Tips on How to Get Started as a House Sitter
House sitting is an amazing way to travel, locally and internationally. It does involve a substantial amount of responsibility but the people you are helping to escape on holiday and the animals you will take care of will brighten your life. Plus the elimination of most lodging expenses, can dramatically increase the length of time you can be “away.”
One year we spent nine continuous months in Europe (1), which included going to 10 countries and meeting people who have become friends. We have taken care of dogs, cats, ducks, wild birds, fish, and rabbits. House sitting, over 50 sits and counting, has allowed us to get to know towns and cities like a local and has led to many adventures. We have completed house sits that were as short as a long weekend to as long as six months.
Note – When we say house sitting, 95 percent or more of the listings you will find will have a pet or two. Ask yourself if you are okay with taking dogs for walks, cleaning cat trays, or other typical household chores. If you are not interested in pet sitting, you may want to look into house swaps or home exchanges.
The Problem and the Solution
The Problem with having pets – you love your pets but want to go on vacation. You can not take them with you so what do you do?
The Solution – you find a like-minded person to come stay in your home and care for your pets while you are away.
House sitting has grown dramatically as it solves a widespread problem. How to care for loved furry family members when traveling. Kennels are expensive and not a pleasant experience for the dog or cat. Now pet owners have the option to have a real person stay in their home, while they are away, allowing the pets to stay in familiar surroundings, being pampered just like they are used to.
In exchange, the house sitter gets the chance to travel to a variety of locations for extended periods of time – think weeks or even months, for free. You, the house sitter, pay for the transportation to get there, but then you stay in the home for free in exchange for taking care of the household.
If you enjoy dogs or cats, you know it is a real pleasure having furry friends around your home base. And much like when having pets at your own home, you just have to make your plans around feeding and walking schedules. Other than that, your time is your own.
How can this be possible? The secret of this lifestyle is the arrival of online services such as Trusted Housesitters (they have been offering their services for over 10 years). The website functions somewhat like a dating service. Those needing someone to take care of their home and pets, can post their needs online. House Sitters can search the listings for locations and dates that fit their schedule and travel goals.
So let’s get started and learn about some of the hurdles and tips to getting your first house sit.
Choosing a Website
There are many house sitting websites. (See the list at the end of this article.) On most websites, you can take a look at some of their listings for free. This will help you see what their interface is like and how much information is shared to help you decide if you are interested in a particular house sit.
If you are looking for a specific city or country to house sit in, check the various sites to see who has the most listings for that area. Remember listings change all the time, so you may want to come back and revisit your searches repeatedly. Once you have found a website you like, you will need to pay an annual fee, in most cases, to join.
The next step is to fill out your profile as a House Sitter. It is important to have as complete a profile as possible. You should think about why you are interested in house sitting and what experience you have. Think from the homeowner’s point of view too, what do you believe is important about you that they should know. Don’t just say you want to house sit because you like to travel.
Select at least five or six photos of you interacting with animals/pets that are fun and inviting. You will also need a profile image that portrays confidence. Take the time to ensure your images are in focus, the pets are happy, and the colors look good (correct).
Being new you should add one or two character references from friends and work associates. Or if you have pet sat for friends or family have them write you a reference.
Some sites offer police background checks; this is highly recommended especially if you want to eventually apply for long-term or international house sits.
We have been amazed by our sits in places like Edinburgh, Oslo, Rome, and London, but be sure to look at small towns too. One of our favorite house sits was in a small town in England named Ludlow. Ludlow is an active walled town, and the castle was within walking distance from where we were staying. When we took the dogs for their walk, we walked along a beautiful river (with swans) and back up around the castle. We fell in love with Ludlow and if it was easy, we would be living there now.
Also, look at places even if you do not recognize the city’s name. Do you know where El Cajon or Santee is? They are suburbs of San Diego, California. If you don’t look you could miss a great opportunity to stay near a major holiday city. The beaches are only half an hour from El Cajon or Santee, with the mountains; Tijuana, Mexico; and Disneyland all within easy reach.
Sometimes it is even nice to take a break from exploring big cities to venture further afield. Be sure to ask the homeowners if there are places they would recommend you go to. You can discover places you would have never found on your own. One of my favorites was going to Culzean Castle in Scotland. We never would have found this place, and it was amazing. I actually wrote several articles about it for several different websites.
As you may expect, major cities are often harder to be selected for because there is so much competition. You may want to start with a place in a smaller town where they may receive fewer applications, to establish a track record, and get your feet wet.
Applying for a House Sit
Before you apply, be sure the dates, location, and sit responsibilities are a good fit. Carefully read the listing, as you never know what might be noted at the very end, like “no meat in the household.”
Start small and local to see if this is something you will enjoy doing. Test the waters by starting with a house sit that will be easy for you to get to. I would start with a weeklong sit; a weekend is not really long enough to get a good feel of what is expected. Although for a first sit a long weekend may be an excellent way to start.
I would only apply for international sits when you have completed at least four or five domestic sits with excellent reviews. The goal is to accumulate positive five-star reviews to establish your credibility. Reviews will show that you understand what owners are looking for, that the pets are happy, and you are responsible.
It is important to read the ENTIRE listing; especially paying attention to how many animals there are, any special needs, in addition to the typical requirements such as walking the dogs and cleaning cat trays. Are those things you are ready to do?
Cats, in general, are a bit easier because you do not need to walk them. Dogs often can not be left for long periods of time, so again be sure the pets fit your needs too.
In the listing, look for things like if a car is necessary, or if they have WiFi or not. For us we have to have WiFi, so I always look for that. The owner will usually mention things in the listing that they are looking for. Be sure you are okay with these things, and if it is really important to the homeowner, be sure to comment on it in your application. One listing we recently applied for required you to know basic Spanish, so I mentioned that we do when I applied.
Applying for a sit is like applying for a job. You will write, what I equate to as, a cover letter. Include an introduction about yourself, talk about why you are a good candidate, and what your experience is. You can include things like pets you have had, prior knowledge of the area, or if you have knowledge about a particular dog breed, it all helps.
One note, owners often are overwhelmed with dozens of applications. It may take them some time to reply to you. If it has been a few days you may want to follow-up so they know you are still interested. Just send a simple note, not another long letter. It can include a question you may have or something you forgot to mention in your original application.
Often an owner will narrow down their list to their top candidates and then either call and talk with you or do a video chat. We really like video calls (Skype, Zoom, Hangouts, What’s App, Facetime…), it gives you a great opportunity to meet each other and chat about the sit. If you have questions about the sit, be sure to make a list and talk about them during the call. It is helpful to be in a quiet place without distractions during the call.
Once the owner has selected you, you will get a message to agree to the sit or not. This gives you one last chance to look at the dates, understand what is required of you, and make certain it is a good fit for you too. Usually, you know by this point, but this serves as a reminder that someone is expecting you to be there. Confirm the sit and it will be added to your dashboard (if you are using TrustedHousesitters).
After confirming the sit be sure to add it to your calendar, with reminders for things like when you should buy your airline tickets (if you are flying). Once your travel plans are arranged be sure to let the homeowner know your estimated time of arrival and how you are getting there. They will often offer to pick you up at the airport, closest train station, or bus station – that is if you are not driving. Keeping good lines of communication open is important.
Talking about how you are going to get there, be sure to look this up before you apply for the sit. If you need to fly to get there, look at the dates of the sit and what it will cost. For most international flights the nation you are flying to may require you to have a round trip ticket and three additional months left on your passport.
Also, the cost can be greatly affected by where you are flying from. I just looked up a flight from Sacramento to San Paulo, Brazil and it was almost three times more expensive than if we leave from San Francisco (which is a two-hour drive – well worth the money we’ll save).
Your First Sit
Most homeowners fill out what is called a “Welcome Guide.” This will include important information like the home address, WiFi login, feeding schedules, vet information, local contacts, and more. If they do not fill this out, they often will have a similar document they will give you. If possible have them send it to you early so you can review it.
Again be sure to read the Welcome Guide from beginning to end. If you have a question be sure to ask. Read the sections about the pet’s routines, likes, and dislikes. Try to keep the pets’ routines as normal as possible during your stay.
Something I highly recommend is arriving the day before the owners are leaving. This is not always possible, but when it is, it is highly beneficial. It will give you a chance to get to know the pets while their owners are still there – this really helps in the transition to their leaving. (This should be agreed upon before the sit is confirmed.)
Coming early will allow you to see the feeding ritual and provide time for a casual walk through the home. If there are dogs, go with them on their walk so you see in person where to take them and how the owner controls the dog. It can also help the host feel more comfortable with you.
During the house walkthrough be sure to see where things are like trash bins, breaker boxes (as we call them in the US), anything tricky – like a gate that is hard to latch or sometimes house keys can be hard to use, cat carriers, pet supplies, plants that need water, how the tv works, and anything you are going to be expected to use. Sign-on to the WiFi, so you know you can connect, on occasion passwords have been written down wrong, so better to check before they leave.
If the owners are explaining something you are not sure you will remember, like who’s bowl goes where take a picture. Remember the old saying a picture is worth a thousand words? We took care of four cats at one time and each had a very specific place to put “their” bowl and each had a different meal because of special needs. Having a good picture, in this case, was very helpful.
Most owners love to see their pets while they are on holiday. Using apps, like What’s App, makes it easy to take a photo and send it to them. I send at least one picture every day. If any questions or problems come up it is better to mention them when they happen, don’t wait to tell the owners when they get home. Only once in 50 housesits were we not able to get ahold of an owner, so you have no excuse to not keep in contact.
Think about coming home from a vacation to a messy house? That is not something you would appreciate, so take the time to tidy up after yourselves. Write down if there is something that you would like to remember to tell the owners when they return, so you don’t forget. I always leave a welcome home note for the owners.
When the owners return, sometimes you will still be there and sometimes you will have already left earlier in the day. Again, check with the homeowner to find out what they prefer. In our experience about half have wanted us there and the other half preferred we had already left or had no preference. In either case, follow-up a day or two later to make sure there are no questions that have come up since you left.
The website you sign up with is also there to help you be successful. If a question or something you are uncertain about comes up they may be able to answer it too.
Where Housesitting Has Taken Us
We have been house sitting continuously for over four years (completing over 50 sits). We have house sat in 10 countries – Norway, Scotland, England, France, Germany, Luxemburg, Poland, Italy, Canada, and several states in the USA (including cross-country road trips). Along the way we have also been able to visit – Wales, Sweden, Denmark, Switzerland, Vatican City, Spain, Hungary, Austria, Mexico, and Morocco. Places we have always wanted to go, but we weren’t sure how it could ever happen.
During our four years, we have spent a year and two months in Europe (spread out over the years), which allowed us to experience each country more like a local. People often think I am a local because I am out walking a dog. Many strangers have stopped me and asked for directions, and because we have been there for weeks, instead of days, I have always been able to tell them exactly how to get to where they want to go – so cool.
In addition to the 100+ pets, we have met some amazing people – from a real rocket scientist (who has a satellite orbiting Earth) to a Best Selling Author, and many wonderful people just like us. We now have new friends in Italy, Norway, and the UK we would never have met any other way.
Before we started house sitting I believed that our days of traveling, especially international travel were over. How wrong I was. This has been an amazing journey. It was only possible, thanks to house sitting.
House Sitting Websites
We have used Trusted Housesitters exclusively. The other sites we have not used because we have not needed to. They are listed in alpha order, after TrustedHousesitters.
You will get a 25% membership discount when you use our link for Trusted Housesitters. Or if you would like a special 40% discount, contact me (firstname.lastname@example.org) and I will send you my exclusive code!
TrustedHousesitters – Click here (or email for 40% discount)
House Carers – housecarers.com
House Sit Match – housesitmatch.com
House Sitters UK – housesittersuk.co.uk
Housesitters – housesitter.com
Mind a Home – mindahome.com
Mind My Home – mindmyhouse.com
Nomador – nomador.com
Rover – rover.com
This is indeed a very different way to look at traveling, and few can jump into it without considering whether assuming the responsibility of another’s home and precious furry friends is for them. But:
- If you love dogs and cats, and are comfortable caring for them.
- If you have the freedom to be away from your home base for extended periods of time.
- If you are a bit adventurous and would like to see what it is really like to live in other parts of the country or the world.
…Then house/petsitting might really be the perfect next adventure for you.
(1) Footnote – When Traveling Internationally
Be sure to know what the travel restrictions are. For example, in the Schengen zone (most of Europe) you can only stay up to 90 days out of 180 days (3 months out of 6 months) without getting a visa. (Like everything else, there are exceptions – like Poland you can stay up to a year – but you need to research this.) When traveling it is your responsibility to learn each country’s rules and expectations.