But I still always carry a cork screw and knife when I travel.
  • Use of a car. Doing the homeowners’ errands can be a good way to learn your way around and meet people. You’ll pay for the gas to do that, but mostly the car will allow you some freedom to get back to your traveling ways with day trips.
  • You can be a regular at a couple local haunts, talk to people, and find out much more about the region than you would otherwise. Ask for recommendations, and use them.
  • The animals’ affection. Nothing says home better than a dog’s pushy wet nose and pleading eyes. And like grandparents (so I’m told) you can spoil the critters, then leave them with the owners.
  • A routine can be a good thing. Walking dogs, feeding animals, and the general upkeep of a house fall into a gentle routine that allows the house-sitter to recoup, recover, and work on special personal projects. We catch up on work, on travel plans, on sleep, on reading, and sometimes on entire television series via our laptops.
Kris with young Sabba, the seventh addition to the household (counting the cat who disappeared before our arrival)

Kris with young Sabba, the seventh addition to the household (counting the cat who disappeared before our arrival)

On the down side, consider this:

  • You are confined to the pet schedule. Forget overnight trips. (Note to self: in the future, ask in advance if there is someone who could relieve you for one night, for a little weekend getaway.)
  • You are likely going to be at your site during the off-season. There is a reason owners leave, so consider the weather and seasonal closures. The beach town is probably cold and deserted while you are there.
  • You are responsible when things go wrong. Things will go wrong. Broken showers need to be fixed. Sick animals need to be cared for. Power goes out, supplies run low. This is your job and you can’t run away.
  • Corollary to the above, you may have to advance the homeowner money in order to get things fixed. We chose to pay a water bill rather than have our water shut off, for example.
  • It’s not all free. Don’t forget the expenses you’ll incur. Gas, groceries, meals out, and any utilities you’ve been asked to pay begin to sound like rent. Speeding tickets and replacing broken goods like, oh, let’s say a rice cooker, increase the tab. Utilities, in particular, are worth discussion. We believe our pet sitting is saving the owners plenty, and that utilities should be paid by the homeowner. Homeowners sometimes want guarantees that you won’t crank their heating (or AC) bill through the ceiling. Settle this in advance.
  • You don’t know your neighbors/environment until you are there. The condition of the home, the location within its community, and the neighbors’ opinion of transients (that’s what you are) are never fully known until you are on site and committed.
  • Flexibility and self-sufficiency are required. No matter how good the instructions, you’ll have to find and figure things out for yourself. No matter how clear the advance plans, dates and travel plans do change.
  • The web sites that facilitate these connections are much more geared to vetting the house-sitter than the home owner. Take your time talking to the prospective home owners before booking your flight.

My best advice? Expect the unexpected. Enjoy the home and kitchen. Treat the animals well. And get out and visit the area as much as possible. You are still a traveler.

Nearing the end of our second housesitting gig within a year, we’re energized for covering more ground in our upcoming travels, not trading sedentary responsibilities for a roof. But no doubt we’ll find another place we love and will look for a housesit again sometime, so that we can sample day-to-day life in a place and make no long-term commitments.

If you’re interested in a couple anecdotes about our experiences, check out these posts:

This is Not My Beautiful House

House Sitting Take One (Take Four Dogs)

House Sitting Take One (Doggie Addendum)

What Can You Say When You’re House Sitting?

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13 Responses to The Pros and Cons of House Sitting

  1. Lars Henning August 27, 2013 at 10:40 am #

    I enjoyed reading this. Glad you reposted it. I love your specific examples which may or may not have happened!

    • Kristin Henning August 27, 2013 at 10:46 pm #

      Yes, it is with some embarrassment that I admit I wrecked the rice cooker, and after a confusing back-and-forth about how to replace it, we settled on an Amazon gift certificate. That worked!

  2. lee laurino August 27, 2013 at 1:59 pm #

    this article was perfect timing for me. as part of my hometoitaly.com blog I have been asked several times to house sit…..
    but as a solo traveler with limited language skills I have been very concerned.

    think I am better with a house rental….but I shall continue to do research

    I see your next stop is Japan, that is my goal for march 2014, cold yes but no tourists ether… shall look forward to your posts

    • Kristin Henning August 27, 2013 at 10:49 pm #

      Thanks, Lee. I wonder if you are looking in the U.S. as well as outside the country. I know many places that are happy with a solo house-sitter, and you’d definitely meet people in the area! Hope you’ll let us know when you are ready to give it a try.

      • lee August 27, 2013 at 11:12 pm #

        i have a 12 month plan to stay in different places in the usa after i finally get to china and australia…. that project has a story line and is taking more planning.

        i dont worry about housesitting ecause i am solo, i have done solo travel for 30+ years, it is managing a house in a foreign language …. and dealing with repairs….. i have asked some of my italian friends to give me a ‘tutorial’ on the italian house systems….i couldnt even get the oven to work during a 3 month stay in Sorrento! but i shall enjoy following your trip to Japan

  3. Meagan | LifeOutsideOfTexas.com September 23, 2013 at 8:11 pm #

    I’ve been hearing more and more about housesitting as a way to travel and I have to admit that I am intrigued by it. I spent summers house/pet sitting as a way to put myself through college. I was basically a way to prevent families from having to board their animals. I typically charged $25-$30 per day (more if they had a large number of pets).

    I find it interesting that homeowners might try to charge someone for utilities for their home. I think they are getting an amazing deal just in not having to pay someone to keep up their home for them. Some of these jobs seem like a lot of work and I’m not sure I would do it just for a free place to stay.

    • Kristin Henning September 24, 2013 at 12:44 am #

      Meagan, you must have been reading our minds, as well as the post. We were just asking ourselves if we would do this again in a situation that requires payment of utilities. Probably not. I agree that the homeowners are saving lots of money by having someone in their home caring for their animals. We felt like we earned our keep. But in defense of the homeowners, they want to be sure they aren’t gouged by excessive use (of heat?). Others just know their property has value as a ‘rental property’ and are rationalizing some middle ground. Friends in the States are shocked that we don’t charge for pet sitting, especially with horses, but the home stays–without the owners present–are attractive to us!

  4. Tina Anderson July 4, 2016 at 4:05 pm #

    Where do I begin looking for homes to sit for in the city you live in. I am selling my house and don’t want to buy right now and instead of moving in with my daughter this would be an alternative plan. I am an interior designer and would like to keep working. This is the reason why I would like to find a home in the same city or around the city. Houston Texas

    • Kristin Henning July 6, 2016 at 1:16 pm #

      I’m glad you found this post, Tina. The arrangement you are talking about–for longer term and in a restricted geographic area–is quite a different arrangement. Most people looking for house sitters are trying to fill a specific, limited time frame while they are away. I have seen, though, postings for positions which involve (for example) managing a property open to guests, or managing a staff or crew of some sort. This falls almost into the category of caretaker, ongoing. You might try running something in Craigslist, or keeping an eye out there or similar neighborhood postings. Thanks for your comment.

  5. Frank July 16, 2016 at 3:58 pm #

    The funny thing is that I am house sitting in the city where I live – London – and pros and cons are exactly the same! Split up with GF, could not find an affordable accommodation straight away, I have been offered the opportunity to look after the cat and the house of a friend’s friend. I love cats (and of course nice flats) so that sounded perfect. Owner is extremely fond of the cat and is worried when it rarely goes out the fence. I perfectly understand how she feels, however I underestimated how I would feel when the cat goes for a ride in the garden! I have never freaked out that much like this morning when while having a coffee at a local cafe, I have seen the little creature leaping over the flowerbed on the high street. The entire morning wasted in and out of the gate watching the cat’s movements and finally grabbing it and pulling it home which is something I hate doing. But what would you do when animal is not yours??? I am normally confident in dealing with animals, however at the moment this experience is driving a little bit crazy.

    • Tom Bartel July 17, 2016 at 9:16 am #

      When it comes to cats, I’m not the guy to ask. Never had one, don’t much like them. I figure they’re completely independent creatures and should live that way. Let him run free. He’ll come back when he gets hungry.

    • lee July 17, 2016 at 5:08 pm #

      pet responsibility is a great fear of mine and i miss opportunities because of it. on top of that when you travel solo and cant do the ‘repairs’ a house needs, i am left with sitting an apt while a professor does a sabbatical. fine with me but there are few of those…………..a London gig Frank would be heaven

      • Tom Bartel July 17, 2016 at 8:31 pm #

        I agree. A London gig is my idea of heaven, too. As long as there is heat in the winter. I spent one winter in London in an old house without central heating. Yuk.

        I can do repairs though, so if anyone is looking…

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