Our Journey into Housesitting
A number of years ago, I met a woman (Lisa) through the Facebook group Women who Sail and I followed some of her postings. Along the way she mentioned ‘housesitting’ and I asked her for more detail. Lisa supplied me with tons of information about her foray into housesitting including contacts, websites, and tips on getting started.
Realizing that we did not need to stay in one place during the non-sailing months opened up a huge number of possibilities for us. Equally important was the realization that we did not need to pay rent when we could travel and take care of people’s homes and pets. As the bean counter in the family the idea of taking those dollars designated for rent and putting them towards either travel expenses or boat improvements sounded like a win-win.
Both Dan and I had both grown up with an assortment of animals and we really missed having furry critters around. My experience covered dogs and horses but Dan had grown up on a ranch and was familiar with a wide variety of animals. He also had fresh water fish tanks at one point in his life, so that added another type of critter we could care for.
Dan’s experience with farm equipment also turned out to be a plus as he was comfortable moving large hay bales around with a tractor. Not that every housesit has those requirements but it does set us apart from other potential sitters!
Beyond animal skills, having a basic understanding of how things work in a home is also helpful. Things break – and sometimes being able to repair or jury-rig a temporary fix can be valuable whether you’re in a home or on a boat.
One of the most common questions we get asked is how we find the housesits. The simple answer is the Internet. There are numerous online services that you can join to either find housesits or look for a house sitter for your own place. Most charge an annual fee for potential sitters and some also charge the homeowners a fee as well. In my opinion, the better services charge a fee to both sitter and homeowner – their websites are more professional and have better methods of capturing referrals and background checks. The homeowners also seem to be more responsive and shall I say, serious about finding a good sitter.
We use two primary online services to find our sits, Trusted Housesitters and House Sitters America.
Trusted Housesitters (THS) is worldwide and huge. With an annual fee of $139 USD for both homeowners and sitters, they are more expensive than other services. I’m including my referral link here – using my link will get you a 20% discount off your first year membership and I will get two-months free added to my existing membership. Or you can use RAF26983 as a code when you check out for the same discount.
THS is the service that we’ve had the most success with and also has the best site for background checks and ability to create an easy to view profile for yourself. It is also very easy for homeowners to submit a review post-sit and those reviews are essential for finding future sits. The more positive reviews you get, the easier it is to find future sits.
The one negative about THS is that at this point they don’t have a way to narrow the email alerts that you get. Your choices are either no alerts or a daily alert that covers all new postings world-wide. If you’re actively looking for sits, this can be great but if you’re looking for a specific time range or location, you can get a lot of unnecessary emails. You can get around this by using one of the housesit search engines that I list below.
Housesitters America is the second site that we use the most. With an annual $30 USD fee for sitters and free for homeowners, it is certainly a more affordable option. We’ve found some lovely sits through this service but I also find that homeowners do not always include as many photos or as much detail regarding their homes. This is the only service that covers just the U.S.
Other services that we either have current subscriptions with or have had in the past.
- Nomador – this service is worldwide and huge. They have a very limited option that is free for sitters and homeowners and an option that provides more features for $89 per year for sitters and homeowners. I have not had success with this service but most of that is due to location – they are more prominent outside of North America.
- Housesitters Canada – this is a relatively new player and is exclusively for Canada. For the time being the service is free for homeowners and sitters get two-years free.
- Housecarers – my friend Lisa has had good luck with this service, I have not and dropped it in the last year after they charged my credit card for renewal when I had not authorized it. To their credit, they were quick to refund. The cost is free for homeowners and $50 per year for sitters.
- Luxury House Sitting – this service is free for homeowners and $25 per year for sitters. The name of the service is more impressive than many of the homes listed. They also show all of their potential “homes” even though some homeowners haven’t listed anything in years. I will probably let this subscription expire.
- MindMyHouse – at $20 a year for sitters and free for homeowners, it’s the cheapest. We’ve used it once and will not use again as the quality of sits I’ve seen on this site are not ones we would consider.
- I still use Lisa as a personal resource and along the way she asked me to join her in creation of a Facebook sub-group under Women Who Sail called Women Who Sail-Housesitting. Of course the requirements to joining this group are 1) being female, and 2) being a member of the parent group Women Who Sail.
House Sitting Search Engines
In the past couple of years a couple of big internet search engines have come into play that search across multiple services. I’ve found that these to be incredibly useful for narrowing by date range and location.
Housesit Search – this search engine is free and covers numerous housesitting platforms
House Sitting World – this search engine has a number of pricing options ranging from free to an annual fee of $99/year. They also have a monthly option with each option giving you an increased number of features.
Neither search engine covers all of the different services but they can help speed up the process, especially if you are looking for a specific locale or date range.
Housesitting Tips for Sitters (based on our experiences)
- When you are getting started, make sure your profile is complete and gives a clear picture of the experience you bring. Initially the key is to build experience and get positive references. Homeowners look very closely at your past references. You may want to pick a few sits in the area you live just to gain some positive feedback without travel commitments.
- After having one house-sit a couple of years ago where the home was less than ideal (bedroom was in a small basement with virtually no windows – that’s a safety issue in my book), we have gotten far more picky in what we apply for. If photos are not included, ask. But if the homeowners do not provide pictures with their posting, I usually move on figuring if they can’t take the time to upload some photos, then they can find someone else to sit for them.
- Information about what is required relating to the pets is also critical. You need to know what your care commitments will be prior to accepting. If you think you’re going to explore the nearby area but the pets can’t be left alone, then that would not be a good fit. Knowing health issues is a must along with feeding schedules. And make sure the sit is specific about the numbers/types of pets.
- While we would love to find sits during the winter months in warmer climates, by staying north we have far less competition in securing sits. We do make sure that there is a service lined up for clearing driveways, etc. If you’re looking for sits over the summer months, you will find lots in the southern states where homeowners want to head north. Using this opposite season method initially is a great way to build up your references.
- Make sure you find out what day the homeowner wants/needs you to arrive and the same for departure. Some list the day they are leaving in their ad but in reality they want you there ahead of time to get familiar with the home and the pets. If the homeowner did not have a place for us to stay and wanted us to arrive early, this would be the one situation where I would ask the homeowner to pay for the accommodations.
- Make a decision as to whether you will charge for sitting. Charging a fee could potentially reduce your options. We do not charge but based on our experience, we may in the future if there were a large number of animals that required specialized care.
- We bypass any ads that are asking for people to cover their absence for an AirBnB, guesthouse, or those that want to charge for utilities. If we are caring for their pets while they are gone, that is enough.
- Most homeowners like seeing pictures of their pets and regular updates. And some even like daily updates – they may not ask for it but they appreciate it when you do. Ask the owner before they leave how often they want updates.
- We use the site portals to exchange information with owners rather than our personal email accounts – that way we all have a documented record of prior conversations.
- Some owners will request a Skype interview or a phone interview. Use this time to ask any questions that you have about the sit. I would recommend not making a commitment to the homeowner during these live conversations. Then you can weigh the pros/cons of a particular sit without the pressure of the homeowner being on the line with you. We have also gone to homeowners homes prior to the sit (and before a commitment) if it has been convenient to do so.
Housesitting Tips for Homeowners (based on our experiences)
- Please, please include lots of photos in your ads. Include pictures of your pets with their names, pictures of the home, kitchen, bedroom where the sitters will sleep, and other general common areas of the home.
- If your pets have special needs, include those in the ad. This will save you time if you don’t have to weed out those who are not qualified. If you have a very ill pet, perhaps you might consider delaying your travel plans.
- Don’t hesitate to ask questions of any potential sitter. You can do this through the website portal (recommended), email, phone, or some form of video chat. The advantage of having conversations captured through the portal is they are captured for future reference.
- Put together a “resource book” with all of the key information about your home, emergency contacts, detailed care for each pet and what they like or don’t like. If you have time, a list of suggested restaurants, places to see, and things to do in your area.
We are always available for questions. If you want further information about housesitting you can add a comment or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.