Even though our travels have taken us to six continents and more than 70 countries, we set out with the intention of biding our time in various select destinations. We look at travel as a long distance event, not a sprint, and didn’t want to burn out chasing around the world.
Twice we’ve chosen house sitting, or as some call it, house minding, as a way of making a temporary home. Both times were in Spain – Spring 2012 in Murcia and Winter 2012-13 in Cantabria. The house sitting opportunities in Spain are numerous, we found, because of the large population of expats, especially from Britain.
In both these cases we found our connections through house sitting websites such as TrustedHousesitters.com. Trusted House Sitters costs €89 ($108 USD as of January 2019) for an annual membership. We were also listed with MindMyHouse.com. MindMyHouse costs $20 USD annually.
How to be a house sitter
Be aware that there are more than these two house sitting platforms. Be sure to check several before you pay to join. They vary greatly in breadth of offerings, what countries they specialize in, and how many listings they feature. Be sure if you're interested in house sitting in Europe, you don't pay to join a site that specializes in house sitting in Asia.
Registering at a house sitting site, naturally, is pretty much essential. That's where the homeowners find house sitters – and where you'll go about finding a house to mind.
The first thing you want to do is create an engaging profile. Be sure to list any previous experience you have as a homeowner or house sitter. List any relevant skills. Are you handy with tools? Do you never forget to water the plants? Can you fix a toilet? Be sure to say so. Do you speak any foreign languages? At this time, it's also a great idea to tell your potential homeowners how much you love pets. In general, it's very important to convey your enthusiasm. Don't forget to mention that you are animal lovers. (Did I say that before? Say it twice, too.)
A common feature of the house sitting web sites is the trust profiles of the potential sitters. It's a bit of a “Catch 22.” It's hard to build your trust profile via recommendations on the site until you've actually had a house sitting gig. So, you might need to take less than ideal sits for a while until you build up a reputation–and become a likely candidate for the more desirable sits in places like London or Paris. In the meantime, if your site accepts them, solicit recommendations from former landlords, business associates–especially bosses, old neighbors, and anyone else who can vouch for your reliability. If the site itself doesn't allow third party references, be sure to have them ready to send to a homeowner on your own.
More things to consider before you start your house sitting search:
Think about how long you want to sit. For our purposes, we would 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.
If you're sitting in a foreign country, be sure you have permission to stay in that country for the length of your sit. For an American in Europe (Schengen Zone), for example, you generally get 90 days on your visa. There are situations where you can extend, but be very careful of telling the immigration authorities that you are “working” as a house sitter. That opens another whole can of complications, as getting a work permit is a lot harder than being a tourist.
Do you need to be paid to house sit? Those opportunities are very rare. If you need to make money while you sit, you're probably better off looking into part time jobs in the area. Bartending, anyone? But realistically, your house sitting chores won't allow for other outside work.
Once you look into house sitting opportunities, you’ll quickly realize it isn’t just the house that is your concern. It's the home and 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. Yes, in so many cases, house sitting is really pet sitting.
Also, take good stock of what you're looking for in the house itself. Is it luxury house sitting? There are opportunities to stay in elaborate digs. Or are you happy with a small apartment in a great location? If the location is remote, is a car provided to run errands? Are there neighbors or staff who will be checking on you? Are you responsible for other personnel? Know yourself well enough to select a situation that won't drive you crazy. Be prepared to be happy where you end up.
Finally, monitor the site frequently. Many have email notice features. Also, you should follow the website's social media. And if a house sit pops up that fits what you're looking for, respond to the query immediately. Being first is a big advantage to getting the popular sits.
If you see one you like, be sure to respond as fast as possible. And craft your response to the specific listing. If they have a horse, talk about your horse experience. (That actually got us a great sit once.) If the house is a bit older, be sure to mention your handyman skills.
The selection process – for both sides – will no doubt involve an interview. If the homeowner doesn't ask for one, you should insist. It will probably be done on Skype. Some questions you should be sure to ask are: Can you have guests? How's the WiFi? Can you leave the house over night? Is there a car you can use? (The last one is pretty essential if the sit is out of a city.)
In general, house sitting is much more competitive now than it was six or seven years ago. Be prepared to “sell” yourself to the homeowner. They probably will have lots of options, so do your best to stand out from the crowd.
Here are some other points worth considering before you involve yourself in a house sitting situation.
The Pros of House Sitting
- Pay no rent. It's good to save money.
- 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. (As we said above, saving money is good.) The owners' kitchens are invariably 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 see the neighborhood 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, you can spoil the critters, then leave them with the owners when you move on.
- 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.
The Cons of House Sitting
- You are probably confined to the pet care 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. If you are handy, you can fix a few things yourself. Ask your owner if they have a basic tool box.
- 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 you burned up, increase the tab. Utilities, in particular, are worth discussion. We believe our pet sitting services are saving the pet 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 and the local 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) or dogs are never fully known until you are on site and committed. As much as you can, ask about these things first.
- 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.
Our best advice? Expect the unexpected. Dogs will run away. Toilets will clog. Enjoy the home and kitchen. Treat the animals well. And treat the home as if it were your own. Take care of all that and you'll end up with a great recommendation you can use to get your next house sit.
Oh, and get out and visit the area as much as possible. You are still a traveler.
Note: this is an updated and expanded version of a post we originally published in 2013.
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