So you wanna housesit? Here are my personal tips to get started.
I am a full-time international housesitter. And I’m going to tell you some of my personal tips to get started housesitting. Whether you want to do it for a weekend, a week, a month or a year, there are as many options out there as there are houses!
So, what qualities me to write this? As of the time I’m writing this article, I have been housesitting full-time for almost 2 years. Meaning that I have no home and I literally just go from one house to the next, like a hermit crab. Before that, I was a professional housesitter and dog walker, and it was my full-time, paying job for 15+ years. I both owned my own pet-sitting business and I also contracted for a handful more. I've also worked as a veterinary technician in general and emergency medicine for about 10 years.
I was recently asked how many housesits I have completed, and I’d estimate it to be well over 100. That’s a lot of houses, a lot of happy clients, a lot of happy pets, a lot of countries, and a lot of experience. So, here’s some of my own, albeit quite personal, advice.
so you wanna housesit?
The first piece of advice I like to give newbie sitters is to figure out if and why you actually want to housesit. It is a great reciprocal service that can be very rewarding, but at the same time it is also an awesome responsibility to care for someone’s beloved pets and home. So, make sure you both want to and can handle the amount of responsibility involved.
If you’re just looking to travel fast and party it up, then hostels or hotels might be more your style. However, if you are looking for a more local, comfortable and longer term accommodation and you are a responsible adult, then housesitting may be perfect for you.
Most housesits come with pets, because the pets need the care more than the house, so it definitely helps to be an animal lover! Any animal care experience, even your own pets, will be helpful to you as you start housesitting. I’ve pet-sat dogs, cats, chickens, birds, sheep, goats, pigs, horses, snakes, ferrets, rabbits, rats, gerbils, chinchillas, servals, wolves, fish, hermit crabs, and even a tarantula!
create a profile
There are dozens of housesitting sites out there these days and I think all have their pros and cons. Personally I have tried out 6 of them and then have since narrowed it down to the one I like the best and use the most often - Trusted HouseSitters. They have the most features, the most user friendly site, and the most housesits around the world. As far as what to write on your profile, try to convey what is unique and awesome about yourself and what positive aspects that you personally can bring to pets and homeowners.
You can actively apply for any housesits you want to go to and/or you can simply respond to direct requests from homeowners. Most of the time, homeowners are inundated with applications for assignments, so if you are applying, you want to show them why you are so special and why you would be a good fit for the assignment. Are you familiar with the area, the customs, the language? Do you have experience with their type of pet, or the specific breed? Do you have dog walking or veterinary experience? Green thumb? Flexible arrival and departure times are also a huge help, such as being able to arrive within the day and time frame that is most convenient for the homeowner.
Once a conversation is started, then this is the time for both of you to get to know each other, ask questions and make sure that it's a good fit for all. As a sitter, ask questions about the things that are relevant and important to you. Especially be aware of vague descriptors, for example, if internet access is important to you, and someone lists 'wifi available', don't automatically assume it's unlimited data, it could just mean there is a basic or limited amount of gigabytes available to use per month. Like, 5. True story.
The booking process can vary from person to person. Usually it's a few messages back and forth to get all questions answered and then choose a convenient arrival date, time and location to meet. The most important thing to determine during the booking process is that you are both satisfied and committed to move forward with the housesit so that the homeowner can mark the ad as being filled and you can begin working on your travel plans to get there.
Trusted Housesitters has several documents you can download if you want to complete and sign a housesitting agreement that confirms and details all of the information for the housesit. I recommend using their template or tailoring your own so that you have a master list to refer to. If applicable, I also recommend including a veterinary release form and vehicle authorization form so that you can take the pets to the vet if needed and you have legal documentation stating that you are allowed to drive the car if anyone should ask. The more information, the better. And it's definitely always better to be safe then sorry.
You pay for your own transportation costs to get to the home. More likely than not, the homeowner will offer to pick you up from the nearest airport, train, or bus station, especially if it’s difficult to get to the house with public transportation. Personally I experience a mix. Often I’ll travel by air and then meet the homeowner at the airport or sometimes at the closest transport station to their house.
TIP: If you take an international flight to a housesit in another country and expect to use a tourist visa to enter, do not tell the immigration officer that you are coming to the country to housesit. Sometimes it's not allowed because it's considered unpaid employment. Most countries aren't concerned but I can tell you of two that get awfully upset and will threaten or flat out refuse to let you in - the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland. You're usually pretty safe most anywhere else, especially around Europe.
At the handoff, you will go over everything about the house and pets with the homeowner. Most people will have a prepared house manual for you with details on your responsibilities, emergency contacts, veterinary release forms, etc. Some will require you to complete and sign a housesitting contract, either ahead of or upon arrival.
The handoff period varies and is usually most dependent on coordinating arrival and departure schedules. Some homeowners like to hand off the keys and be gone within the hour and some like to spend a few days with the sitter before they leave. It’s all up to your personal preference and what you’re most comfortable with. In my experience, the handoff period is usually about 12-24 hours.
What’s expected varies at each housesit, depending on the number and type of animals, and the location and features of the house.
Ultimately the pets health, safety and well-being is the utmost concern. Secondly, the the general safety, security, and upkeep of the house. Most of the time, you are simply required to keep the house just as it was left to you. Keep the areas clean that you and the pets use. Your main responsibility for being there is keeping a watchful eye and ear both on the pets and property so the owners don’t have to worry about either while they are away.
Often you will be doing some basic household chores, such as watering plants, collecting mail, putting out garbage, recycling and compost. Depending on your ability and skill level, you may be giving pets medications, treatments, baths, brushings, etc. Sometimes there will be a garden to water, a lawn to mow, or a hot tub to maintain, but keep in mind that house sitters are not expected to be extraordinary cleaners, gardeners or handymen. Most housesits will already have maintenance staff in place for whatever needs care, and you may just have to let them into the house or yard as needed. On my housesits, I've had visits from everyone from mailmen, delivery services, laundry services, house cleaners, window cleaners, gardeners, electricians, cable technicians, realtors, dog walkers, mobile veterinarians and mobile dog groomers.
If you’re in or close to a city, you usually don’t need additional transportation, but often homeowners leave you their vehicle, scooter or bicycle, especially if the property is more remote or rural. If there is no access to shops or no delivery services, and especially if the pet(s) are disabled, elderly, or have medical issues, then easy access to transportation in an emergency could be essential.
If you can drive and care for left and right hand drive cars, then often you're left a car to drive. You'll need both a current, valid drivers license from your own country and an international drivers license that covers you in the country you want to drive in. Sometimes the homeowner may want to add you to their auto insurance policy so you are insured to drive the car, but this is uncommon because it's only allowed in select countries and even when it is, the insurers often don't recognize international identification anyways.
Housesitting is unpaid, essentially you are exchanging your services of care for the free accommodation, so it’s more like a barter system. Homeowners usually provide your first few meals when you arrive, supply you with some toiletries, a few days of food, a stocked kitchen, and often some cash for you to buy more groceries or any house or pet essentials needed. I've been asked for preferred grocery lists to buy, what meals I would like prepared, and am often taken out to eat as well. This, of course, varies greatly from person to person, but you can expect, at the very least, a couple days' worth of food should be taken care of so that you can adjust to your new surroundings and get to know your new furry friends, instead of scrambling to find a grocery store immediately.
Now let's talk tips. Tipping practices vary greatly by country, and definitely never ever expect gratuity; however most pet owners are familiar with the value of a sitter and therefore may want to reimburse your travel expenses and/or gift you with a tip you for your service. For example, a 30 day housesit, at an average (past industry) rate of $100 USD per 24 hour period would cost $3000 for a professional sitter, so a 10% tip would be $300 and a 20% tip would be $600. I often receive transportation costs and tips anywhere from $100-600 on average, usually depending on both the length of the sit and the amount of work involved. Again, this varies widely, and is not at all expected, just an occasional perk.
On the flip side, you should never have to pay out of pocket to housesit, other than your own travel and food expenses. Everything should be included with the house. Homeowners can't disconnect their utilities just to go on vacation, and the pets need the heat and water too, so asking a sitter to pay for them doesn't make any sense, and I'd be wary of anyone that did so. Also, don't ever allow anyone to take or make copies of your passport or any other personal identification. This is not only unsafe, it's also illegal and impractical. Especially through Trusted Housesitters, since sitters have verified ids and criminal checks already in their profiles.
Before the homeowners return, you will want to make sure the house is as close to the original condition as possible, so make sure to clean up after yourself and the pets to get everything ready for a smooth handoff. The return handoff is usually the same 12-24 hour period as the handoff, especially if the homeowners return late in the evening or the middle of night and you need to stay with the pets until they return. But if they return morning or afternoon, then you should politely head out and give them back their home. So then it's often just a quick update on everything, key handoff and goodbyes. And then you're off onto your next adventure!
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