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I’ve been meaning to write a How to Become a House Sitter post like this for ages. Whenever we tell people about house sitting, and our experiences taking care of cats and dogs and living like locals all over Europe, people are understandably curious, and almost always ask us how we do it.
A few months ago, we were in Canada talking to my dad and his partner about how much we love house sitting, and they – of course – asked us for the names of the websites we use, and our best tips for getting started as housesitters.
I added it to my list of things to do. And then things got busy, and I forgot to write the post.
This past week, two things happened that made me bump this post back to the top of my priority list: 1) I had a Skype call with the founder of Nomador.com, a housesitting website we’ve used for awhile, but deserves way more attention than it’s gotten up to this point, and 2) I received a Facebook message from a reader who wants to start house sitting next year, and was looking for tips to get started.
Rather than responding to the reader via Facebook, I told her to sit tight for a day or two, and promised I’d write a post about all our best housesitting tips.
What Is House Sitting?
Housesitting means different things to different people, but for us it’s an in-kind exchange between the homeowners and housesitters, whereby housesitters live in and care for the homeowner’s home, plants and animals, and associated admin (such as the mail), while the homeowners are away.
Sometimes housesitting involves more than simply living in the house and taking care of animals. For example, we’ve seen positions advertised that also involve greeting guests at a B&B, or completing a project in the garden, for example. Each scenario is different, and it’s up to the house sitters and homeowners to come to an agreement they both think is fair.
Sometimes, housesitting assignments are paid — these are typically the ones that involve more work. Conversely, sometimes homeowners ask the housesitters to pay for the utilities or other services they use while living in their house. Often, but not always, this type of arrangement happens during longer house sits lasting 6 months or a year.
We’ve never done a housesit that involves paying to stay or being paid to stay. For us, it’s always a straight-up exchange whereby we take care of the home, pets, plants and mail, in exchange for staying in the homeowner’s home while they’re away, and getting a chance to explore the local way of life!
So….House Sitting is FREE Accommodation Around the World?
Yes. And no. Of course, being able to cut down on travel costs is one appeal of housesitting, and it’s impossible to ignore the draw.
But housesitting is also so much more than free accommodation.
Housesitting has allowed us to experience local, non-tourist life in many different countries, getting to know local people and ways of life in the places we’ve stayed. We’ve also made friends with some of the homeowners we’ve housesat for, and enjoy staying in touch with them long after our housesit is complete. Finally, we love being able to spend weeks and months at a time with pets, which we don’t get when we’re staying in hotels and Airbnbs.
We really believe that if all you care about is getting free accommodation, you’re probably not going to enjoy housesitting. You need to be open to the connections and relationships that come along with it, otherwise the requirement for regular homeowner communications, and the idiosyncrasies of living abroad in non-tourist areas might make you miserable.
Where Can I Find Housesitting Assignments?
Nomador has been around for a few years now, operating mostly in Europe. If you dream of living in Paris for a month, Nomador is the site for you: they have a tonne of housesitting assignments in Paris, the rest of France, and also throughout Europe. They’re starting to expand internationally, as well, and we expect they’ll have an even larger collection of international housesitting opportunities soon.
We’ve been using Nomador for about a year now, and there’s a few things we like about it. First of all, you can join for free with their Discovery Option option, which makes it a perfect choice when you’re first getting started with housesitting. Without committing to anything, you can apply for up to 3 housesits and see what happens. If you want to apply for more, you can upgrade to the Confidence Option , which is USD $35 per quarter, or $89 per year.
We also like Nomador because it’s focused on the community, rather than transactional, aspect of housesitting. We know this because we’ve spoken with Nomador’s founder, and because we write for the Nomador blog. Basically, Nomador’s values align with what we think housesitting is all about.
Finally, Nomador just started offering a new and pretty cool Stopovers concept, whereby you can stay with other community members for a night or two when you’re in their city. The idea behind stopovers is to meet other members of Nomador, and experience their city with them as a host! We haven’t tried Stopovers yet, but plan to do so soon!
TrustedHousesitters is probably the largest and most well-known house-sitting website out there, which has both benefits and drawbacks.
On the plus side, because Trusted Housesitters is so popular, there are a lot of housesitting opportunities to choose from. We regularly receive more than 20 email notifications per day alerting us to housesitting opportunities in our selected countries of interest, and there’s always something that makes us click to learn more.
Another benefit of Trusted Housesitters: it’s an intuitive and comprehensive website. It’s really easy to create a profile, add photos, and track reviews from your housesitting experiences over time. As a Trusted Housesitters member, you’ll also get access to all the new housesitting assignments 24 hours before they “go live” on the website.
Because Trusted Housesitters is so popular, however, it also means there is a lot of competition for the “best” housesitting experiences. It’s unlikely (although not impossible) that you’re going to land a month in downtown New York, Rome, or Paris on Trusted Housesitters until you’ve built up some experience and references.
It’s also comparatively expensive to the other sites at USD $99 per year. Now, when you consider Geoff and I have saved tens of thousands of dollars on accommodation by housesitting, $99 per year doesn’t seem like a huge deal. However, if you’re just kicking tires, it might seem like a hefty investment.
Mind My House is the site we secured our very first housesitting assignment with, and we’ve continued to use it with success ever since.
Unlike Trusted Housesitters, the membership cost for Mind My House is minimal, at only USD $20 per year. For us, that’s a no brainer, and we renew our membership promptly every year.
There’s also much less competition on Mind My House than there is on Trusted Housesitters. There are fewer housesitters vying for the available housesits, and there are fewer homeowners posting assignments. So while there’s less to choose from, it’s also easier to secure an assignment, especially when you’re just starting out.
Other Housesitting Websites
The three websites listed above — Nomador, Trusted Housesitters, and Mind My House — are the three websites we personally subscribe to, use on a regular basis, and recommend.
There are more, however, to choose from. The other housesitting websites we know about include:
Luxury Housesitting — We tried this site, but didn’t have much luck with it. We found most of the sites were in the US, which wasn’t as helpful for us.
Housesit Mexico — As the name implies, this site is dedicated to Mexico. It’s been recently re-launched, and seems like a good option if you’re, you know, looking for a house sit in Mexico
House Carers — We subscribed to this in the beginning, but didn’t find it to have as many options as the three we now subscribe to.
How Can I Get Started With Housesitting?
Create a Strong Housesitting Profile
On each of the housesitting websites, it’s possible to create a housesitting profile where you introduce yourself to potential homeowners. Your housesitting profile is basically like your housesitting résumé — use it to make a good first impression, and to make it to the next stage of housesitter screening!
Introduction — Who you are, what you do, and why you’re interested in housesitting. In our profile, we mention that we are previous homeowners and that we have had dogs and cats throughout our lives, and we explain our lifestyle as nomads. We also tell prospective homeowners that we spend many of our days at home, so they know we’ll be with their pets more often than not, and we explain our work and business.
Pet and Home Care Experience — In this section, we list our housesitting experience, including the animals we’ve cared for, and different situations we’ve had to deal with, such as pet emergencies. When we were just getting started, we talked about times we’ve cared for friends’ pets and apartments in the past, and spoke about our own pets and home.
International Experience & Languages — We like to mention that we’ve both lived abroad, as well as list the languages we’re comfortable with. I think this helps to put homeowners’ minds at ease knowing it’s not your first trip abroad, or that you’ve had experience buying groceries or managing a repair in a foreign country.
Photos — When selecting pictures to include in your profile, choose pictures that show you with animals. It’s one thing to SAY you love animals, but it’s an entirely different thing to show pictures of you walking a dog, cuddling with a cat, or feeding horses or chickens.
Video — When we were just getting started, we shot a video to introduce ourselves to prospective homeowners. Now, we look back at the video and cringe (it was REALLY cheesy), but it worked at the time. In lieu of many references and experience, I think it helped for homeowners to be able to see us in a video before making a decision.
Apply to Housesits
Once you’ve set up your profile on each of your chosen housesitting websites, you can start applying to housesitting assignments.
Set Up Email Alerts — Each housesitting website has a different system to alert you to new assignments, but most (if not all) offer email alerts for new opportunities in different countries. We set up daily or as-it-happens email alerts for the countries we’re interested in housesitting in, which allows us to stay on top of current opportunities.
Apply ASAP — In our experience, our success or failure in getting selected for a housesitting assignment often has as much to do with our experience and profile, as it does with how quickly we apply. We’ve found that if we apply to a housesit as soon as it is posted (often, that’s before it even makes it into an email alert), we have a good chance of getting it. me of the most plum assignments — a month in Rome, or a few weeks in Valencia — get hundreds of responses from interested housesitters.
Truth is, some of the most plum assignments — a month in Rome, or a few weeks in Valencia — get hundreds of responses from interested housesitters, and homeowners overwhelmed by the response often go through applications chronologically.
Note that there is no standard timeline for when homeowners post opportunities: sometimes, they are posted a year in advance, and other times one day in advance!
Ask Questions — Just because a housesit seems perfect, doesn’t mean it is, and it’s best for everyone if you figure that out before the housesit begins, or before you make a commitment you can’t keep.
When applying to a housesit, I always introduce us and say what we do for a living, explain our housesitting experience and offer to provide references when required, and ask questions about the home, town, and pets.
In addition to ensuring you know what you’re getting yourself into, asking questions about the home and pets shows you’re interested in finding the right fit, and are in it for more than free accommodation.
Try to Skype — We’ve rarely accepted housesitting positions without Skyping with the homeowners first, because we want to get a feeling for who they are, what they’re like, and whether we’re a match. Housesitting is a leap of faith for both the housesitters and the homeowners, and it’s important to make sure you’re comfortable with the situation before committing.
Listen to Your Gut — Finally, realize that housesitting isn’t perfect, and it’s possible to end up in a less than ideal situation. While that hasn’t happened to us, several of our friends have had bad experiences housesitting, and it’s certainly possible it will happen to us in the future.
When we were living in Prague, a housesit came up in Leipzig, Germany — a city we’d really like to visit. When we saw the email alert, we were both excited…until we read the posting. It read like a list of demands and rules, rather than a request for help or opportunity to build a relationship. We decided not to apply to that one, and while we’ll never know if it was the right decision, we’re still happy we did.
Don’t Get Discouraged — It took us a long time to get our first housesit, and when we did, it was a stroke of good timing on our parts that sealed the deal. Even now, with almost 10 housesits under our belt, and just as many glowing references, we probably only hear back from homeowners one in every 10 or 15 applications we make. The key is to simply keep going, and not get discouraged!
Further Reading & Resources
E-Book: How to Become a Housesitter
If you want more info, our friends and fellow Canadians Pete and Dalene Heck of Hecktic Travels have literally written the book on housesitting! You can get an ereader, Kindle, or PDF version here.
There are several Facebook groups dedicated to housesitting, and they’re a good resource for asking questions and chatting with other housesitters, and with homeowners. Housesitting Cafe and Housesitting World are two of them, but you can find more by doing a search in Facebook.
Housesitting Cautionary Stories
As I noted above, we’ve had nothing but positive experiences, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t at least a possibility that we’ll get a “dud” one day. It’s worth doing your research and reading what others have experienced while housesitting — both the good and the bad — so you go in with eyes wide open.
I’ve linked below to some cautionary tales, not to discourage you from trying housesitting, but so you can learn from others who’ve gone before you.
- Our friend Jessica and her husband Brent experienced legal trouble following their housesit in Spain.
- In this post on Twenty-Something Travel, Jessica gives a balanced opinion on the highs and lows of housesitting.
- Nomadic Chick found herself with a flea infestation to deal with while housesitting in Amsterdam.
- Hecktic Travels on dealing with the tragic death of a pet while housesitting
We love housesitting, and wouldn’t recommend it if we didn’t. Hopefully this post answered any questions you might have about getting started with housesitting, but if it didn’t leave a comment!