HOUSE SITTING FOR BEGINNERS – WHAT IS HOUSE SITTING?
10 January 2018
10 January 2018
So you’ve heard about house sitting. About how it can be a great way to travel, to experience life as a local and, at the same time, enjoy free accommodation. And you’re wondering if it’s something you might like to try yourself.
Just one problem. You don’t know where to start.
The good news is that you’re in the right place. As full-time house sitters for the past 18 months, we’ve grown to appreciate how the concept really works. Not just through our own experiences, but also through talking to homeowners and other experienced sitters, too. And now we’d like to share what we’ve learned with you.
So, in this first of a three-part series, we’ll explain to you what house sitting is all about and how you can determine if it’s for you. And in the two parts that follow, we’ll take you through the steps for securing your first assignment, and provide you with tips on how to build your reputation as the perfect house sitter.
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What exactly is house sitting?
Basically, it’s a “quid pro quo” arrangement by which volunteers (house sitters) look after the homes and pets of homeowners while they’re away in return for rent-free accommodation.
Usually, the homeowner, or “host”, will also cover the cost of utilities such as gas, electric, internet etc. So, as a house sitter, your financial commitment is effectively limited to your own transportation and living costs. Where the host does need a financial contribution, they will usually stipulate as such in their listing.
What’s in it for the homeowner?
On the face of it, if you were a homeowner you might think there are too many risks associated with letting complete strangers into your home and expecting them to look after it to the same degree as yourself. Not to mention giving them access to your personal belongings and entrusting them with the welfare of your pets.
But consider the alternatives.
Owners are not always comfortable about leaving their pets with expensive commercial kennels and catteries. And they’re not necessarily the best environments for keeping them happy and healthy, anyway. Particularly if the owners are away from home often or for long periods of time.
And there are those owners who have geese, chickens, sheep, goats, horses etc who simply don’t have the option of off-site carers.
It’s not just about the animals, either. Owners don’t necessarily like the idea of locking up their homes and switching everything off for months at a time.
And there’s the issue of security attached to an empty house, too.
We’ve also come across owners of holiday homes who just want someone (or a couple) to look after their business while they’re away. In these cases, there’s usually separate living accommodation close to the holiday home itself. And there are even opportunities to earn some money from it, too.
What’s in it for the house sitter?
Comfortable accommodation in a chosen location at a fraction of the cost of a normal holiday rental, hotel or other means of accommodation. And because it’s not typically geared to tourism you can experience what living like a local is all about.
And, for animal lovers, it’s an opportunity to look after and care for a range of pets on a temporary basis.
It’s not suited to those who’re continually on the move and want to fit in as many sights as they possibly can. However, for those who want to travel slowly and immerse themselves in the local culture, it’s an extremely low-cost and efficient way of travelling.
What can you expect from a sit?
From city apartments to rural farmhouses, mobile homes to off-the-grid complexes, simple townhouses to grandiose mansions, and mountain retreats to beachside villas, the range of housesits you can apply for is endless.
Obviously, how the house is equipped will vary from host to host so you may need to ask about certain requirements. For instance, we always require internet access, so it becomes a deal breaker for us if none is available.
Most sits come complete with at least one pet to look after. Often there are a few. Sometimes there’s enough to fill an ark. And, just occasionally, there are sits that are pet-free.
Sometimes you’ll be asked to do some maintenance work around the house and grounds. Again, this could range from watering the plants and weeding the garden to maintaining the swimming pool and fixing the generator.
You’ll find sits that are as short as just one day. And you’ll discover sits that are as long as a year, or even more.
And, normally, you’ll have to provide your own transport while you’re there, but sometimes there’ll be a car or bike available for you to use. Especially in the more remote locations where a car is essential.
The point is that no two sits are alike. You’re effectively placing yourself inside the life of your host, with all the personal preferences and little quirks that go with it.
What will homeowners expect of you?
Most homeowners’ expectations are that you just provide their pets with as much care and attention as they’d normally receive and that you treat their home with respect.
Beyond that, they might want you to get in touch with them occasionally and do the odd maintenance job around the house.
On rare occasions, their expectations might be too much for you to accept. For instance, we’ll decline a sit if the host expects their pets to sleep in or on the bed with us.
Otherwise, they’ll encourage you to get out and enjoy your time there.
Just don’t view it as a holiday. It’s not. Of course, you’ll have the opportunity to explore your surroundings while you’re there. But you’ll not always be free to do what you want. Nor will you be able to just come and go as you please. However, you can opt to choose a housesit that suits your preferred lifestyle. For instance, choosing one with a cat that spends most of its time outside is going to need less attention than one with a dog that has medical needs.
Remember that your first priority is always the welfare of the pets in your care
In most circumstances, it’s the reason why you’re there.
Dogs might need walking two or three times a day. Cats may need letting in and out of the house. There may be medical needs to attend to. And they will certainly require your personal care and attention.
However, it’s not a one-way street. Hosts appreciate that you also need your own time and accept that you won’t be at home 24/7. Establishing the ground rules before you accept the assignment is always a good idea.
So, do you think you’re suited to house sitting?
A good way of finding out if house sitting is for you is to try it out with friends and family first. Perhaps look after someone’s house and pet while they’re away for the night or the weekend.
Otherwise, ask yourself….
Do you enjoy being around animals?
Would you be comfortable staying in somebody else’s home while they’re not there?
Could you handle having responsibility for somebody else’s possessions and pets?
Are you practical? If something goes wrong or needs attention could you fix it or have the capacity to find someone who could?
And can you deal with crises? You need to be prepared for something going wrong. As we found out in 2017 when Hurricane Irma struck during our sit in the British Virgin Islands!
If your answers to the above are “yes” then house sitting could very well be your new favourite thing to do.
But how do you go about finding a suitable housesit and what steps should you take to make sure you stand the best chance of getting accepted for it. To find out read Part Two of our House Sitting For Beginners guide – How To Get House Sitting Jobs.
What did you think? Have you considered house sitting? Or perhaps you’re thinking of trying it out in the near future? Either way, we’d love to hear from you so please add your comments below.
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Hi, we're Ian and Nicky, an English couple on a voyage of discovery around the world, and this blog is designed to reflect what we see, think and do. Actually, we'd like to think it also provides information, entertainment and inspiration for other “mature” travellers, too. So please feel free to pour yourself a glass of something suitably chilled and take a look around.