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Women on the Road

Become a Housesitter: How to Live in the Lap of Luxury Without Paying a Cent

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Updated 2 February 2018 — A housesitter - or house sitter, as they say in Britain - is someone who cares for someone else's house (and pets and garden and pool and sometimes even a car) while they're away. You don't get paid, but you don't have to pay either.

If you're traveling and want to stay in one place for a while, housesitting is the ideal way to do it, especially if you're a woman on your own.

Finding someone trustworthy to mind your home while you travel is priceless. Remember the movie Home Alone? Most people don't want that to happen to their homes while they're away.

So if you're mature (at least in mind if not in age) and want to live like a local for weeks or even months, you may have the makings of a housesitter.

House sitting Europe - why not a houseboat?Becoming a housesitter can take you everywhere - from this serene neighborhood in Rotterdam...
Luxury house sitting jobs can be extraordinary stops along your the very lap of luxury.

Housesitting Tips from Women on the Road

From Kit P.: House sitting allows you to really see how it is to live local: grocery shopping, repairs, establishing relationships with your local suppliers. Here's a tip for longer term stays: ask the host to recommend someone you can hire to relieve you if you want to get away for a couple of days.

From Susanne O.: We usually have a friend who house sits for us. I prefer to hand over personally to ensure they know where my special plants are. 

What is house sitting, exactly?

"House-sitting is essentially a reciprocal exchange of services that is mutually beneficial for homeowner and house-sitter," according to Dalene and Pete Heck, authors of How to Become a House-Sitter and See the World, the bible for potential housesitters everywhere.

According to the Hecks, international house sitting is the best way to travel if you're planning on staying in one place any length of time. (So far they've saved $75,000 on accommodation on their travels!)

You'll live in a well-furnished house or appartment
Tired of budget hotels or loud hostels? They do have their charm (it fades quickly) and they may well be your mainstay. But who doesn't dream of a powerful hot shower, high-speed wifi, a well-stocked kitchen and plumbing that works? If you've been traveling for any length of time, you'll appreciate the possibilities here.

Free rent in exchange for house sitting
That's right. House sitting jobs mean you don't pay rent - although, and it's only fair, you may have to pay for your expenses - your phone calls for example, and depending on the housesitting agreement and the length of your stay, you may have to pay for some utilities as well. It'll still cost far less than a nightly room, and you can't begin to compare the surroundings.

"We’ve made life-long friends with 12 dogs, 10 cats, 4 chickens, and 20 humans (home-owners). It is by far our preferred method of travel and a very good way to meet interesting people and pets around the globe!"

- Pete and Dalene Heck, Authors, How to Become a House-Sitter

You'll be living in a real home
There's a lot to be said for living in an actual home. If you're traveling solo, you'll know it can get lonely at times, especially if you're traveling long term. Caring for someone's pets and garden for a while can help ease that feeling of displacement and make you feel warm and fuzzy for a bit. 

You can enjoy the unaffordable
Some housesitting assignments will take you straight into the lap of luxury - think penthouse over Central Park or reconverted millhouse in France. Sauna. Swimming pool. Indoor gym. You might be able to afford all this for a a night or two on your own but - weeks or months? Perhaps not.

And visit unaffordable destinations
Fancy a month in Norway or Japan? Have you even looked at the price of "cheap" accommodations in these countries?

A housesit is flexible
If you only have a few weeks, you'll still be able to find house sitting opportunities that are relatively short-term. But if you need a place for several months, you'll have your pick of the lot if you go about it right.

House sitting while traveling helps structure your trip
You may want to break up a long trip into chunks. Much as you may like open-ended travel, it could be reassuring to have a few firm housesitting assignments along the way, something to aim for while you're on the road.

And there are more benefits
You can road-test becoming an expat... save on the cost of food... travel the world more slowly... enjoy a staycation... experience a change of scenery

How to become a house sitter

This is where Dalene and Pete's book comes in. They take a lot of the mystery out of housesitting by providing you with clear instructions on what to do, when and how.

Here are some of the house sitting issues they tackle:

  • a comparison of the most popular housesitting services around the world
  • step-by-step instructions of how to get 'the good one'
  • how to set up the perfect housesitter's profile
  • references and why you need them
  • how to mine the word-of-mouth network
  • coping with interviews
  • the importance of having a contract
  • other fun paperwork and what to do about it
  • and so much more.

Not everyone is cut out to be a housesitter, and homeowners can be quite particular about who they choose so make sure you start your search well in advance. You'll get a better pick of houses and dates because housesitting opportunities are often assigned on a first-come first-served basis. Trusted Housesitters is an agency many housesitters recommend.

Clarify your expectations and those of the homeowner ahead of time. Some have specific requirements that you may not find suitable, like the amount of time you are expected to spend at the house. Better yet, download this questionnaire and have the owner fill it out before you take possession of the house. (Thanks to Esther Jantzen for kindly providing this great resource!)

How to Become a House-Sitter and See the World also contains extensive information on what homeowners look for in a housesitter, as well as checklists to get you started on your housesitting job - just to make sure you start off on the right foot.

There's no such thing as a (totally) free ride, right?

Sounds good so far?

It should but, like anything that seems too good to be true, you DO have some responsibilities when you move into someone else's house.

  • You might have to be a part-time pet sitter (and pets come in all shapes and sizes). This should be sorted right up front because your cat allergy will take a beating when you show up and find half a dozen felines roaming around the living room.

  • You'll be expected to water the plants. After all, that's one of the reasons people want someone in their house (in addition to keeping the house 'lived in', which is the main reason).

  • You might be asked to do a bit of gardening or weeding - again, in the spirit of keeping things from spiralling out of control. Like everything else, you need to negotiate these duties before you accept the assignment.

  • You'll actually be expected to be at home. There may be a requirement to spend every night in the house or not be away more than a specified number of hours at a time (each agency has its own rules). After all, that's the whole point: to show the house is lived in. If you disappear for the weekend and leave the house unoccupied, what's the point of a housesitter? 

  • For long term house sitting jobs, you might be asked to check the mail for invoices and other important papers (make sure those bills get paid if you don't want the wifi cut off!)

Of course, most of all, you're expected to keep the house safe. That can mean anything from closing the shutters and locking the gates at night to setting the alarm when you go out.

Whenever you feel a streak of rebelliousness creeping in at the thought of a chore or two, just look at the infinity pool or the Eiffel Tower and ask yourself: how much would all this space and luxury cost you if you had to pay for it??

Is it safe for women to housesit?

This is a key question. Like anything else related to travel, there is no broad, homogenous answer. Housesitting is as safe as being at home or in a hotel. BUT - there are certain precautions to take.

  • If you're not extremely accustomed to pets, don't take a housesit with a large dog. I have two dogs and would only allow someone with extensive dog caring and even training experience to watch my boys - they're volatile and could get anxious with strangers in the house.

  • Apply the same rules you would when meeting someone for the first time. If you're out, DON'T tell anyone you're housesitting on your own. That tells them a) the owner is away and b) you're alone. Say you're staying with friends, so people will assume you already have a local support system.

  • Be very careful in choosing where you're staying. That 'rural delight' might have you out in the middle of nowhere in a foreign country, with no help at hand should you need it. Or in a city, you could be somewhere dangerous without even knowing it. Once you're in touch with an owner, find out which neighborhood the house is in before you sign up. 

Sometimes things go 'a little wrong'...

From Tamsin G. of Walking Without a Donkey: I 'sat' a house near Valencia, Spain, a perfect ranch of a place for a month in July - very hot! There were chickens, 2 dogs and pet fish inside and out, not to mention the huge spiders and a poor little hedgehog I discovered swimming for dear life in the swimming pool! On the first day I walked the dogs in the gorgeous Sierra Calderona, having been assured that leads were not necessary. They were the opposite of road trained. I had to flag cars down to stop them being run over and beg for help (which no-one offered) and so grab them, phone someone I had never met before, sit in a lay-by and wait to be rescued. Within 3 days I watched 2 goldfish die, and after cooking scrambled eggs and green beans for the aforementioned hedgehog (that's what it said on the internet) it had scarpered. At least the chickens were still alive when the owners returned!! Unbelievably I have signed up again and this time they have 3 dogs and a ...snake. 

...or a little bit right

From Rochelle W.: My best housesitting gig was for over a year in a 13-room house with gardener and maid included in San Miguel De Allende, Mexico...

  • Make sure you have all the phone numbers you need: the owners, the emergency (try to get a number where people speak English if you don't speak the local language), and your nearest embassy or consulate emergency help line. Normally the house phone will be available for emergencies but if it's not, use your cell. This is one instance in which you should forget about roaming costs and get the help you need.

  • Before you take the property, ask the owners for introductions to nearby neighbors or friends. You'll get a better sense of being at home if you have neighbors you can call on if you ever need to.

  • Use proper house or home sitting services dedicated to housesitting because they vet owners and housesitters by providing layers of verification and reviews. Have a look at this verification explanation from Trusted Housesitters.

A final piece of advice: remember, this is someone's actual home. A friend of mine had someone housesit recently who left wine stains everywhere, broke things - and didn't even have the courtesy to point any of this out when my friend came home. Don't be one of those!

So yes, housesitting is not perfect. But then, neither is an expensive hotel or a loud hostel. If I'm low on funds and would like to stay somewhere for a while and get to know a place deeply, I can't think of a better way to do it than house sitting abroad.

If you have any advice to offer or comments to make, please do so below... thank you!

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