So You Want to be a House Sitter?
The kinds of house sitting opportunities I’m about to tell you about are available to anyone, anywhere with an email address who can get online to check for offers of house sitting jobs (and then transport themselves to the owner’s property of course, but that comes later).
If you’re thinking that you would like to housesit to make some extra money, turn
away now. Because if you advertise your house sitting services with an online
matching service such as mine, you won’t be paid a cent for your efforts. In fact,
you’ll be paying for your share of the bills during your house sitting assignment
(and you may be asked for a security deposit by the home owner).
What is a free house sitter required to do?
While the home owner is away everything continues in the property as usual (that’s
where you come in!). Bills need to be paid to keep services connected, plants need
watering, gardens, lawns and trees need to be maintained, mail and phone
messages may need to be forwarded, and pets remain as demanding of love, care
and companionship as ever. While the relationship between home owner and house
sitter is mutually beneficial and based on trust the house sitter is, in effect, working
for the home owner. The house sitter agrees to occupy the home owner’s property
for a given period of time. Generally the house sitter is required to be in the
property most evenings and nights (although, like everything, this may be
negotiable), giving the property its usual occupied appearance to deter burglars,
squatters and vandals. Often, there will be one or more animals to care for (these
can be fish, rabbits, cats and dogs, hamsters, goats and horses!)
What costs does the house sitter have?
The house sitter funds all their own day-to-day requirements while on assignment
and generally agrees to replace everything of the home owner’s that they consume.
Before the house sitting assignment begins, both parties need to sit down and spell
out who is responsible for which bills. Generally, any vet bills and costs of
maintaining the property should remain with the owner, while the sitter takes care
of their share of utility bills. A security deposit may also be required by the home
owner to insure against any damages. This is negotiable but shouldn’t be more than
the cost of a month’s rent for a similar property in the area.
How do I advertise my house sitting services?
You could advertise your house sitting services by word of mouth (fellow RVers are
especially in need of house sitters), by company email, by taking out a small
classified advert in a local paper or by sticking your own advert on public notice
boards. All of these methods may attract the attention of a local home owner and
result in an offer of a house sitting assignment.
However, if you are currently in Canada and want to house sit in Florida (for
example) you’ll need to ‘go global’ and advertise your house sitting services with an
online house sitting directory. These websites generally follow two basic models of
business practice. In the first fully online model, house sitters pay an annual fee
(usually around US$30) to create their own sitter available advert which is online and
searchable 24 hours per day. Home owners then search the website’s database and
contact house sitters directly. You can also personally respond to any sitter wanted
adverts on the site.
In the second model, the website only serves as an advert for the business which is
conducted by the administrators ‘behind the scenes’. For an annual fee (this can be
US$95 or more for the whole package) the business owner agrees to include the
house sitter’s advert in either an email or printed mailing list which is then posted
out to an unspecified number of home owners. There may also be the option of
paying to receive a list of sitter wanted adverts by email or post. This second type of
service may seem less transparent than the first – you don’t actually know if your
advert has been sent out or how many home owners may have seen it. However, if
the site seems well established and has many testimonials from satisfied customers
then it should be worth the initial investment.
What should I look for in a good house sitting website?
To have any kind of success as a house sitter you need to spend the relatively small
fee (membership fees on the reputable sites range from free to around US$95 per
year) to list with a website that is well-designed and informative, with good usability
and a logical navigation structure.
The website should be easy to find through a search engine. To check how
established a website is and how high they are ranked with the search engines, type
a generic term such as “house sitters” (use double quotes to perform the more
useful phrase search) into the search field of your preferred search engine. Your
house sitting directory site of choice should be listed in the top 100 page returns.
If you regularly use the Internet, you will have your own criteria for what makes a
good website. Peruse the different sites, try out the search function for both sitter
available adverts and sitter wanted adverts. Read through the FAQs section and see
how well-informed you feel at the end of it. If membership on the site is free, join
as a member and create your own sitter available advert. What have you got to lose?
What should I avoid in a house sitting website?
If a website is very badly made and difficult to navigate it’s very likely that home
owners will be staying away from the service in droves. Be wary of those online
businesses that ask for a hefty up-front membership fee (anything over US$95) but
offer no guarantee of satisfaction. If a website seems cagey about just how many of
their house sitter members are being offered house sitting assignments and hides
how they operate their business give them a wide berth. Often these websites are
just selling the dream of rent-free accommodation, which never materialises for
their disappointed members.
How do I get started as a house sitter?
Once you’ve got your advert online you’ll need to prepare yourself for any
eventuality (house sitting is like that). If you’re not that confident with pets you may
want to get cosy with a few of your friends’ cats and dogs to prepare you for the
inevitable pet sitting duties that accompany house sitting assignments. Get your
references in order (or ask the relevant people to become email and/or phone
referees for you) and commission a police background check on yourself to show
home owners that you’re not a member of the Beagle Boys (remember them?) Make
sure your passport is current in case something great and last minute comes up.
You’ll also need to open an email account that you can travel with (if you haven’t got
one already) that has a generous storage limit (Yahoo offers a huge 250mb as
standard). It is crucial that you remain contactable – if you are not from mainland
USA forget about opening a Hotmail account as these are notorious for having a tiny
inbox that is continually going ‘over limit’.
Finally, once you’ve chosen a website (or another method of advertising) don’t fall
into the trap of waiting for home owners to advertise their house sitting
assignments so that you can contact them. The vast majority of home owners prefer
to search sitter available adverts and contact house sitters directly. If you don’t
create your own advert, no one will be able to find you!
What are my chances of being offered a house sitting assignment?
There are many factors that influence your chances of being chosen for an
assignment. Some of these you can’t control (such as your age, marital status and
country of residence) others you can (such as providing references, offering home
owners a security deposit, a police background check and the chance to interview
you for the job before making a decision). The importance of having a well-written
advert describing yourself and your experience in adequate detail (around 100
words) cannot be overestimated.
In my work as a website editor and administrator I come across a great many lonely
online classifieds and forlorn requests on bulletin boards from people who are
looking to trade their house and pet sitting services in exchange for free
accommodation. These types of requests are the Internet equivalent of ‘whistling in
the wind’ as the right people never see them. Fortunately, the creation of online
house sitting matching services has provided the space and the facilities for home
owners and house sitters to find one another at last.
House sitting worldwide is about bringing people together from around the globe
for the free exchange of services (house and pet sitting) with goods
(accommodation). Making yourself available as a house sitter could be your first
step towards one of many life-enhancing adventures. Whatever you’re seeking from
a house sitting assignment, there is undoubtedly someone out there who has the
right house sitting opportunity at the right time for you. The challenge is finding
each other! Best of luck with your house sitting.