guest post by Nicole Gustas, November 9, 2018
You’re a nomad, and you’re looking for a way to defray your housing expenses. Have you considered housesitting? You can find free places to stay all over the world in exchange for taking care of a home, and often some pets.
Is Housesitting For You?
The allure of free rent may be enticing, but housesitting is also a big responsibility. Homeowners don’t just want you to hang out in their house. At a bare minimum you’ll need to keep the home clean, and generally, you’ll have to do much more. If a crisis occurs, say a toilet explodes (it happened to us!) or there’s a wildfire or another natural disaster, you’ll be the person who will be responsible for taking emergency measures.
Usually, a house-sit will involve taking care of pets. If it’s a cat, you’ll have to do things like cleaning the litter box. If it’s a dog, you’ll have to take it for walks and scoop poop. If you’re caring for horses you may need to muck out stalls. If it’s chickens, you may have to clean out soiled bedding. In many cases, the animals will require other attention and care, like playtime and affection. And if there’s a health crisis, you’re the one that will have to get the pet to the vet.
You may also need to take care of the yard and the garden, which can include mowing the lawn, deadheading plants, watering, trimming hedges, and so forth. You’ll also have to take out the rubbish on appointed days, take in mail, and possibly other duties.
If you’re comfortable with that level of responsibility, then keep reading to learn how to get started.
Me and my partner Mike, Housesitting Digital Nomads
Homeowner: The person who owns or rents the home where the housesit will take place.
Housesitter: The person taking care of the house.
Sit: An individual housesitting commitment, which can be anywhere from one night to a couple of years.
Step One: Sign Up For a Housesitting Site
Much like Airbnb connects people who have homes to rent with people who are looking for homes, housesitting sites connect prospective housesitters with homeowners looking for someone to take care of their houses and pets. Most housesitting sites still have a vibe like Airbnb in its early days. Prospects take time to get to know each other before committing to a stay and trust is paramount.
Your instinct may be to sign up for many different sites in order to increase your prospect of getting a sit. Full disclosure: I signed up for four myself! But my first six sits came from one site, which happened to be the site I was focusing on the most. Save yourself some money and start with just one.
But which site? The two biggest sites are Trusted Housesitters and Nomador. Both sites feature housesitting opportunities from around the world, and each has a significant strength in a specific geographic area.
Trusted Housesitters began in the UK but has since gone global. If you go on the site you’ll find the sits weighted most heavily toward the UK, followed by the US and Australia. Don’t despair if you’re looking to sit in Southeast Asia, South Africa, New Zealand, Canada or continental Europe; there’s many there as well.
Nomador began in France and has more sits in France than any other country. However, it also has especially strong representation in continental Europe, Central America and the Caribbean, as well as many countries that were once French colonies. Nomador also has an excellent series of cross-cultural guides that will tell you what to expect if housesitting for someone from another culture.
There are many more international housesitting sites. The majority have far fewer housesit listings, but also less competition for housesits.
There are also country-specific sites for Australia, Mexico, Canada, and the US. In Australia in particular, housesitting is very popular. Australia-specific sites have even more listings than Trusted Housesitters or Nomador.
Housesitting Magazine has a thorough listing of smaller and regional niche housesitting sites.
Step Two: Your Housesitting Profile
Your housesitting profile is the equivalent to a resume or a LinkedIn profile without the stuffy formality. If you want housesits, you need to focus on highlighting the things that would make someone want you to watch their house.
Your housesitting profile should include a photo of you that makes you look as approachable and trustworthy as possible. A professional headshot is too intimidating. A margaritas-on-the-beach shot may make them concerned about whether you’ll turn their house into party central. Aim for something in between. Something with you walking a dog or cuddling a cat hits an especially good note.
When you write your profile, emphasize any experience you have housesitting and caring for animals. Homeowners want to know that you are a trustworthy, reliable, conscientious person who will care for their home and their “furbabies” (a term you’ll see a lot around housesitting sites). Successful housesitters have profiles that focus on what they can do for the homeowner rather than how much they love to travel around the world for free.
Some tips on what to include to improve your chances of getting a housesit:
- Highlight your love of pets.
- If you have experience dealing with difficult pet situations, mention it! Have you trained puppies? Fed medication to cats? Cleaned the eyes of a Bichon Frise on a regular basis? Cared for elder pets? Cared for lots of animals at once? All of these are beneficial to mention.
- If you have farm animal experience and are willing to look after farm animals, make sure to mention which farm animals you’ve cared for and what you’ve done.
- Other things to mention: do you have experience caring for a garden or for plants?
- If you’re old enough that you seem unlikely to host raging parties, yet vigorous-looking enough that they’re confident you can keep up with their pets, it is a distinct advantage.
- You can include some personal details about yourself such as your interests and hobbies; some point of commonality may be the thing that makes a homeowner pick you over your competitors.
A number of housesitting sites allow you to gather reviews from people you’ve sat for locally and post them on your profile. Use this! It’s just like a hotel or a restaurant; the more five-star reviews that are next to your name, the better.
Many housesitting sites offer validation for housesitters. There’s several different levels, from the basics of confirming an email address all the way up to a police check. If you do not yet have any or many reviews, it’s especially helpful to get as much vetting done as possible to increase homeowner trust.
Finding your First Housesit
Now it’s time to find a place to housesit. Sits in cities like London, Paris, Sydney and New York City are fiercely competitive and receive 20 or more applications. If you are not one of the first three and don’t have a robust profile, you probably won’t be picked. But there’s an entire world outside of those cities that you can apply for. If you’re willing to go to a smaller city, a village or an offbeat location, you will have less competition and a higher chance of being selected.
The more diverse situations you are willing to apply to, the more you increase your chances. My options are limited because there are only certain breeds of dogs I’m comfortable caring for, I max out at two cats, and I have zero experience with farm animals. The broader your parameters, the more likely you are to find that first sit.
Some people have four or more pets. If the headline says “Dog lover wanted” or “Looking for an absolute cat lover!” it’s very likely they have at least four animals. And, some people have unusual pets. For example, I saw an ad in which someone was looking for a housesitter to “cuddle my donkey.” This was not a metaphor; one of the housesitter’s duties would be to snuggle with the donkey every day so it didn’t get lonely. This is a good example of the kind of unique situation that won't get many applicants but could be amazing for the right person.
In Part 2 of this article, I'll look at:
- How to approach potential homeowners.
- Starting local, going global.
- What you'll need to know about your sit?
- How to ensure you get a good review.
Nicole Gustas help's tourism businesses solve marketing problems. Nicole describes herself as a nomad, bookworm, scribbler, research junkie, street art fan. Follow Nicole at twitter.com/rednikki, linkedin.com/in/nicolegustas, instagram.com/rednikki