10 Tips for Landing the Perfect House-Sitting Gig

by Nora Dunn on 12 April 2012 7 comments
Photo: Bekathwia

The next time you go away, how would you like free accommodation? It has a full kitchen, bathroom, bedroom suite (often more than one), and all the devices and accouterments of home. In fact it is home — it's just somebody else's home. And in exchange for taking care of the place, you get to stay there for free — as a house-sitter.

In a recent post I wrote about how to travel the world full-time for $17,000 a year or less, I outlined a number of ways to get free accommodation, of which house-sitting was one. And Wise Bread colleague Maggie wrote some great tips for house-sitting etiquette. Today we'll go a little deeper into how to effectively land and enjoy a house-sitting job. (See also: 11 Simple Rules of Excellent Houseguest Etiquette)

Why House-Sit?

I love house-sitting because it gives me a chance to live a slice of “local life” in my chosen destination, and in some cases I've discovered places that weren't originally on my list of travel destinations. In fact, I could barely spot the Caribbean island of Grenada on a map before accepting a house-sitting gig there last October, and I loved so much that I'm back again for more house-sitting.

But I'm also not the only person who thinks house-sitting is an ideal way to see the world. If you're interested in house-sitting, you might be up against some stiff competition. Here are 10 ways to get the most out of a house-sitting membership, and to increase your chances of being noticed by homeowners.

1. Join a House-Sitting Membership Site (or Two)

I belong to a few house-sitting membership sites, and despite annual fees of approximately $50 each, they're well worth it — I make this money back tenfold in what I save on accommodation. Most sites offer worldwide opportunities; some focus on certain regions (such as Aussie House Sitters), and others (like The Caretaker Gazette) offer various volunteer and work-trade positions as well as house-sitting.

I feature a comprehensive list of house-sitting sites in my full-time travel article.

2. Sign Up For Notifications

Most house-sitting sites allow you to set notifications so new house-sitting opportunities that match your criteria (including location or available dates) arrive in your inbox. These real-time alerts are important for increasing your competitive edge (see tip 4, below).

3. Create a Comprehensive Profile

I've been contacted directly by homeowners who have asked me to house-sit based on my profile alone. In some cases they didn't even bother to put out a listing, and instead hand-picked a few house-sitting candidates they were interested in. So it's important to create a profile that tells homeowners a lot about you.

Some sites allow you to upload photos (and even video), and this is important to give you a personable side. Homeowners are taking a leap of faith by inviting a stranger to care for their homes (and sometimes pets); go the distance by making yourself a little more familiar.

Lisa Logan of TrustedHousesitters.com says it's important to provide references (previous house-sits, employer, or character references), and you'll also increase your edge with a police check. “Put yourself in the shoes of a homeowner and think about the information you would like to have. Be very clear about what experience and attributes you have that make you a great house-sitter.” 

4. Reply Quickly

One of the reasons it's important to stay abreast of notifications is because you need to reply almost instantly to get noticed by a homeowner. If a house-sitting opportunity seems ideal to you, you're probably not the only person who thinks so, and homeowners can receive hundreds of applications very shortly after posting a listing.

You'll dramatically increase your chances of being noticed and considered if your application is in the first bunch.

5. Keep It Short and Sweet

Logan says “write a succinct but informative introductory email. Homeowners may receive anything up to a hundred emails, and they won't want to read anything too long. Your email links to your profile where you can really go to town and let a homeowner know all about you.”

6. Remember Why You're Needed

While keeping it short and sweet, it's important to show the homeowner exactly what you provide that they want in a house-sitter.

I recently asked a homeowner how she selected her last house-sitter couple amidst the sea of applications she received. “It's easy,” she said. “They were the only people who asked about or even took an interest in my dog!”

Reading through her listing, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to realize she was most concerned about providing company and care for the dog, yet most of the applicants regaled her with why they wanted to stay in her desirable destination, instead of why she might like to have them there.

7. Ask Lots of Questions

No two house-sitting gigs are created equal, so it's important for there to be an open dialogue between the homeowner and house-sitter so there are no nasty surprises. This can be easily enough achieved with emails (and a Skype conversation if possible). I've traveled halfway across the world for house-sitting jobs; you'd better believe I had my bases covered before booking that airfare.

8. Consider a Written Agreement

If you don't know what questions to ask, a written agreement can be a good place to start. When implemented, it sets out clear expectations, protecting both the homeowner and house-sitter from miscommunications.

“This encourages a homeowner to consider everything from home security to pet care, garden maintenance, emergency contacts, and more. This is a great starting point to make sure you're asking all the right questions,” says Logan.

TrustedHousesitters has a template agreement on their FAQ page, an incredibly comprehensive 17-page document covering items like who pays for what, contingency and liability plans, local numbers the house-sitter might need, and exact responsibilities of both the homeowner and house-sitter.

9. Make Sure the Finances are Fair

Some house-sitting gigs are paid, and some aren't. Some homeowners require house-sitters to pay for utilities and/or provide their own car, while others will provide all that and pay a stipend. I asked Lisa, “What gives? How do I know if I'm getting a good deal or being ripped off?”

She said “every house-sit is different, and a house-sitter should only agree to what they are comfortable with. House-sitting should be a mutually beneficial exchange and a win-win for both parties. Generally the longer an assignment, the more likely you'll be asked to pay for utilities, but that's not always the case.”

I once cared for three big dogs in a large country home with labor-intensive gardens. This was no small task, and when I considered how much money the homeowner was saving by not having to kennel the dogs and hire a gardener, I felt like I should have been paid. But their generosity in taking me out before and after their trip, showing me the area, allowing me to use their car (including adding me to their insurance), giving me free reign of the house, and inviting me to stay with them as long as I wished afterwards made it all worthwhile. 

10. Be Flexible

Being flexible with your expectations, location, and living requirements will increase your chance of enjoying your house-sitting gig. This is part of what travel is about; experiencing a different side of life, in a different location, and pushing your boundaries.

Logan says “our most experienced house-sitters tell us that you need to be flexible, prepared to roll up your sleeves, and have a good sense of humor, and then you'll have a great time!”

As with many things in life, you never really know what you're going to get until you get there. Enjoy the ride!

Discount for Wise Bread Readers

If you'd like to try your hand at house-sitting (or having house-sitters care for your home), TrustedHousesitters.com is offering a discount to Wise Bread readers.

You can choose from the following:

  • House-Sitting Membership: 25% off
  • Homeowner Membership: 6 months free
  • Combined Premium Membership: 50% off

Simply enter “wisebread” in the promotional code box, regardless of whether you are applying for a house-sitter, homeowner, or combination membership, to receive your discount.

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Guest's picture
Scott

Great article, as I've been trying to get involved in this. I have two major handicaps, though - I have very little previous house sitting experience, and I have very little experience with pets. I haven't yet signed up for these house sitting sites, because I assume these two strikes will keep me from getting any assignments. Thoughts?

Guest's picture
Tara

Scott,

Did you take the leap? How did it go?

I am in a similar situation and would like to find out about your experience with house sitting!

Guest's picture
Scott

Tara, I have not taken any steps to get involved in housesitting. The impression that I've gotten is that someone in my position would not get any housesitting assignments without investing a lot of time and effort to ask friends for references and do some volunteering locally with animals to get some "experience" to add to my profile.

Guest's picture

As avid house sitters these are some of the best tips to land you that gig. Your profile and responding quickly, plus a really personal email to the home owners seem to be our biggest successes. It's such an amazing way to see the world and beneficial for both parties involved.

Guest's picture
Richard

Very interesting article. I would love to housesitting especially in big cities where the cost of renting is high such as Sydney, Tokyo, Moscow, etc. I love animals and gardening and I am in good health. I will have plenty of time soon as I will retire next year at 54 with a small pension (my job will be cut). Do you think that home owner may be interested in an older man for this kind of business? Or do they prefer young people? How long are the housesitting contract on average? Considering the cost of plane tickets I would prefer to housesit for at least a month.

Thanks,

Richard

Guest's picture
Susan

Hi Liz – You have some valuable advice here. I have a bit of experience house sitting and the hardest part was starting up without any references. First up I used my employment references, police clearance is very valuable and any personal references you have.

I listed my skills and experience upfront and I didn't wait to be contacted, I was one of the first to apply for anything and went to see the person (if possible) as soon as possible. I also used Skype as a way of communicating with people I couldn't visit if they were too far away.

Love the experience and you always learn something new and see different places. As an older person, it is the perfect way to travel on a small income.

Guest's picture
Claudia

Amazing article, and full of useful links, as expected from Nora! :D Thank you!