House Sitting 101
House Sitting 101
Since we discovered the ever-growing world of the shared economy over ten years ago (think Couch Surfing and Elance), we’ve loved the idea of it. One of the services we’ve used frequently to save money on lodging during our latest travels, a non-stop yearlong adventure across Europe, is house sitting, a shared economy service.
We’ve saved upwards of ten thousand dollars on lodging accommodations across Europe, including some of the most popular (and expensive!) destinations. If the cost of lodging in London, Paris, Amsterdam, Vienna, Athens, or (insert your bucket list destination here ______) intimidates you, read on! With house sitting, it’s possible to stay for free in cozy, luxury, and city center homes just about anywhere in the world!
What’s House Sitting?
House sitting is a brilliant exchange of resources, for both the house sitter and the home and pet owner! We, as house sitters, take over responsibilities when the homeowner is going out of town and we care for their home and pet(s). We keep the home in a good condition (think sparkling clean), and we feed, walk, and give general companionship to their pets. In return, we get a place to stay that has all of the amenities we need to enjoy our time and make ourselves ‘at home’. In return, the homeowner receives the benefit of keeping their home from appearing vacant and keeping their beloved pets out of a kennel. The exchange can be done at no cost to either party, or a payment can be arranged (to the sitters for their house sitting services, or from the sitters for use of the homeowner’s utilities).
What’s the Catch to House Sitting
So, if this sounds like a fantastic way to travel the world, we’d have to agree! When we first heard about house sitting as a way of world travel, we were a bit skeptical. There had to be a catch, and naturally, in a way there is. In order to enter the house sitting community and score prime house sit locations there are a few requirements potential house sitters need to fulfill.
However, don’t let this scare you away! We believe these requirements are a good thing and they’re in place to provide security measures to both sitters and home owners alike.
How to Start House Sitting
Choose a House Sitting Website
There are several house sitting services available online and picking one can be a bit daunting at first. To make things easier for yourself, remember that websites mainly differ based on their focus (location, type of pets, luxury, inn keeping, etc.) and on the house sitter’s experience level. For beginners, we’d suggest starting with a site that has a worldwide assortment of house sits and is simple to use. Again, there are many options available, but our two recommendations for beginners are Trusted House Sitters and Mind My House.
- TrustedHousesitters.com – House sits are available all over the world and dozens of new ones are listed daily. In our experience, the site is user friendly and customer service is attentive. Although, the popularity and size of this site means there can be significant competition for house sits in popular cities. On the flip side, new house sitting assignments are constantly being added, so there are always fresh opportunities. In our case, the majority of our house sits have been through Trusted House Sitters. Membership for sitters is $119 per year.
- Mindmyhouse.com – House sits are located all over the world with several new ones listed daily. In our humble opinion, the site is well designed, although it lacks some of the refinements and features that Trusted House Sitters has. From what we’ve seen, house sits listed on Mind My House are usually longer in duration and in smaller cities (for example, think Sacramento instead of San Francisco, or think Manchester instead of London). However, don’t let that dissuade you from joining, we’ve seen plenty of assignments listed in major cities as well. We’ve done a couple of house sits on this site and think it’s a great place to start because of the low cost of membership. An annual membership is only $20.
Set Up a Sitter Profile that Stands Out
Once you join a house sitting website, the first step to getting noticed, is creating a profile. The time and effort you put into creating your profile will strongly dictate how successful your house sitting experience will be. In other words, think of it like applying for a job. Just as a job listing gets several, or perhaps dozens of applicants, so do house sitting assignments. Your resume is your sitter profile, so the better it is, the more you’ll stand out among other applicants.
Tips for the Best House Sitter Profile:
- Fill out all sections of the profile. A complete profile is one that immediately indicates to the homeowner your level of commitment and ability to follow instructions.
- Let your personality shine through. You want the homeowner to get a feeling of who you are.
- Include detail and provide examples when possible. Being brief or ambiguous only leaves the homeowner with more questions.
- Keep it professional. Homeowners are entrusting you with their pets and home, so they want to know you’re responsible and capable.
- It’s a personal choice to use slang, texting language, or emoticons. Keep in mind, the way you communicate reflects directly on you and is subject to the homeowner’s biases, good or bad.
- Be prepared for Skype interviews. Be sure you have a webcam and create a Skype account before you start trying to find house sits. You don’t want to lose out on an opportunity because you can’t interview for it!
Verify Your Identity
Verifications work differently on each house sitting service. Some websites have them built-in and can include different levels of security verifications, from basic confirmation of email and phone, all the way to criminal background checks. Other sites provide the ability to upload verification documents and/or have sections on your profile to indicate what verifications you can provide to homeowners on request. What types and how many verifications you complete is a personal choice, however homeowners look favorably on those who have them. On the other hand, we’ve been asked to do well over a dozen house sits, and have never done more than basic verifications.
Previous House Sitting References and Reviews
This is the most daunting task for beginners. It’s the classic dichotomy that every college graduate finds themselves in when looking for their first job, how do you fill the requirement of ‘previous experience required’, if all jobs require ‘previous experience’?
So, how do you get a review if you haven’t house sat before? Fortunately, there are a couple of strategies that can help.
First, seek out character references. When we started out, we asked and received references from our apartment property owner and our professional contacts (employer, co-workers, clients, etc.). We then asked a friend if we could house sit for her when she went on her next vacation. When she gave us the opportunity, we took caring for her home and pets very seriously, and in return we earned a great review that we included on our profile.
Ultimately, the goal is to help a homeowner feel confident in your ability to care for their home and pets. The more detail you’re able to incorporate into your profile, including verifications, reviews, and references, the more it’ll showcase your level of responsibility, commitment, trustworthiness, and experience. However, don’t stress out about references too much, include what you can, and from there it only takes one house sit to get your first review. Trust us, if you’re committed to seeing the world while house sitting, before you know it, you’ll have dozens of reviews.
How to Find and Get a Great House Sit
Once you’ve created an awesome house sitter profile that helps you standout, homeowners can find you and inquire about your services. However, waiting for a homeowner to contact you probably won’t get you very far, very fast. Generally, the house sitting community works with homeowners creating a listing with all the details of what they’re looking for. The listing often includes the location, assignment dates, home and pet pictures, and expected responsibilities, tasks, and requirements. In turn, sitters find these listings through searches on their preferred house sitting website and/or through emails sent out with new listings.
Finding the perfect house sit is more than just applying for everything you come across. If you have the feeling that you need to apply for everything you see, set that need aside for the moment. Just as not every job is a good fit, neither is every house sit. The trick is to know what you want ahead of time and to make sure the listings you’re applying for meet those requirements. Also, when reviewing possible house sit opportunities, be sure to consider the cost of transportation to and from the home, as well as living expenses while there. Over time and with more experience, what you’re looking for will evolve and you’ll refine your selection process.
Once you’ve found a great house sit, it’s time to apply! Do keep in mind that the listing is public and accessible to thousands of other sitters who’ve more than likely also viewed the same great listing. The sooner you apply, the closer to the top of the ‘stack’ your application will be. Being one of the first few applicants can be a huge advantage!
Every time you apply for a house sit, you have the opportunity to send a personalized message to the homeowner, and in turn, they’re able to review your profile. Think of your initial message to the homeowner as your cover letter when applying for a job. It’s the first thing the homeowner will see and it can make or break your chances of getting the house sit. Write a message with your application that stands out by following these guidelines:
- Don’t copy and paste the same application letter for every listing.
- If applicable, respond to any questions or reference information they put in their listing, letting them know you read the entire listing.
- If they gave specific requirements in their listing, let them know that you can perform them.
- Personalize the message by using their name and their pet’s name.
- ‘Switch shoes’ for a moment and write your application message from a homeowner’s perspective. What would make you feel confident that a sitter was a good fit for your home and pet?
How to Have a Great House Sit Experience
The house sit experience begins the moment you send your initial application message and continues until you turn back over the house keys and formally complete the house sit. Naturally, you want to have a great house sit, and so does the homeowner, in other words consider it a partnership. So, a successful house sit, in our opinion, is the agreed upon exchange of services by both parties, and where everyone is satisfied and enjoyed the experience. Once the house sit is complete, both parties leave a review, and of course, a positive review will help you get new house sits in the future. Here are our recommendations to help ensure you do everything you can on your end to have a successful house sit:
- Before committing to a house sit, ask any and all questions you may have. For example, you’ll likely want to know what the feeding and walking schedule of their dog is, or how often they’d like the litter box cleaned. This helps prevent unwanted surprises down the road, for both you and the homeowner.
- Check your intentions. House sitting isn’t just about a free place to stay; you’ll be caring for someone’s most prized possessions.
- Communication is paramount. Stay in regular communication leading up to the house sit, especially if the house sit is planned well in advance. Also, during the house sit, don’t be afraid to send pictures or video messages, and of course, if something unexpected happens, reach out to the homeowner right away.
- Don’t over commit yourself. If there’s something you can’t do, or are uncomfortable doing, let the homeowner know upfront.
- Arrive to the house sit before the homeowners leave and stay until they get home. Go a step further and stay a day extra on each end of the house sit. While it’s not always possible, this is conducive of a smooth transition, allowing for a review of all responsibilities and expectations, face-to-face.
- Emergencies and accidents happen. Be sure to have all necessary contact information, including veterinary and emergency contact information. If something happens, contact the owners right away, and if you accidently break something (it happens!), replace or fix it, and let the homeowners know.
- Leave the home in the same condition that it was when it was turned over to you. Homeowners always appreciate coming home to a well-cared for and clean house!
- Make the experience for the homeowner even better by providing a special touch. Use your knowledge and skills to your advantage. Consider making a gift, doing handy work around the home, or anything else that will show your care and dedication.
- Finally, don’t be shy about asking for a positive review (if you deserve it of course!). Just like you, homeowners are busy, and settling back in after a trip can take up all of their resources. Therefore, it’s not uncommon to need to gently and kindly remind them for a review.
House sitting may not be as easy as booking a hotel room or Airbnb, but in our humble opinion, it’s well worth the effort and one of the best ways to travel for free. Creating a thorough and professional house sitting profile can open the doors to destinations all over the world. For us, house sitting is a way to visit different cities, but more importantly, it’s a way that we’ve made new friends, both human and animal, from around the world!
About Screw the Average – We’re extreme. We’re highly analytical, we live and act with purpose and we have huge goals. Our blog is meant to document our journey. It’s full of ideas, tips and solutions. Join us as we share our challenges, our stories and our goals.