The Beginner’s Guide to House Sitting

December 18, 2013

Note: This is a guest post from James Cave, who house sits along with his partner Jemma. To date they’ve looked after more than 50 animals throughout Europe – everything from cats and dogs to turtles and even a farm of alpacas. 🙂

6be8a02214bf1477986f13d5cb3fe9c7One of the biggest trends in travel right now is house sitting.  If you’re not familiar with the concept of house sitting, don’t worry: it’s pretty simple. House sitting involves looking after someone else’s property while they’re away, in exchange for free accommodation.

It’s a great way to enjoy a rent-free sabbatical: there are house sits all over the world. House sitting has given me the chance to live in the South of France, in Portugal, and in Spain: and I’ve been offered opportunities in places like Singapore and the Caribbean too.

If that’s piqued your interest, read on.

What’s involved in house sitting?

Every house sit is different. You can get a good idea of just how different they are by browsing through the latest house sitting assignments on Trusted Housesitters. During my ‘career’ as a house sitter I’ve experience all kinds of house sits: modern apartments, ramshackle chateaux, you name it.

One of my first house sits was in a cosy one bedroom flat in Edinburgh, looking after two house cats. All I had to do was empty their litter tray. The hardest house sit in terms of work was on a farm in the French countryside, where I was responsible for nineteen alpacas, seven cats, and a ten bedroom mansion.

Needless to say, when you’re applying for house sits it’s a good idea not to bite off more than you can chew.

What are the benefits of house sitting?

Free accommodation isn’t the only benefit that comes with being a house sitter. One of the biggest draws for me is the ability to really become part of a community.

When you stay in a hostel you don’t really have the chance to meet many locals, but when you take over someone’s home you take on their neighbours and friends as well. I’ve been invited to Christmas parties, hunting society dinners, and made some life-long friends.

It’s also a great way to practice your language skills. I’ve become very good at answering French telesales people, chatting to cashiers in Spanish supermarkets, and explaining medical problems to Portuguese vets.

For animal lovers like me, the pet sitting aspect is a big bonus. Having a dog or a cat while you’re traveling long term isn’t a viable option, but when as a house sitter you get all the pleasure of a furry friend without any of the logistical nightmares.

How to get started as a house sitter

Firstly, create a profile on a house sitter website, being sure to put as much information about yourself as possible and as many photos as possible.

Pro tip: Add a photo of you with pets. It’s amazing how many people add photos of themselves on holidays which gives off the vibe that all they want from the exchange is a free holiday.

Once you’ve got an account, it’s time to fill in your profile. Fill it in as much as you can: having a picture is a good way to build rapport with home-owners. Having a police background check and some references will also make home owners more likely to employ you.

Take a look at some of the top house & pet sitters on to get an idea of what should go in your profile. Looking at the top 15, some things that jump out include:

  • Start with what you can offer the homeowner rather than what you want to get out of the experience (e.g. a free holiday). As an example, I work from home meaning I will definitely be around the pets five days a week. I mention this as it sets me apart slightly from some of the other sitters.
  • If you own a home (or pet) mentioning that you understand how difficult it would be to leave your house or animals in someone else’s care. It’s a good way to bond with homeowners from the word go.
  • Mention any pets you currently own or have owned.
  • Have you looked after a pool before? A lot of house sits in warmer countries come with pool responsibilities and a little experience here will help you stand out.
  • If you’re a non-smoker or non-drinker, it’s worth mentioning this as well.

T o get references, start by pet sitting for friends and family members and ask them to recommend you. Once you have a bit of experience, apply for a couple of house sits in your city or nearby. This is a good way to figure out whether living in a stranger’s house really is for you, before committing to a six month sit in the middle of the French countryside.

Because house sitting is so popular, sometimes a home owner won’t reply to you when you email them to apply. The most important thing is not to let that get you down. There’s a house sit out there for everyone, and if you keep trying you’re sure to find your dream assignment.

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