The Pros and Cons of House Sitting

house sitting La Sota house in green Cantabria
La Sota house in green Cantabria

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. Opportunities for house sitters 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 housesitting 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 platforms that aggregate house sitter jobs. 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 jobs in Europe, you don't pay to join a site that specializes in house sitting in Asia.

Registering at a house sitting web 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 to get house sitting jobs 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. Will you takes house sitter jobs of a week or less, or are you only interested in long term house sitting? 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 considering house sitting in Europe (the 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 want luxury house sitting jobs? Then be honest and your potential homeowners about their home amenities. Don't expect a pool and a sauna if you don't ask.

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.

pet sitting The Dogs of Mazarron
Tom with Pepe and Fernando in Murcia, Spain

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.

House sitting pros and cons
Yuki keeps an eye out in Cantabria

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.
Cantabria horse and house sitting
Kris with young Sabba, the seventh addition to the household (counting the cat who disappeared before our arrival)

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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34 thoughts on “The Pros and Cons of House Sitting”

  1. 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

    Reply
    • 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.

      Reply
      • 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

        Reply
  2. 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.

    Reply
    • 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!

      Reply
  3. 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

    Reply
    • 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.

      Reply
  4. 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.

    Reply
    • 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.

      Reply
    • 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

      Reply
      • 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…

        Reply
  5. Great article,
    We do house sitting in Australia and have recently joined the UK affiliate. When we checked out a house sit there e thought fantastic. Before applying I checked the train fare from London to the location and was gobsmacked. The return train fare was dearer than flying from where we were staying in Europe. So, sadly, that coupled with the current exchange rate for the Aussie Dollar made that house sit cost prohibitive.

    Reply
  6. Thanks for such an informative post about house-sitting as a way to further your travels. I don’t know that I would do it myself, but am happy to know the ins and outs, and how satisfactory the experience can be.

    Reply
    • On balance, we really enjoyed doing it. Haven’t done for a while because our travel style has changed, but we’d definitely pick up the right opportunity if he presented itself.

      Reply
  7. We had signed up on one of the house sitting sites you mentioned, and soon realized it was really pet sitting. Nothing against pets, but since their schedules mean less freedom to take small trips away from that ‘base’, we let go of the idea. It’s good you’ve outlined some of these realities here for people who are considering this option.

    Reply
    • Yes, we were sort of trapped by pets in both our house sits. You either find a neighbor who can drop in to help, or forego any overnight excursions. It’s one of the prices you pay. Or, you just learn to be happy with day trips.

      Reply
  8. We signed up on a site a while ago and were never intimidated by pets or farm animals. We thought we had all the bases covered but apparently not and just got terribly frustrated at not getting anywhere. Your suggestions and experience now tell us why. We’re saving your article and will be giving house sitting another go. Thank you.

    Reply
    • It’s a much more involved process than it used to be, as many more people are finding it to be the best economical way to travel. There’s just a lot more competition for the best sits and they’re a lot harder to get. Keep plugging.

      Reply
  9. Thank you for such a detailed article. We’ve been travelling full-time for over 15 years and house-sitting is something we’ve toyed with, but never got around to doing. I think it will definitely be an option for the future. With your tips, I hope we can be a step or two ahead of the competition :-)

    Reply
  10. Kary is taking early retirement in 2 years and we’re planning to spend time in other countries. We thought about house sitting, and he’s handy, but neither he nor I are fond of animals so it probably won’t work for us, but we might try anyway. You never know…

    Reply
  11. This is all great advice. I’ve thought about looking into housesitting for us, but I don’t like the idea of being so tied to one place because of walking the dog twice a day. When I travel, I want to see EVERYTHING, and housesitting would prevent me from doing that. I suppose, though, that it would work in a big city with lots of sights, like Paris or Tokyo. And my husband can be pretty handy with small repairs…

    Reply
  12. What some great tips. I’ve often thought about housesitting and getting housesitters in – you’ve really opened my eyes to lots of great points to consider. I shall bookmark this post for future reference. Thanks for popping by to my blog earlier – appreciated. Not sure if I’ve found you via Boomer Travel Bloggers or #MLSTL. Either way, great to connect :)

    Reply
  13. Thank you, Johanna. We’ll be in touch along the way, but do let me know if you move forward with house sitting. I think there are other sites that might be more efficient for swapping homes, if that’s what you are interested in.

    Reply
  14. I have been house and pet sitting for the last 4 years. Love it! I use the Trusted House Sitters site. I am based in the UK, 10 of the house sits have been in the UK and 2 in Europe. I did have one house sit without pets – stayed in a beautiful Georgian Villa in Surrey, the owners wanted a house sitter for security reasons. That did not stop us going out during the day nor going out at night for dinner. (REmemver, to read the house owner requirements very carefully)

    It was hard to get the 1st house sit – due to lack of references. I did consider house sitting in my local area at first – just to get the references. Now with 12 references – find it easier. The house sits in large cities like London, Paris etc are difficult to get. However , you may find a house sit in the outskirts and be able to travel into the cities.

    I look for house sits with no animals or cats only. Cats are not so tying.

    Pros – saving on accommodation costs. Meeting new people and the joy of looking after a pet.
    Cons – be wary of an advert that has no or very few pictures of accommodation. For one sit,- House was acceptable – but if there had been more photographs – I would not have agreed to go. House sits are not always in areas you may want to visit – investigate house and area before accepting.

    Otherwise – enjoy!

    Reply
    • Sue. Those are all good points. Thanks so much for adding your perspective. And, yes, cats are so much easier than dogs. Mainly, because cats generally want to be left alone. :)

      Reply

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