This is part 1 of a series on housesitting and was updated on September 14, 2016. Make sure to read part 2.
I have been getting a lot of questions about housesitting lately, so I figured I’d do a post with my tips, experiences, information on which sites I use, etc.
Housesitting offers many positive benefits. Here are just some of them.
- “Free” accommodation. This is one of the biggest benefits. We saved a ton of money during our housesit in Morocco. In Thailand, the savings enabled us to take care of some other needs, like dental care for Tigger, while being able to splurge on eating out more and at some nicer places than we typically enjoy.It isn’t just for travelers. I’ve read articles from people who use housesits as their primary residence in an area. Often homeowners have needs at regular intervals, and obviously they prefer to use someone they already know. They have friends who need a housesitter. . . You get the idea.
- Living more like a local. Some housesits are more “local” than others, but generally we’ve lived surrounded by locals. It really gives you an opportunity to learn more about the culture, see what life is really like in a place, and to feel like a small part of a community. In Thailand, we’ve really enjoyed being able to escape the tourist hordes, and we have a beach (which is just a few footsteps from our patio) practically to ourselves.
- Getting a pet fix. Not all housesits involve caring for pets, and you can specify with sites if you don’t want to take care of animals. Granted, you won’t find as many available assignments, but they do exist. For long-term traveling animal lovers who are doing it sans pets, it’s a great way to have temporary pets. We grew very fond of the dogs we cared for in Mexico and Morocco. The cats in Thailand have to be rehomed since their humans are moving back to Australia, and it isn’t possible to move with the cats. One of the cats is being rehomed to some American friends we met in Ecuador, so we have another level of connection with them, and with the kitty Nugget. We get to have the joy of loving and being loved by pets while still being able to travel without the challenges of having permanent pets.
- A unique way to do long-term or slow travel. We’ve been to some places we probably never would have otherwise because of assignments. For example, spending 2 months living in an oasis in southern Morocco, which was one of the highlights of my life and was also life changing. We have an upcoming housesit in New Zealand which will enable us to spend more time in that country, and to do so in a non-touristy area. Because we’ve stayed put in an area for a longer period of time, we’ve had experiences that are just so much richer.
- Allows a nice break. We have periods where travel is more fast paced and hectic. It’s really nice to be able to be in a home where we can unpack our suitcases and just kind of settle in. We can take our time exploring the area and seeing the sights rather than feeling pressured to get everything in before it’s time to go to the next location.
- Extending your time in a popular area. Some housesits are in very expensive locations, like Paris and Hawaii. Some of these areas can put a serious drain on your bank account, and you may have to spend much less time there than you’d like. However, a housesit can make it extremely affordable and allow you to stay in an area for significantly longer than you could otherwise afford.
There are several options for sites, and they can vary quite a bit depending on the region. For US sits, I have had the best experiences with Housecarers.com (HC). They’re also good if you’re looking for sits in Australia and New Zealand.
For UK sits, it’s hard to beat Trusted House Sitters (THS). However, they also have a ton of sits all over the world. We also use Mind My House (MMH) quite a bit. In my opinion, THS is #1. It has a lot of offerings, pretty good search functionality, and allows you have to references that homeowners can review (as does Housecarers). I generally get more responses from homeowners using THS than the other sites, even if it’s just to say they’re considering everyone and will let you know.
MMH’s search function is extremely basic and requires more of your time. They do have alerts that get emailed to you with new housesits, so I tend to rely on those more.
With MMH, I often never hear back from a homeowner. We did get our Morocco housesit through them; however, the homeowners found us through that site and contacted us directly.
MMH membership is cheaper than THS, but in my opinion this is a great example of you get what you pay for.
Bottom line: Definitely sign up with THS. Check out the MMH and HC sites before you decide, do a search on locations you’d be interested in, see what the offerings are, etc.
Things to consider
- Length of assignment. Six months on an island in the middle of the Pacific may sound extremely glamorous, but if you’ve never lived in a very remote location before, especially for long periods of time, really consider if you’re sure you can handle it. If after a week on the road you MUST have a hamburger, remote island life may make you absolutely nuts. I adored life on the oasis, but by the time 2 months was up, I needed something besides the limited range of southern Moroccan cuisine. And I could’ve killed to get decent WiFi.After doing two 2-month housesits, we changed our optimum to 4-6 weeks. For us and where we are right now travel-wise, 2 months is just too long to be in one spot, especially if there isn’t a lot to see and experience, and if we can’t break away with side trips. Some things can improve that feeling, like if we have access to motorized transportation, but we’ve decided 6 weeks is about our tops currently. Unless it’s in a HIGHLY desirable location, but even then I’m not sure we’d go for something longer.
- Inability to get away. Your job is to take care of their home and their pets. You may not be able to get away for a weekend or an overnighter. This can be negotiable, but if it’s important to you, make sure you get that approved with the homeowner before you accept the assignment. In Morocco, they simply cannot have the house empty overnight. We had worked out being able to take a few days away from the oasis ahead of time. We just had to pay their handyman to stay there at night and to take care of the animals (1 dog, 2 rabbits, and 5 chickens) while we were away. That worked out quite well, and when we did take a 3-day trip, it was exactly what we needed. Not everyone is going to be that flexible, though, so make sure you have that settled ahead of time.
- Living arrangements. Everyone has a different level of what are acceptable living conditions. Some assignments are taking care of properties that are quite luxurious, while others may be much more humble. Be honest with yourself about what you can feel comfortable with. You’re going to be living there for a while, and you can’t simply leave because you don’t like the layout or didn’t realize that the water heater is on demand and never gets above lukewarm. Don’t be afraid to ask questions! If a homeowner is bothered by you asking, there’s a good chance you don’t want to work with them. It’s much better to go into something completely aware than blind. If their ad had minimal to no photos, don’t be shy about asking for additional pictures. The assignment may only be 3 weeks, but if you feel like you’re living in hell, it can seem like years.Our housesit amenities in Morocco were sometimes a bit above camping, but we knew that going into it. Internet is important to me because I work online. I knew ahead of time they only had 3G service and how much it would cost per month. For that assignment it was acceptable, for another I turned it down because the options were too expensive and inconvenient.Everyone has different needs. Don’t feel bad if hot water is one of your non-negotiables.
- Utilities. Some homeowners want you to pay for some or all of the utilities during the housesit. My feeling is this: If they wouldn’t cancel the service if we weren’t there, then I won’t pay for it. Generally, you won’t cancel your electricity, Internet, water, etc., while on vacation, so I won’t pay for those. Now, in some areas where electricity is quite expensive, asking me to pay for anything that goes above their usual I might consider. In Morocco, we had to use propane for the refrigerator, hot water, and stove. When it was time to replace the tanks, we paid for that. Since they wouldn’t be using these if they weren’t home, it’s fair to ask me to pay for that.However, remember you are also providing a service. You are taking care of their home, watering their plants and yard, taking care of their animals, etc. You aren’t just sleeping there only at night. Don’t short change yourself. On our 1st official housesit, we ended up paying for things that I wouldn’t now that I’ve had some experiences.Likewise, some homeowners try to charge you rent. That is not housesitting. Do what feels right for you, but personally I would not pay rent for a housesitting gig, especially if it comes with more responsibilities than just keeping their home lived in. A vacation rental has a much different obligation level than a housesit.
- Ask questions ahead of time. Make a checklist of the things that are important to you ahead of time. When you are in negotiation with a homeowner, make sure you cover all those issues before you accept. Once they’ve scheduled you, it really isn’t fair to them for you to back out because of some detail you overlooked. They’re putting a lot of trust in you. Some things that are important to know ahead of time:
- Will they leave you money for pet food and needs? While you may not mind being reimbursed later, only you know your budget. If you’re uncomfortable with the idea of having to wait for reimbursement, then make alternate arrangements beforehand.
- Do they expect you to pay for any of the utilities (see above).
- What about transportation? Are they close to public transportation? If you don’t plan on a car hire, you’re going to need to know this. Some homeowners will offer you use of their vehicle. Good to know either way.
- If you may have friends or family wanting to visit, are they okay with you having guests? We love to couchsurf, but I won’t offer to host couchsurfers since it isn’t my home. Unless they’re people I actually know in real life, in which case I get permission ahead of time from the homeowners.
- If yard work, pool cleaning, etc., is required, do they have people to do that already, and how will their payment be taken care of? I treat this just like I do utilities: If they would have to pay for it if I wasn’t there, then I’m not going to pay for it. If a housekeeper is optional, and I choose to have that service, then I’d happily pay for it. And I do mean happily! I have often paid for a cleaner to come in and do a thorough clean before the assignment finishes just to make sure the place is extra nice for them to come home to. If you’re a neat freak, this probably wouldn’t be an opportunity you’d want to pay for.
- If they have preferred service providers, i.e., plumbers, electricians, make sure you get a list with their contact information.
The bloggers of Hecktic Travels have written an ebook about housesitting which I highly recommend. They have some incredibly thorough checklists (as well as a discount code to join THS) in their book.
How does all of this work? Who pays for what?
There are some paid assignments, but they’re pretty rare. Generally speaking, you will provide your own transportation to where they live. I do know some people who have negotiated the cost of travel into their agreement, but that is definitely not the norm.
If you will need to make sure bills are paid as they come in, I would recommend they have funds available for you. Obviously, for shorter housesits this won’t be an issue.
Make sure to keep receipts for anything out of the ordinary, like unexpected veterinarian visits. Often homeowners will set something up with their trusted vet before they leave, but that doesn’t always happen.
Linens and towels are usually provided. Obviously, make sure you have them freshly laundered before you finish the assignment.
You’ll be expected to leave the home in at least the same condition as they left it. I usually take photos or video of a place right away. (Make sure you get their permission before sharing photos of their home on social media and/or a blog, though, and never show identifying information such as addresses, license plate numbers, etc.)
Most people will want regular updates from you via email. My general practice is to email them weekly with a brief update on the home and the pets.
Some will ask for regular Skype calls, too. I’ve seen some ads requesting weekly updates with photos and video on top of a weekly Skype video conference with their pets. Again, know your comfort level and be honest with yourself and them about it.
In the event they let you use their vehicle, you may be required to pay for your own insurance, a usage fee, etc. In Thailand, they had a scooter they were trying to sell. We ended up renting it for about $3/day so that we’d have access to it. Some homeowners will only ask that you pay for your own gas, oil, etc. If you use it, make sure you leave it nice and clean for them, though. If they have pets, make sure you know ahead of time how they feel about you bringing along their pets on rides, what their requirements are, as well as any applicable local laws (for example, dogs may not be allowed to ride in the open area of a pickup truck without a safety harness).
Check back for part 2 of my housesitting tips where I’ll include some tips on securing your assignments, what to include in your profile and communication, etc.