FAQ on House Sitting

Sometimes, one random encounter changes the course of our lives. Last winter, as I walked down to Tivat from a hike on Mount Vrmac, I bumped into a lady with a scary dog. The dog wasn’t hers, she explained, she was from Hawaii and just staying in Montenegro for three weeks, house sitting and taking care of the dog in the absence of the owners. And that’s how I heard of house sitting for the first time.

What is house sitting?

When the owners of houses or apartments want to travel, they are sometimes worried about their house, about plants and, above all, about their pets if they cannot take them on holiday. Sure, you could put the animals in a shelter, but these places are not as cozy as one’s own home. (People don’t seem to have those reservations about their grandparents, though.)

Therefore, homeowners look for someone to live in their house during the time of their absence and feed the dog, water the plants, shovel the snow, empty the mailbox and make sure that nobody breaks in. The owners feel more relaxed, knowing that someone takes care of everything and contacts them from time to time, sending photos of their pet.

“Hmm,” I thought, “this would be perfect for my traveling lifestyle.” Jessica, the lady from Hawaii, was very encouraging and gave me plenty of tips and help. Combined with the experience I have gained in the past year, I am passing this information on to you.

So, you get to go on vacation for free?

No. You really must not see it as a vacation or a holiday. I rather treat it as a job, with responsibilities towards the house, the owners and the animals.

There is usually no payment involved at all, but if someone allows me to stay in their house or apartment for free, it’s like they are paying my rent and my utility bills. So I should take my responsibilities seriously.

Particularly if there are pets, this means that I will invest serious time to take care of the pets. Merely keeping them alive is not enough, I also want them to be happy. If they need cuddling for a few hours every day, then they get the cuddles. (I can still listen to podcasts or watch a movie while doing that.)

I am also mowing the lawn, watering the plants, taking out the trash, checking on the solar panels and picking up the mail. Most important are regular updates for the owners, so they know that the house hasn’t burned down and that the cat or dog is still alive. I also inform the homeowners of the mail received, offering to scan and forward it to them.

So, as you see, it’s not a holiday and you don’t have complete freedom of your time. Particularly if there are pets, you shouldn’t really spend the night elsewhere, so you cannot go on longer trips in the area. But for me, requiring a lot of time for studying, reading and writing anyway, it’s perfect. For the opportunity of living in another city or country, it’s a small price to pay, I think. And sometimes, you get to stay in real palaces.

Albertina gelber Saal.jpeg

How can you do house sitting if you are afraid of dogs?

I only work with cats.

alice nap

This severely limits the number of jobs I can apply to because around 80% of house sitting offers include dogs. So, if you want to apply for house sitting jobs, please only apply to the ones with dogs, horses, sheep and snakes, so we won’t be competing.

Leave the cats to the cat lover.

Katze streicheln Sessel

The only exception is our neighbor’s dog in Germany, but she is so cute and harmless, she is basically a cat.

Lilly

How long do these house sits last?

Some people only look for a house sitter for a weekend, others are going away for half a year, to spend the winter in their summer house in the Caribbean. Most offers are for a few weeks, coinciding with the average time of a vacation. A lot of people want to get away for Christmas, and who can blame them?

I prefer to stay for several months, particularly if I have to fly somewhere. When I am already in the area, I am also open to shorter assignments.

Sisi tearing off my clothes

How do you find these jobs?

There are special websites. They all charge an annual fee, so I only signed up to three of them so far.

  • Mind My House was my first try because the fee is quite reasonable at 20 $/year. I scored a few jobs quickly after signing up. Most of the offers are in North America and in Western Europe, with occasional offers from other regions.
  • House Sitters UK only has offers from the UK, as the name suggests. They have the best-organized website, I think, and I personally love staying in the UK. So, the 20 £/year are worth it. I have already secured a few placements through them. If you want to sign up with House Sitters UK, ask me for a referral code (it changes every few weeks), and you will get 25% off your membership fee!
  • Trusted Housesitters is rather expensive by comparison. They charge 89 €/year, but they are also the most professional site and have plenty of offers. I have already secured two jobs through them. You will get 25% off if you sign up using this link or the promo code RAF253501.

Other websites are:

  • Nomador has a focus on France, but also offers from around the world. The membership costs 65 €/year, but they offer a free trial membership, with which you get 3 applications. Having just discovered this in the course of this research, I will sign up with them next. And I have always wanted to reactivate my French anyway.
  • Housecarers charge 50 Can$/year. I haven’t checked them out yet, mainly because I already find enough placements through the other websites.
  • The standard membership with House Sit Match costs 49 £/year, but I haven’t been able to properly use the search function on that website yet.
  • Luxury House Sitting costs 25 $/year. I find the website a bit confusing, because they don’t remove filled positions.

I am curious to hear about your experience with these websites, if you have any, or additional links, of course. None of the websites is really perfect when it comes to search parameters. For example, when I specify that I want to care for cats, I always get plenty of offers with cats and dogs. Also, none of them allows for tailored e-mail alerts. For example, when I block out certain dates, I still get offers for those dates. That could be much improved.

What is missing on all the websites I have seen so far, are offers from Eastern Europe, the Middle East, Africa and Central Asia. Maybe in those parts of the world, people simply ask their neighbors for help. Too bad, because I would be very excited to spend some time there.

Because competition on the house sitting websites is quite high, I also recommend telling your friends and relatives that you are available for this tough job. And if any of the readers of this blog has a cat and wants to go on holiday, or if you have a summer house that you don’t use for the winter, and want somebody to live there and to write stories, please let me know!

Where have you done house sitting so far? And where will you go next?

So far, I have done the following house sits:

  • Summer 2018: two months in Vienna, Austria, taking care of the apartment of friends.
  • Fall 2018: one month in Venta Micena, Spain, taking care of a cat. (I found this job through MindMyHouse.)
  • Winter 2018/19: three months in Calgary, Canada, taking care of a cat. (MindMyHouse)
  • May 2019: two weeks in Newquay, Cornwall, England, with one cat. (House Sitters UK)
  • July 2019: two weeks in Vienna. This time, my friends also entrusted me with their cat.
  • August 2019: two weeks in Antwerpen, Belgium, with one cat. (Trusted Housesitters)

On this page, I always list my upcoming travels, including the next house sits.

Loes on chest

Do you need a visa to house sit?

That depends on the country and on your citizenship, of course.

But because there is typically no money involved, you can usually do it on a tourist visa or the visa waiver for tourists. When I was questioned by Canadian immigration, for example, I explained the concept and said, correctly, that it was unpaid. It did not pose any problem at all.

EU citizens can of course stay in other EU countries for as long as they want. Great Britain poses some uncertainty at the moment and, ironically, that’s exactly where I have three more house sits lined up this year. We shall see if I will be able to go there legally or if I will have to sneak in through the backdoor.

Do you have any tips for me, based on your own experience?

Plenty of tips, and I will probably expand this list:

  • Fill in your profile with meaningful information, be witty and likable, and have photos of you with animals. (Having said that, let’s not kid ourselves that everyone has the same chances. I don’t think I would have gotten all the offers if I was an 18-year old black dude with a crazy beard instead of a 43-year old white lawyer from Germany. This is unfair, of course, but that’s reality. Some homeowners have told me that they only look for women, and one of my applications for Canada was explicitly declined because I was not Canadian.)
  • Respond to specific points in the ad.
  • If you can make it, offer to visit the homeowners long before the house sit, so they can get to know you and see how you interact with their cat/dog/crocodile. If that is not feasible, offer at least a video call.
  • When the ads come up on those house sitting websites, you need to be quick. Homeowners have told me that they typically receive tons of applications in the first few days. Many of them deactivate the ad after two or three days.
  • As I wrote above, tell everyone that you are up for this kind of job.
  • Stay away from offers that read something like: “We have 5 cats, 7 dogs, 2 horses, a flock of sheep and 18 acres of fields, from which we expect you to collect the potatoes. You should also take care of our B&B guests, change their sheets, clean their rooms and prepare them breakfast.” Seriously, some people are trying to abuse house sitting for cheap labor. If you will be working day and night, you won’t benefit from living in another country.
  • When homeowners make the application too cumbersome, you may want to abort the process. I had one couple from New Jersey once who kept asking for ever more references and documents, then sent a 12-page contract for me to review, and ultimately told me that they decided to give the job to someone they knew. I should have sensed that earlier.
  • I know you all want to go to Hawaii or to Paris, but if you don’t get any of those jobs, maybe apply to some in your own country. Everything will be easier once you have a few testimonials on your profile.
  • Think before you apply! If you have never handled dogs or cats, or only played with them once for an hour, this is not for you. If you are not sure, if you will have time, this is not for you. Once you commit, you can’t walk out of it (or it would be really shabby).
  • Plan the trip in a way that you have at least an extra day before the job begins. Often, the homeowners already allow you to stay at the house, so you can all become familiar, especially with the animals. But even if not, it’s worth booking a hotel/hostel/AirBnB for a night before to give you all plenty of time.

And once the house sit has started:

  • As described above, take the house sit seriously. It’s your main job during the stay.
  • Take care of issues yourself without bothering the owners. If light bulbs needs to be changed or small repairs need to be done, take care of them. If you break a cup, replace it. If the cat vomits on the carpet, clean it. None of this requires the owners to be disturbed on their holiday.
  • Ask the owners how often they want updates. These usually refer to the pets. I have found it the easiest to befriend the owners on Facebook and then post photos of the cat from time to time, so they see that the cat is alive and happy.
  • Before the return of the owners, you should obviously clean the house, replenish food supplies, change bed sheets, bake a cake and pack your bags, so that you are ready to leave. When people come home from a safari or a six-month stay on the International Space Station, they usually want to spend time with their pets or just be left in peace. Don’t hang around. The job is done. You are on the road again.

bicycle Andreas Moser.JPG

What are the risks?

Oh, come on, don’t be so negative!

Just be careful, lock the door, turn off the stove after cooking and don’t smoke inside the house.

Honestly, I only have one fear: that a cat will die while in my care.

Probably, I forgot some really important questions, so just fire away in the comment section below. If you already have experience either as a house sitter or a homeowner, I am also curious to hear from you.

Do you want a posctard?

You want more of my articles and stories? Me too! There are plenty more jotted down in my notebooks already. Sadly, I sometimes have to work mundane jobs, preventing me from exercising my creativity. Every donation helps to free up time for research or writing. I greatly appreciate it, and you will get a personal postcard!

$10.00

About Andreas Moser

Travelling the world and writing about it. I have degrees in law and philosophy, but I'd much rather be a journalist, a spy or a hobo.
This entry was posted in Travel, Video Blog and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

23 Responses to FAQ on House Sitting

  1. deeess says:

    Wait…. Is that a picture of you with a dog?? And you’re actually smiling? I thought dogs only chased you when you go for a run? (And crazy clients who’s dog barks and forces her to run from France to Rostock).

    And as for smiling in photos with cats, be careful, people might think you are going soft!

    • That is Lily, the only dog I am not afraid of. And in reality, she is even smaller than she looks in the photo.

      With all the cat photos, I was actually more worried that people put me in the Blofeld category. ;-)

  2. July Rojas says:

    Hey!!! Me encanta tu narración ¡es genial! engancha al lector de una forma natural y graciosa. Pero sobre todo brinda muy buena información.😊 👏

    • Muchas gracias, estimada senorita colega periodista!
      A veces hay ofertas en Latinoamérica, particularmente en Ecuador y México, pero no muchos como en Norteamérica o Europa. :-(

    • July Rojas says:

      Puedes venir a cuidar un gato que adopte 😁😁 serio … no es broma 😊

  3. Iza Kan says:

    Pssss… there is a few group on Couchsurfing, too.

    • Oh yes, I forgot those groups on Couchsurfing, thanks for reminding me!
      They are free of charge, of course, although it seems that there are many more people looking for positions than offers.

      Now, some people will ask “What is Couchsurfing?” and I will have to prepare the next set of FAQ…

  4. Taking care of the solar panels and not letting people breaking in are things I couldn’t do :-D You were really attached to the cat, you suffered a lot :-D

  5. List of X says:

    I’m sorry to say, but if you keep housesitting cats, eventually one of them will die. It’s just the law of large numbers. :)
    But thank you for the informative post. Housesitting sounds like fun, and I wish I’d done a couple of gigs myself. Nowadays, with a cat (on my lap as I write this) and kids, I’m more likely to get a house sitter than to house sit myself – and I now will keep that in mind as an option that we could get a sitter if we go on vacation.

    • Maybe I should just go for young cats in the future, to reduce the risk?

      I was also shocked not to have thought of it sooner. It would have saved me a lot of money for rent, and before my renewed studies, I was still more flexible with the time. Now, I need to fit everything between seminars and exams.

      Nice to know that your cat also likes to be close to you when you are trying to write/work! 🐈

    • The post is written from a sitter’s perspective, but I still hope that homeowners find it useful.
      As far as I know, for owners, some of these websites are even free.

    • List of X says:

      So, are the owners expected to pay for anything? Obviously, pet food and supplies, but you have to buy your own food, right?

    • Usually, the owners provide enough food for the animals, cat litter, there is enough oil or gas in the tank for heating and they keep the utilities paid.

      But yes, of course I buy my own food. I usually also use some of the food that is already at the house (some seasonings, for example, you use so rarely, there wouldn’t be any point in buying them myself), but then, at the end, I try to replace what I consumed or to replenish the staple foods, like cooking oil, onions, pasta, chocolate.

  6. Claude says:

    Useful list on the available housesitting sites. This article made me think about the likelyhood of housesitting!

    • And with all the websites I am using, you can already browse their offers without signing up. So you can get an idea of what offers there are and if that particular site might be useful before paying for it.

  7. Pingback: Wie funktioniert Housesitting/Haushüten? | Der reisende Reporter

  8. Sat says:

    Hello! Lovely feature, with tons of useful information. We want to start housesitting, so per your reco requesting you for a housesitters uk referral code.
    Thanks!
    Sat

  9. Eva says:

    Hi, how do you handle the gaps between the jobs? I am retired, white female living in Canada. This would be perfect for me, but I am worried about not getting wall-to-wall assignments and would have to pay for hotel rooms. If I’d do this, I would give up my permanent place. It’s easy, as I am renting.
    Thanks,
    Eva

    • I would say that wall-to-wall assignments are very rare because most homeowners are only flexible with inviting you earlier, but they won’t move their holiday plans to accommodate the house sitter.
      Or you will have to accept assignments all over the world, and then you will have enormous travel expenses.

      But I find that I often only need to cover a week or so. I either go hiking then, or I use Couchsurfing, or I stay with my dad or my girlfriend. (In my case, I often can’t accept assignments that would fit perfectly after each other because I also have university seminars or exams.)
      But I spend enough time of the year with house sitting that I don’t rent a place of my own anymore.

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