Housesitting 101 / by Rachel Nordgren

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Over lunch in early 2017, a friend told me about housesitting. We had been talking about AirBnB and travel in general, and then she said size worlds that would literally change my life: "Have you heard of Trusted Housesitters?"

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My head snapped up from Fuji Apple Chicken Salad, spine ramrod straight. "What?"

"Yeah, it's a website where people who are going on vacation advertise that they need someone to watch their house."

I don't totally remember what else we talked about that day in that Panera booth, a weak winter sun gleaming outside. But, I do remember that after I got home I promptly spent the entire afternoon poking around the Trusted Housesitters website and got nothing done with work. I was tumbling down the the rabbit hole, utterly entranced.

There were people all over the world - France! Fiji! England! Mexico! Italy! - who were willing to let a responsible person or couple stay in their home for free in exchange for keeping an eye on things and watering the plants or walking the dog. There were even some quaint looking farmsits, too.

It was one of those things that seemed almost too good to be true, except that it was totally logical. People pay for house and pet sitters, and people pay for places to stay when they travel. It made sense that you could match those two needs in an even exchange.

Hans and I did our first housesit in the spring of 2017...five weeks in an exquisite country that felt like a dream come true. It was during that housesit that we started dreaming about the possibility of using housesitting as a way to travel around Europe, which had been a goal of ours since we got married.

And now? I'm writing this post in the living room of a home north of London where we're watching a darling dog named Poppy until the end of the month. Hans and I (and Banjo!) have been housesitting through Europe since November 2017. I love talking about this way of travel, so I thought I'd put together some answers to the most common questions we get about housesitting.

If you're interested in unique travel and love animals, read on!

How do you get started as a housesitter?

There are multiple housesitting websites and agencies out there, but the only one we currently use is Trusted Housesitters. There is a yearly membership fee of $120 for the site, which is roughly the cost of two nights in an average hotel. You can also get 20% off your membership signup by using this link or entering our referral code RAF70595 at checkout. Homeowners also pay a membership fee. After that, you set up your profile, add personal information and photos, and list your experience.

Worth noting: you are unable to apply for housesits on Trusted Housesitters unless you are a member of the site. You can browse available housesits without becoming a member, though!

To help build additional trust with potential homeowners, especially when we were just starting out and didn't have any reviews on our profile, we asked three people to provide references for us through the website. We also paid a bit more to have the extra verification of a professional background check done for our profile.

It's best to provide as much information as possible! Think about what you would like to know about a person if you were inviting them to stay in your home and look after your pets. Be honest and thorough.

Need some ideas? You can view our Trusted Housesitters profile right here.

How do you find housesits?

The Trusted Housesitters website is a wee bit clunky, but once you get the knack of it, finding housesits is pretty easy! You enter the location you're interested in (or you can search by the map function), and then filter the results by dates, length of sit, animals or lack thereof, etc. For those of you with kids, you can also search for housesits that have advertised themselves as family friendly.

After you're found a housesit that looks interesting, click on the listing and read through to see if it's going to be a good fit. Homeowners will fill out an intro, information about their home and location, and specifications about their pets and/or other responsibilities, along with a couple of photos.

If all that still looks good, go ahead and apply! Introduce yourself, tell them why you applied to their housesit, talk about why you think you would be a good fit, and invite them to get in contact with you if they've got any questions or would like to set up a video chat.

After one particularly sticky situation with a homeowner, we always ask to do a video chat before committing to a housesit. It can help you get a feel for things, and give you a sense of whether or not it will be a good fit. You're not going to be a perfect match for everyone, and that's okay.

If you get accepted, hooray! Check out this fantastic post about the 10 things you should do after landing your first housesitting job.

Do you get paid for housesitting?

Through some agencies, maybe! But through Trusted Housesitters, we do not get paid. We actually prefer it this way, because it means we're building relationships as we travel and not just conducting business transactions. We end up feeling like we're coming to stay at a friend's house instead of showing up for a job.

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We have seen some listings where homeowners have offered to pay their housesitters for extra duties like particularly large farmsits, but it's definitely not the norm.

How long can you housesit?

We've seen everything from one or two night sits all the way up to a year. People need housesitters for quick trips and summer vacations, but also longer trips to visit family or do some traveling themselves. We've also seen 6+ month housesits where people are going on a sabbatical for work or need someone to look after their vacation home.

How do you know it's safe?

99.9% of the people on Trusted Housesitters are lovely, honest, kind human beings who love their animals and want them to be well taken care of. The website is review-based, meaning that you can see what other people have said about a homeowner if they have had previous sitters. The website is still growing, so there are lots of new homeowners who have never had a housesitter before, so a lack of reviews isn't necessarily a bad thing.

I would recommend taking a careful look at the housesitting listing and photos. Do they give enough information for you to get an idea of what their home and pets are like? Do the pictures show a home that looks safe and clean? How do they describe their animals? If anything seems "off" to you, trust your gut. Either ask the homeowner specifically (perhaps they just forgot to clarify something in their listing) or pass on the housesit altogether.

Also, Trusted Housesitters has a 24/7 helpline for their housesitters to help in case of an emergency, veterinary or otherwise.

Some other tips...

  • Check the site often! Some people list that they need a housesitter months in advance, and some people wait until the last minute. You never know what you're going to find.
  • Housesitting is not like staying in an AirBnB. The homeowner will likely set you up in their guest room or spare bedroom, and you might share a meal or two with them before they leave, but don't expect them to cater to you. You are their guest, but you are also there to do the work of looking after their home and pets.
  • Leave the house just as clean (or cleaner) as it was when you arrived. It's just good manners.

Final thought: If you want to be a tourist, housesitting probably isn't for you. The homeowner likely doesn't want someone who is only going to do the bare minimum and leave their animals home alone for long stretches of time. That doesn't mean that you won't get out and about at all, but the wishes of the homeowners and the welfare of the pets should always be your first priority.

Personally, we really like housesitting because high-paced touristy travel isn't really our thing, and we'd much rather immerse ourselves in a place and get a feel for what it's like to actually live there. We genuinely love traveling this way because it feels slower and more authentic. There's a time and a place for tourist travel (hello, we did London and Paris in one week!), but housesitting isn't it.

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Interested in joining Trusted Housesitters? Get 20% off your membership signup by using this link or entering our referral code RAF70595 at checkout. Using our referral link or code gives Hans and I a discount on our own membership, so thanks in advance!

If you want to see some of the places we've traveled to with housesitting, head right on over here.

Where would your ideal housesit be? Let's chat in the comments below!

xoxo,
Rachel