Stay for Free and Live Like Royalty: How to House Sit

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Traveler's Toolbox  

tropical-house

A castle. An urban flat. A farmhouse. A suburban mansion. A tropical villa. A mountain cottage.

These are all places you can stay around the world for free, and live like royalty. How? House-sitting of course.

House-Sitting: The Basics

People around the world go away on vacation, leaving behind empty homes, lonely gardens, hungry pets, and ever-filling mail boxes. In order to kennel the pets and pay somebody to tend to the garden, check the mail, and take care of household chores, the homeowner will pay big bucks.

Or, they can get a house-sitter who will stay in their home, care for the pets, tend to any upkeep and errands, and act as an extra security presence for the house.

In return for their efforts, the house-sitter enjoys free accommodation, and often use of a vehicle or other “local living” perks.

Variety of Accommodation & Chores

The variety of accommodation available for house-sitting gigs is as varied as the places I listed at the beginning of this post (I’ve stayed in all of them except the castle – but have friends who ticked the castle off their house-sitting list).

Chores vary just as dramatically; I’ve had house-sitting gigs requiring hours daily to care for multiple big dogs and extensive gardens, and others that only required I periodically check the mail and water the orchids.

Determining Your Value

Not all house-sitting jobs are created equal, and some gigs will appeal to you more than others. Consider what you want out of your trip and destination; for example, don’t accept a gig that requires your presence on the property all the time if you want to explore, and don’t take a position with many animals if the required maintenance isn’t enjoyable.

Finding Jobs

Here’s a sample of the ever-growing collection of websites connecting homeowners with house-sitters. Most charge a nominal annual fee to converse securely with other members, but you can browse listings for free.

Landing Jobs

There’s a lot of competition amongst house-sitters (understandably; it’s free local accommodation). Thus, you need to create a professional profile (with references) that makes you stand out, and use email alerts to be quick on the draw with applications. Homeowners can receive hundreds of applications within a day or so of posting a house-sitting job; if yours doesn’t stand out among the first few, you’ll get lost in the shuffle.

Tips & Etiquette

Here are some pointers for the application process:

  • Read the homeowner’s profile and make sure your application caters to their needs
  • If the job requires pet care, pay special attention in the application and interview to the pet’s needs and quirks
  • Ask a lot of questions, so mutual expectations can be set
  • Schedule a Skype call so everybody can “meet” and feel comfortable with one another (optional but effective)
  • Ask the homeowner to provide a list of emergency contacts, repair people, and a friend or neighbour who can help if there’s a problem

While House-Sitting:

  • Make note (pictures are good) of where everything is so it can be returned to its place if moved
  • Note the fresh ingredients that will expire before the homeowners return; use and replace them
  • Update the homeowner via email (or another preferred method) regularly

Afterwards:

  • The place should be as clean as – or cleaner than – when the homeowners left
  • It’s a nice touch to prepare a meal for them to come home to
  • Ask for a reference!

Resources

If you want to know more about house-sitting and increase your chances of getting the gigs you want, check out these two e-books, each with a different angle to the house-sitting game:

How to Become a House-Sitter and See the World

Fellow Canadian full-time travelers Dalene and Pete Heck of Hecktic Travels have saved over $40,000 in eight countries with house-sitting (and still going strong).

It’s a brilliant read, full of practical tips and advice, and is well laid out with resources, examples, and a few discounts for house-sitting memberships.

How to Become a House-Sitter and See the World (50 pages, $19.99)

Live Your Dream! House Sitting Around the World

Cheryl MacDonald and Lisa Chavis are also heavy-hitters; they’ve saved over $30,000 in accommodation and food costs with house-sitting.

This book has one of the most comprehensive listings and descriptions of house-sitting sites and services, including many I’ve never heard of before. It also has good checklists – for both the house-sitter and homeowner, tips for animal care (including questions to ask the homeowner about their pets in advance), and good notes and resources for house-sitting as a family, as well as solo.

Live Your Dream! House Sitting Around the World (132 pages, $9.99)

 

Happy House-Sititng!

About the Author: Nora Dunn

Nora Dunn is The Professional Hobo; a Canadian who sold everything she owned (including a busy financial planning practice) in 2006 and has been travelling the world in a financially sustainable way ever since. She is an internationally published freelance writer on the topics of travel, personal finance, and lifestyle design.

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