Whether it’s for the occasional getaway to explore a new location, or a full time way to avoid paying rent, house sitting is growing in popularity across the globe.
“It’s like free Airbnb,” my partner said when I brought him along to meet the owner and pets at a prospective sit. It was early 2019, and he was jumping on board the house sitting train with me. We’d recently come up with a plan to buy a camper van to fit out and live in, and in the meantime we figured we’d live in other people’s houses.
It really is like free Airbnb in a lot of ways. As long as you’re willing to look after other people’s houses and pets as if they were your own, you can line up sits and live rent free in great locations indefinitely.
In 2019 my partner and I stayed in fifteen different houses and looked after a total of 21 chickens, 15 dogs, 8 cats, 6 cows, 5 geese, 4 sheep, and one horse.
Here are my top five tips for getting the most out of the house sitting life:
Be open and honest in your profile and all your communications with homeowners. They are considering leaving their home and their precious pets in the care of a stranger — the more you seem like a real person to them, the more chance you have of getting the gig.
Meet Them First
Where possible, arrange to meet the homeowner in the home before confirming the sit. This gives them a chance to become more comfortable with you, while also giving you the chance to check the place out first. If you’re a clean freak and the place is filthy, you might want to politely decline the sit.
Have a Way Out
If you do manage to meet the homeowner and check out the home before making the commitment, make sure you have a ready excuse to decline. Telling someone you won’t look after their home and pet because their house looks and smells like a rebellious teenager’s bedroom is awkward at best.
Have a reason to say no — you got two offers at the same time and are looking for the right one, you’re waiting to hear if you need to take your elderly mother/grandmother/aunt to the hospital at the time of the sit and if so you need to stay with her, you’re not sure your car would fit in the drive, whatever. Just have something in mind that gives you a way out. If there’s two of you, have a code word or phrase so you know if the other person has a bad feeling.
Honour Your Commitment
If you make a commitment to look after someone’s home and pets, stick to it. Pulling out of a house sit because you got a better offer is not okay, and you won’t do yourself any favours if you keep doing this. Of course, there are acceptable reasons to cancel a sit. I have done it once due to a family emergency, and as long as you give as much notice as possible, homeowners are very understanding. But the more you can honour your commitments, the better your reputation will be. Homeowners have friends who also need sitters; we have gotten a lot of great sits through referrals. Become a trusted and reliable sitter and you won’t have any problem finding places to stay.
Trust Your Gut
Above all, your personal safety must come first. If something doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t. Before my partner joined me I house sat alone, and there was one occasion where I felt decidedly uncomfortable. It was a two bedroom apartment, and the owner was an elderly woman with an equally elderly dog that needed looking after while she was away. She warned me that her adult son might pop over with some medicine for the dog from time to time, which I said was fine. What he actually did was pop over and declare he was spending ‘a night or two’ in the other bedroom to keep an eye on the dog, which was absolutely not fine.
He was a stranger to me, and a bit creepy, if I’m honest. I spent the first night he was there awake the whole time and with a chair under the door handle. Nothing happened, but I didn’t stick around to experience a second night in his company. I figured if he could spend a couple of nights there because the dog was sick and needed whatever herbal medicine he was giving it, then he could look after the dog for the rest of his mother’s absence as well. Yes, I broke the commitment I made to the woman, but my own personal safety always comes first.
House sitting isn’t for everyone, but under the right circumstances it can be a great way to live cheap while exploring your country.
You can even go global — the sky really is the limit!