House Sitting Part II: Ins and Outs

housesitting dog

This post covers two topics: what makes a good house sitter and how to go about finding house-sitting gigs.

Qualities of a Good House Sitter

Flexible.  A house sitter must be able to roll with the punches. It would be nice if home owners planned ahead, but they usually do not.  The majority of house sitting ads are posted just a few weeks prior to when the owners plan to leave, therefore sitters must be able to travel on short notice.  Owners may also change the dates of departure and return.  My first house-sitting gig was supposed to last three months, but the owner returned after two.  I had to scramble to find alternative lodging in the area.

Another aspect of flexibility is housing.  It is unlikely that the sitter will find a gig in a house that has made the cover of Architectural Digest.  The house may be messy, or dirty, or falling down, or all three.  I just completed a house-sitting assignement in Paris in a house that is under construction.  The place looks more like a junkyard than a house  – one of the kitchen counters is a wooden board on top of a cardboard box.  The week before the owner returned, the frig died.  A house sitter has to be comfortable in a wide variety of settings and be able to handle whatever comes up while maintaining composure.

Reliable.  A good house sitter shows up when they say they will. They do not cancel, especially at the last minute.  They stay for the full amount of time that they have promised.

Neat and clean.   Homeowners come back to a house which is AT LEAST as clean as when they left it.  A good house sitter is likely to leave the place looking better than when she arrived.  I always try to go the extra mile for owners. My first house-sitting gig, I cleaned all the kitchen shelves and the refrigerator. When the owners of the gig I just finished in London returned, their kitchen chair and a towel rack in the bathroom had been repaired.  When the owners returned in the Paris gig this summer, they had a pot of tea, a plate of cookies and a bowl of flowers waiting for them.

Good with animals.  The primary reason that homeowners post ads is that they love their furry babies and do not want to board them.  Many owners have rescue animals.  Some of these are extremely skittish.  Older pets might need medication.  The Red Cross offers certification in pet first aid.  This certification can make a potential house sitter stand out from the crowd.

Communication.  A good house sitter stays in touch with the owners while they are away, even if there are no problems.  Regular communication goes a long way in building trust

Computer Savvy.  This is a critical skill, especially for longer sits and sits in foreign countries.  The sitter must be able to pay bills and handle personal business remotely AND have someone on the ground at their base who can handle matters that must be dealt with in person

Housesitting 101

Websites.  There are three primary house-sitting sites: trustedhousesitters.com, mindmyhouse.com and housecarers.com.  The cost to join varies.  Trusted Housesitters is the largest site.  I belong to all three.

Photos, Endorsements, Profile.  The next step is setting up a profile and getting endorsements from people you know.  I suggest you read the profiles of other house sitters first.  Look for the profiles that stand out and use those as your guides.

Monitoring Ads.  House sitters new to the game may want to get their feet wet by looking for short gigs close to home.  In any case, it is best to decide ahead the location and duration of house-sitting opportunities.  Monitoring  websites should be done early in the morning as owners quickly get innundated with applicants.  If you haven´t heard from an owner, by all means follow up.

Visa Check (International Destinations).  As soon as you have made an owner´s short list, start checking visa requirements.  The UK grants six-month tourist visas; the rest of Europe only allows tourists to stay for 90 days.  It is important to understand how the Schengen Accord affects you (https://www.schengenvisainfo.com).  Never commit to a gig that is longer than the maximum length of the tourist visa, minus any time you would like for traveling in the region.

Skype Interview.  Many owners use skype, so you will need to download the program in order to interview.  In the next post, we will cover questions to ask and red flags to watch out for.

Housesitting Part One: Pros and Cons

 

A number of people have asked me about housesitting.  This series of three articles is my take.  The first, Pros and Cons, will look at the pluses and minuses of this form of traveling.  The second, Ups and Downs, will discuss how to go about finding housesitting positions.  The third, Back and Forth, will deal with the mechanics of actually doing the job.

What constitutes positive and negative attributes depends on the person, their age, their interests, whether they are part of a couple or a solo traveler, and their personality.  This is not a one-size-fits-all activity.  Spending a month in the country may appeal to some; however, the isolation may drive others around the bend.

The Pros

  1. Traveling on the Cheap.   This summer, I spent two months living in Paris and one month living in London.  If – and that is a big if – I could have found lodging for $100 a night, this trip would have cost me $9,000.  Instead, it cost me nothing.
  2. Staying Longer.  For long-haul travelers such as myself, this is an attractive benefit of housesitting.  Sure, you can find plenty of week-long gigs, but there are also opportunities to live a significant period of time in some fascinating places, like the ad I saw yesterday for a six-month housesitting position in the Figi Islands.  I strongly prefer to spend time in a place rather than running all over getting my passport punched.  (Been there, done that.)

    Staying longer also allows you to take classes.  This summer, I studied at the Cordon Bleu Culinary Institute in Paris and at the London Institute of Photography.  The experience is completely different than dashing like a tourist from one monument to another.

  3.  

    Staying in a home versus a cramped hotel room.  I hate hotels, at least the kind of hotels I can afford.  I don´t like living out of a suitcase, and I don´t like eating out every day.  It´s expensive, I´m a cook, and I want to shop in the markets and come home and make dinner.  I like being able to wash my clothes.  Essentially, housesitting works for me because I am a homebody who travels.

  4. Seeing how other people live around the world.  This is not a curated experience.  It is the real deal, right down to the plumbing.  Seeing how people live  their lives day-to-day is an amazing experience.
  5. Furry Critters.  Traveling can be lonely, expecially for the solo long-haul traveler.  Curling up at night with a purring cat and a dog is a great way to finish any day.

The Cons

  1. There´s no free lunch.  Housesitting is a job. There are plants to water, a house to guard and animals to feed.  Sometimes there are a LOT of animals to feed.  For example, I saw an ad last week that was  looking for a pet sitter for two cats, six sheep, a flock of chickens, newly hatched chicks, two geese, ten ducks, pond fish and a partridge in a pear tree. (Just kidding about the partridge)  Another ad I saw wanted a couple to manage an bnb property in Costa Rica, including greeting guests, cleaning the rooms, making breakfast and preparing dinner if guests desired.   This was an unpaid position billed as a vacation in paradise.  More like slave labor.
  2. You will be traveling against the weather.  Housesitting positions in cold climates are plentiful in the winter, when owners like to leave.  In hot climates, housesitting gigs are plentiful in July and August.  My first housesitting job was in Tuscon, Arizona, in July and August.  In the Caribbean, housesitting positions open up about three weeks before the start of the hurrican season in June.  Three weeks ago, I saw an ad for a housesitter in Puerto Rico.  I can assure you that there were housesitters in the Virgin Islands when Harvey hit.
  3. Many positions are in isolated locations. Owners do not provide cars.  Shopping for groceries can be a test of stamina.  Renting a car is one solution, but it is expensive, $1000 per month or more in some countries.  Long periods of isolation can destroy relationships.  (Remember The Shining?)   Very few solo travelers are interested in these types of positions.
  4. Houses may be in disrepair.  Boy, is this an understatement.  When this happens, the housesitter may find themselves arranging for repairs in a foreign language and carrying the cost until the owner returns.  I have had this happen on more than one occasion.  Once, I had several major appliances go on the blink within a short time, including a water pump, dishwasher, dryer, washer, toilet, sink  and dryer.
  5. Critters.  Pets are both assets and liabilities for the housesitter.  They run away. (Ever lose a snake and find it slithering out from under the sofa cushion you are sitting on?)  They shit on your pillow (Yes, this happened to me.)  They get sick and almost die when you are in the middle of nowhere without a car.  (Last year in Equador, one of the dogs was too sick to move, so I took a video and caught a bus to the vet two hours away.  He prescribed meds.  I picked them up and took the bus back to discover that thieves had broken into the compound while I was gone.)

 

Housesitting can be a positive experience AND quite challenging.  It is worth it to understand the pros and the cons before taking a gig.  In the next article, we will talk about how to find housesitting jobs and what makes a good housesitter.