In this guide to house sitting I will walk you through the basics of how to house sit around the world. Drawing on real house sitting experiences, I present a 10 step process that easily shows you how you can live rent free in France, Italy, Spain, Australia, and many other countries.
The Nomad Newlyweds have seen many house sit ads over the past 9 months: seaside cottages in the UK, urban dwellings in London, a farmhouse B&B in France, and even a castle in Italy with its own elevator! We love getting to know home owners as well as make friends with new four-legged friends.
House & pet sitting around the world can open up a wide variety of travel experiences to last you a lifetime. Let’s get started.
Step 1 – Commit to House Sitting
Is House sitting a Profession?
Make no mistake: house sitting is a profession. I won’t use the dreaded “j” word because nowadays I have a visceral reaction anytime I hear the word job. Shudder. In the classic sense of how people think about work, looking after someone’s house while they are away is more play than work.
Sure, it is the daily living stuff we all have to do anyways: vacuuming, taking out the garbage, or cleaning the bathtub. However, the added tasks around caring for a pet, tending to a garden, or some other chore that the homeowner has assigned (one house sit I saw advertised for someone that knows how to renovate a 16th century manor house in rural France!) is where the work enters the equation.
Sometimes you will get paid, most times you won’t. The exchange of value – living rent free – is what really matters and is always worth the time and effort spent.
I can emphatically tell you that doing this sort of work is
10 100 times more exhilarating than sitting at an office cubicle all day, merely dreaming about what else you could be accomplishing with your life.
I am sure you have heard the quote:
“Do what you love and you will never work another day in your life.”
For the Nomad Newlyweds, house sitting forms part of that equation to live the lifestyle we want. We wake up every morning and are immediately at work. Our work is 24/7 taking care of the daily maintenance and upkeep of the house along with any animals that may come along with the house.
House Sitting = Pet Sitting
The reality is that most house sits are actually pet sits. That probably makes sense when you think about it. If I were a homeowner, would I want to take the added risk of inviting a stranger to look after my house while I am gone? Or would I simply ask a trusted local friend, relative, or neighbor to pick up the newspaper, mail, and water the plants once a week? Many probably opt for the latter.
As a homeowner it is easier to simply lock your doors and trust your built-in social network in your neighborhood than it is to become a part time landlord who must manage a house sitter.
However, animals need attention, feeding, and all the things that come with having a loved member of your family stuck back at home. Trusting someone else to take care of your pooch, kitty, or other pet is no small decision.
I have read enough homeowner reviews and heard stories from pet owners to know that low quality, unprofessional house sitters do exist. I don’t say that to scare would-be home owners from going the pet sitter route. I think it is a reality in any field of work. Pet sitting can attract unmotivated caretakers who won’t look after your property or things as you would, or who don’t see the value in doing a professional job. A landlord wouldn’t want a bad tenant, and neither does a home owner want a bad pet sitter. I don’t want to spend much time outlining what a bad house sitter looks like – I am sure you can figure that one out on your own!
What qualities make for an outstanding pet sitter?
Do you have what it takes to be a professional pet sitter?
I use the word professional instead of amateur, a professional is one who does not simply try something as a hobby and move on to the next fad. A professional sticks with his chosen craft and refines his method, constantly learning in order to succeed at a high level. One usually thinks of a professional lawyer, doctor, or accountant – a person qualified in a profession who has studied for many years.
Unfortunately, there are no schools or accreditation bodies (that I am aware) to learn how to become a professional house sitter. Most of it is common sense.
I have received enough feedback from homeowners to know that there are a number of amateur house sitters in this world with the wrong mindset or work ethic. They leave a bad impression on the homeowner, who will think twice before utilizing the services of a house sitter again in the future. As a potential client of mine (or yours), I don’t think that is fair. Every homeowner deserves an outstanding house sitter!
To make it in the competitive world of house sitting, you must enjoy being around (and have experience caring for) all types of animals – cats, dogs, birds, fish, hamsters, and even horses.
Lucky for the Nomad Newlyweds, we have both been around animals our entire lives. Meredith adores every animal, but prefers ones that resemble a cat, while I enjoy both cats and certain breeds of dogs.
Benefits of Pet Sitting
In one cat house sit, I can’t count the number of times I walked into the living room to find Meredith brushing, petting, and talking to her furry friend. Sometimes I think there were three people living in the house, not just my wife and I.
But that’s a good thing. Animals are great listeners, wonderful company, and can even reduce stress. Whether you believe the evidence or not, many independent studies have shown that pet ownership has a real and significant health benefit. According to a study by the Minnesota Stroke Institute, owning a cat can dramatically reduce a person’s chance of dying from heart disease (medical news source). They followed more than 4,000 cat owners over 10 years and correlated results that indicated a one-third reduction.
Why do I mention this? I think that for someone like my wife who grew up and has had a cat in her household her entire life, it is important to maintain continuity and the positive health benefits that come from a cat sitting opportunity.
In addition to the prerequisite animal care skills, the following is a list of qualities that make for a good house sitter:
- Good Communicator
- Trustworthy & Reliable
- Respectful of property
- Open to other ways of life (non-judgmental)
- Technology savvy (email and Skype will become your new job interview platform)
- Absence of a criminal record (background check may be requested by home owners)
- Ability to sell what makes you unique in order to land a house sit
- Flexible and Adaptable (sometimes a home owner’s college age kid is included in the house sit package!)
Becoming a professional house sitter is like anything else in life: it takes commitment. You must decide this is what you want to do and then find a way to overcome any obstacles put in your path. Yes, there will be obstacles to overcome. House sitting doesn’t just fall in your lap. You have to make it happen and work diligently to succeed.
- Commit to the active house sitting assignment you find yourself. Give 100% to the pet entrusted in your care.
- Commit to searching for your next house sit assignment. Don’t give up when you receive a response for the 50th time, “Thanks for your email, house sitter found“.
- Commit to building/maintaining your network of home owner contacts.
- Commit to each house sit and do an outstanding job, even if it is not what you initially envisioned.
Step 2 – Will you Charge Money?
Do I get paid to house sit?
Monetary compensation may or may not form part of your house sitting assignments. In North America it seems more acceptable to pay an hourly or daily rate to a house sitter, while in Europe my experience is that wages are non-existent. Perhaps this is simple supply and demand at work – too many house sitters are chasing too few opportunities in Europe. I will have to research further and report back on that point.
There are exceptions in Europe where you may earn a wage when you accept an assignment. Usually this is true in the case of B&B house sits that require anywhere from 2 to 8 hours of work a day. If becoming a live-in B&B house sitter is what you desire, earning a (small) wage could be the right opportunity.
Regardless of whether or not you earn money from house sitting, you will usually be able to live rent free in the home/apartment. Economically, this can be the equivalent of hundreds or even thousands of dollars a month in saved expenses. [pullquote align=”normal”]How else could you possibly be able to live in a 8 bedroom petite chateau in the heart of Provence, France? [/pullquote]
Finally, depending on your negotiation skills and the home owners expectations, you may not have to pay for utilities, internet, or other services while you are house sitting. This can add up to a substantial savings.
Of course, you are not living rent free. You are providing an exchange of value: your time and skill in keeping a home safe as well as pet(s) well cared for in exchange for not paying money to the home owner. In addition, the home owner wins by not having to pay money to a kennel or other animal care-taker.
Step 3 – Sign Up For a House Sitting Platform
There are a few good online companies that offer house sitters easy access to the worldwide pet sitting marketplace. You should look at each service and decide which platform to sign up for. Some are paid while others are free services. In general, the adage, “You get what you pay for” applies to house sitting platforms.
We have put together a review of the best house sitting websites that you can use to make your decision. As mentioned in the review, we signed up for three of the platforms and have had varying degrees of success using each platform.
I highly recommend reading our review if you are serious about jumping into the world of house/pet sitting. The platform we use most for finding meaningful house sits is Trusted House Sitters.
In addition to signing up for a house sit website, you should become familiar with Skype or Facetime – the two tools of choice for interacting online over video chat.
Step 4 – Assemble your Application Material
What do I include in an application? Always a tough question.
- Apply only if you meet the requirements for the ad. For example, if the ad says ‘must have vehicle’ and you don’t have a car, don’t apply. You are wasting both your time and the house owner’s time. In once instance, a homeowner failed to mention that a car was required in their ad, only to play games back and forth for a few weeks. Finally, he fessed up and we realized that we needed a car for the house sit, which we didn’t have. We had to walk away from that one.
- Reviews on a house sitting platform – Crucial. Many people have looked after friends’ pets or homes while on vacation. We all have to start somewhere. Seek these outside reviews as a form of initial review capital until you have finished your first real house sit. Then you can seek accredited reviews on the platform you intend to use most (like trusted house sitters) and build your professional house sit profile.
- Make sure your profile and application include a high quality picture of you (and your spouse if applicable)
- As an added bonus, you could produce an introductory video (optional)
Step 5 – Apply for House Sitting Jobs
While there is no set mathematical formula to guarantee a successful application, you can implement a few tried and tested house sit application tips to increase your chances of success.
You have to really figure out what is the home owner’s primary goal. Pay particular attention to the tone and language that they use.
- Does 90% of the ad speak about their beloved pooch? You know you have to provide a lot of value and love around caring for a dog. Tailor your application to dog lovers and make sure you include a few references to past dog sits that you have done.
- Is the home owner most concerned about the safety and security of the house itself while they are away? In this case, it comes in handy to mention your attention to detail, or the fact that you work from home and anticipate spending a lot of time inside the house.
- Maybe the home owner has a prized garden and needs someone who really knows about plants.
There is always a hot button issue for every homeowner. Know what they want and give it to them. This doesn’t mean that you should make stuff up that isn’t backed by evidence. In fact, I advise against that. You want to start out from a basis of trust and truth.
You won’t win every assignment that you apply for, that is just the nature of house sitting. Where you know you meet or exceed the homeowners requirements, make sure to put your best foot forward to truly shine.
Everyone has their own writing style. You have to find the one that works best for you. In general, keep the tone of your emails positive and up beat. Respond to any house sitting ads with a personal and friendly message, emphasizing that you can provide the service that’s asked. Explain why you think you’re the best person to look after the property/animals while he is away!
Your goal is to simply get a reply and onto the second round of selections. In today’s competitive world of house sitting, it is not uncommon for home owners to receive upwards of 50 or even 100 applications! That seems worse than a job application.
A well-written message will convince the home-owner that you understand his needs and increase your chances of getting a personal reply.
In my experience, once the homeowner has selected his top 2 or 3 candidates, then it is simply a matter of being yourself. He may want to skype with you and chat for awhile, or have a phone conversation. Either way, just be natural and let your personality shine through.
BONUS TIP: As in any job interview, it is a good idea to come up with a question or two that addresses a specific issue that you would like additional information. It shows that you have done your homework, are truly interested in the house sit, and know what you want out of the assignment too!
Step 6 – Negotiate a Contract
House sitting is a business transaction, make no mistake. Sure, becoming friends with a homeowner is a wonderful bonus! The Nomad Newlyweds have made a few good friends through house sitting over the past year, and expect to make a few more in the years to come.
Initially, you don’t know each other which means trust will take time to build. We like to think of the house sitting process as online dating. For anyone who has tried the online dating route, don’t worry. The rejection is not nearly as painful!
Trust me, you will get a lot of email responses from homeowners with one line saying, “Thank you for your inquiry … ” or never hear anything from a home owner.
When I first started applying for house sits I thought to myself, “Hey, I love this chateau in France. I want to go and house sit there!” When I didn’t hear back, I got slightly depressed. I had already envisioned myself sitting by the large fireplace, pipe in hand, reading my Gazette and staring at the taxidermy mounted on the stone wall.
Then, I remembered two things:
- House sitting is like everything else in this world – a competitive endeavor; and
- Present your house sit proposal in terms of what you can do for the home owner, what’s in it for them.
Deep down, I already knew both those things, but had briefly let the allure of living in a French chateau blind my reasoning.
Don’t despair when the ‘no’ answer appears, keep applying. Not ever home owner will connect with you immediately. Or else the home owner may think you don’t have the level of pet sitting experience that they require. House sitting is match making for not only a home sitter with a home owner, but also with the owner’s pet. There are any number of reasons that an initial match does not sprout and grow into a blossoming relationship. Keep applying and you will land your first, second, and fiftieth house sit if that’s what you desire!
In order to keep both parties clear as to the expectations of the house sit, a written document can be a good idea.
Sometimes homeowners will insist on a contract, other times they may not even know that it is an option. Either way, gently bring up the topic of a contract when the time is right.
Step 7 – Meet the Homeowner
First impressions count in life. I am a strong believer that you have to show up at your best, even when you already landed the job. Make a good first impression when you initially enter a new home, especially if it is your first time meeting the home owner(s) in person.
Reassuring the homeowner that they made the right decision, as they drive away in a taxi cab to the airport, is a good thing. Show them that you are organized, competent, and ready to hit the house sit ground running.
If a pet is involved, make sure that you pay attention to the animal and try to bond initially. Not all pets will like you at first, just like humans! In one case, the Nomad Newlyweds house sat for a cat in London. When we initially met the sleeping feline, perched on her comfy chair, she didn’t even open her eyes to greet us! “Don’t disturb me,” was her response. By the end of the house sit though, she was sleeping on our bed with us and simply adored spending time with us.
I suppose there are two kinds of handovers:
- Quick handover – Either the homeowner is not even there and has simply left the key under the mat (literally, this happened to us one time), or the homeowner is departing within a few hours for the airport/train to go wherever they are visiting. The whirlwind of seeing how the house operates or how the pet is to be cared for can be overwhelming – especially if it is your first time house sitting. Don’t worry, it is all fairly routine and you will figure it out!
- Slow handover – You may be between house sits and need a place to stay for a day or two. Homeowners understand this and some are quite gracious in extending the offer to stay before the house sit actually starts. One word of advice: don’t become the bad roommate! I would say DO NOT stay any longer than two days before your house sit is supposed to begin.
Step 8 – Care for Pet & Ongoing Updates
Long Term House Sit
We try to secure longer term house sits that last anywhere from 1 to 6 months. Longer term sits mean you get to know some of the neighbors a bit more, and become integrated into the local community.
Caring for pets on a longer term house sit is a wonderful challenge. The attachment and bonds that you form are real – sometimes we cry when we have to leave our house sit pets. After caring for them for so long, they become part of our family too.
Short Term House Sit
If your house sit is only a few weeks or less, you may not need to do certain tasks that a longer term sit requires. Of course, it all depends on the home owner and how comfortable they are with you as a house sitter, and how experienced they are utilizing the services of a house sitter.
More experienced homeowners may only require one (or no) update via email/skype/phone. While newbie home owners who are trying out the service of a house sitter may need a bit more hand holding in order to feel confident that they made the right decision. Until you know that both you and the home owner have built a good rapport and trust level, I suggest giving more updates and information rather than less. Communicate as often as makes sense.
A house sit in a rural location in Ireland with an older dog saw us communicating with the home owner frequently – and it was only for a 2 week time period. They had never used a house sitter before, but heard only good things. Meredith and I certainly weren’t going to let them down.
Only three days after our house sit began, we emailed pictures of us playing with the dog outside to show them that we had bonded with her and were taking good care of their baby. We also talked to one of the home owners on the phone, and offered to Skype if desired. We were happy to email regular updates and to do whatever we could to make them feel at ease.
Step 9 – Completion of House Sit
As the house sit nears completion, you will want to run through a few checklist items.
- CLEAN the house from top to bottom. Nobody wants to come home to a dirty house. Have a high standard of cleanliness and make sure to scrub, wash, and clean just about everything. Always leave the house cleaner than when you got it – makes a great impression and will land you further jobs.
- REPLACE whatever you have used with the same brand/quantity. To keep things simple, go buy your own and use it rather than worrying about replacing the homeowner’s supply at the end of the stay.
- PACK your things. Double check that you haven’t left anything behind in the laundry, dishwasher, fridge, etc.
- PREPARE to say good bye to the pet and house you have diligently cared for. This can be an emotional process.
- COMMUNICATE with the homeowners frequently and make sure you know their arrival schedule. You want to be ready to leave and let them get back to their normal life as quickly as possible.
BONUS TIP: We like to leave a little something for every homeowner, even if it is simply a basket of fresh fruit with flowers on the counter top, milk in the fridge, and bread ready to make some toast. After a long flight or car ride, we think it makes for a genuinely nice gesture to think about our homeowner’s welfare.
House sitting is a job. There is an application process, an evaluation of candidates, reference checks, an offer and acceptance, ongoing performance reviews, and a final evaluation. While you cannot choose to live in a home indefinitely (that would be fine by me!), you can land longer term contracts.
In this way, consider yourself a consultant for hire. The job has a defined start and end date along with milestones and an project close out phase.
Step 10 – Rinse and Repeat
Completing a house sit feels like a great accomplishment, especially a longer term sit. I will warn you that you could become addicted to house sitting, like us. That perfect house sit is always just around the corner!
Update your Profile
Make sure you update your profile regularly on whichever platform(s) you use. Upload new photos/video and change your status to show which locations and time you are available.
Bonus Tip: Your network is your lifeblood
Keep in touch with your past home owners, even if it is just to say hello to them or the pet that you miss! You never know when they will need you again to house sit.
Second, third, or more contract renewals from past house sitting clients are golden. One lovely family that we house sit for trust us a lot and could not imagine trying to get anyone else to care for their cat/home. They always call us first, and even try to rearrange their travel plans if we are busy!
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We hope you have enjoyed reading our guide to house sitting around the world! Our final words of wisdom: Keep applying, and then keep house sitting. It is a wonderful way to see the world, live like a local, make new friends (both human and animal), and grow as a person. The Nomad Newlyweds hope to house sit for as long as we possibly can.