I had initially been holding off on writing this article until I spent a full year housesitting, but after several requests I decided to just go ahead and write it. With four housesitting assignments under my belt I’m ready to talk. So! Housesitting 101. Let’s get into it.
Why I’m a Housesitter
It’s great for long-term travel. Housesitting allows me to travel for long periods and I get to stay in one place for weeks (or even months) at a time. As someone who prefers slow travel in an attempt to really getting to know a place from both a tourist and local perspective, this makes housesitting a great option for me.
I save money on accommodation. While some people housesit or petsit for a fee (which can make for an excellent side hustle), I offer to take care of other people’s homes, plants, and pets for free in exchange for accommodation. My theory is that by not charging a rate, homeowners are more likely to “hire” me to watch over their home. I’m also a firm believer in bartering, so this system works really well for me. I save a crap ton of money and still get to see new places, yay!
I love animals. Most housesitting jobs require that you take care of the homeowner’s beloved pet(s). Since I travel a lot, I’m not able to care for a pet of my own, which makes petsitting a great situation for me. Also, as a solo traveler and self-proclaimed “ambivert,” I like having the companionship of a pet while I’m staying in a new area, and avoiding the forced engagement that comes with staying in a room at an Airbnb or a dorm room in a hostel.
How I Got into Housesitting
I was broke. I wanted to travel long-term, but didn’t have the wherewithal to do it. After doing some budgeting, I figured out that after purchasing a ticket to my desired destination, accommodations accounted for a large chunk of my travel expenses. After getting a travel credit card that allowed me to earned points towards flights, I decided to also research cheaper accommodation options. Housesitting revealed itself to be one of the best options.
I did my research. After I decided that housesitting was the best option for long-term travel for me, I hopped online and searched for resources and information to get started. I followed travelers who were veteran housesitters, read articles and guides on housesitting, and got familiar with various online housesitting platforms.
I set up my profile. Although there are several housesitting websites out there (i.e., MindMyHouse.com, Caretaker.org, etc.), I settled on Housecarers.com because the annual fee was reasonable ($50) and I had heard from several people who had great experiences booking housesitting jobs using the platform. (Note: You can set-up an account on multiple housesitting websites simultaneously if you want to increase your chances of booking gigs.) A few tips that I believe enhanced my profile and allowed me to book more jobs include the following:
- Filming an introduction video where I talk a little bit about myself, and uploading said video to my housesitting profile so homeowners can view it.
- Writing a strong profile description that highlights attributes homeowners really like (e.g., labeling myself as a non-smoker, talking about how much I like pets, etc.).
- Uploading quality images of myself along with photos of me taking care of animals.
Booking a Gig
Decide where you want to go. After deciding on a platform and setting up a profile, I moved forward with answering different housesitter requests. In my experience, choosing what requests you want to apply to based on where you would like to go is a must. Currently, I apply to housesitter requests that are located in cities I’m interested in visiting, and in a location that is either walkable or close to public transportation. Doing so allows me to save money on transportation, as I don’t have to rent a car or use car services, such as Uber or Lyft, frequently.
Apply to relevant housesitter requests. If you’re lucky enough to get a response back stating that the host is interested in connecting with you further about potentially housesitting for them, schedule a phone call or video chat with them. This will allow you both to get to know one another better and ask necessary questions.
Make sure you’re okay with the duties required. As I stated before, housesitting for someone usually means you will be taking care of their pets, plants, and other aspects of their home. Therefore, it’s important that you know exactly what will be required of you, so that you can decide whether or not you’re okay with performing the tasks described.
Make sure the host knows you’re a digital nomad. When you talk to your potential host it’s imperative that you let them know you are a digital nomad who spends most of their time working from home. The last thing you want is to book a gig and arrive only to find out that your host’s house doesn’t have reliable wifi or is located in a building that houses extremely noisy neighbors. While talking to a homeowner I always bring up my digital nomad status to see if their place is conducive to someone who works primarily from home.
Get them to sign a housesitting agreement. If the homeowner thinks I’m a good fit and I’m interested in housesitting for them, I usually bring up the signing of a housesitting agreement. There are several agreements floating around out there, but I typically use a modified version of this one. The agreement simply states that I’m allowed to stay in the host’s home and agree to perform all of the duties discussed. It also gives me some protection as a housesitter by stating that the host can’t kick me out unexpectedly and that if I have to pay for any unforeseen issues (e.g., having a plumber come by to fix a non-functioning toilet), that the homeowner will reimburse me.
Book your travel. After the housesitting agreement has been signed, make sure you confirm the dates that your host wants you to arrive and depart, then book your travel accordingly. I like to arrive a day before the host is due to depart so that we can connect and they can walk me through what I need to know about their home, pet(s), garden, etc. I also like to leave a day after they are set to arrive back, so that I can fill them in on what happened while they were away and so that I can stick around in case their travel plans are delayed.
What People Never Told Me About Housesitting
Housesitting is kind of weird. You’re pretty much borrowing someone’s life for a few weeks as you typically have to perform parts of their daily routine. Also, since you are living in their house with their possessions, you tend to get to know your host on a deeper level without them being physically present.
It can be a stressful job. Maintaining someone else’s home and caring for their pets can be stressful at times, especially when you’re just settling into their routine. I’ve had moments where I’ve freaked out about potentially caring for a pet incorrectly, killing someone’s prized plant accidentally, among many other things. Just know that accidents happen and it will take a few days to really get a hang of things in your new environment.
However, you will end up saving a ton of money. If you plan your housesitting arrangements out correctly, you can end up saving hundreds of dollars on travel expenses. I recently had a housesitting gig in Boulder where I was caring for a couple’s home and dog for nearly three weeks. Their home was situated within walking distance to downtown Boulder, which meant that not only did I not have to pay for my accommodations, I also didn’t have to use public transit. I also took inventory of the food staples they already had in their home (i.e., rice, beans, etc.) and located the most inexpensive place to buy groceries. This allowed me to buy cheap groceries and meal plan, so that I could cook at home and save money by not eating out regularly.
You can become a “go to” housesitter for your host. Another great thing about housesitting is the bond that tends to develop between you and your host. Granted, if you do things my way, you’ll only see them for maybe two out of the several days that you’re staying in their home. However, if you connect with them and do a great job caring for their home, they’ll be more likely to ask you back if they need a housesitter again. If you housesit for a homeowner who travels a lot, this is an ideal situation, as you’ll have a place to stay in a location that you like in the future.
Saying goodbye to the pets you took care of can be really tough. I’ve been lucky enough to sit for some truly wonderful pets and leaving them after a few weeks is really hard sometimes. I’m grateful that I was able to bond with them though, and I’m hopeful that their owners will ask me back!
Most housesitting gigs are unpaid. Contrary to popular belief, most housesitters do not get paid. In all honesty, it would feel weird to charge someone to let me stay in their home while they’re away. I think I would only change my mind if the duties required were particularly demanding.
Housesitting while Black
One of the reasons why I was hesitant to get into housesitting initially was because I’m a Black woman and solo traveler and, the truth is, times are pretty scary for folks like me. Most of the homeowners and housesitters I’ve come across are white. The last thing I wanted was to book a housesitting gig only to show up and have the host feel a way about a Black girl watching their home. Or even worse, have them not book me at all because I’m Black, which is a pretty reasonable fear considering that Black folks can’t even book an Airbnb at times because of our skin color.
With that said, I obviously decided to pursue this option anyway. I also decided to post an introduction video on my housesitter profile because I knew it would be a great way to engage homeowners, and I’ve even gotten a few housesitting requests from hosts that watched my video and liked what they heard.
However, posting a video of myself, along with photos, was also a strategic move on my part for another reason: it allows homeowners to see what I look like. If they’re racist, then they’ll move on, if not, then cool. At the end of the day, they know who’ll be showing up on their doorstep and that’s what matters.
Aside from posting the introduction video, I also take a number of other precautions before and after booking a housesitting opportunity, which include the following:
- Getting the homeowner to sign a housesitting agreement. On a couple of my housesitting jobs I’ve found myself staying in predominantly white neighborhoods and, to be honest, one of my worst fears is getting the cops called on me by a neighbor who has spotted me entering my host’s home. Having a signed agreement that says I’m allowed to stay in my host’s home is great to have should the cops come knocking. (Note: For those of you who think I’m being overly sensitive or paranoid, I kindly refer you to this news article.)
- Asking the homeowner if they’ve informed their neighbors that they’re hosting a housesitter. Please refer to #1 for my reasons for doing this.
- Sending out information on where I’m staying to close family and friends. I recommend this precaution to anyone who decides to housesit. The reality is that you’re agreeing to travel a ways away to stay in a stranger’s home for multiple weeks at a time. So, in an effort to avoid a “Get Out” situation, I’ll send the address of where I’ll be staying to a close family member or friend who lives in the area just in case something happens. I also check-in with a friend or family member daily via text message or phone call to let them know how I’m doing.
That’s it in a nutshell! If you have further questions about housesitting drop a line in the comment section below and I’ll answer it. Also, if you have experience housesitting yourself, feel free to share some insights and advice as well.