Housesit on Your Next Vacation
I just got back from spending two weeks in one of America’s most expensive cities, staying in one of that city’s toniest neighborhoods, for free. You can do it too, you know.
It’s true. I spent two weeks in San Francisco and stayed on the north side of town (Russian Hill) and I didn’t spend a dime on accommodations. What did I do? I house sat a big national historic landmark house belonging to friends of mine while they were away. Hotel stays in that area can run easily in the almost 300 dollars a night range. I am eternally grateful. Almost the only way I can afford a vacation is if I’m able to build that vacation around free accommodations — usually the big expense outside food of any trip. While it’s true I am friends with this couple, we weren’t friends at the beginning of my housesitting gigs — it developed over time. I’ve housesat for many people over the years — especially when I was leaving my first husband and actually needed somewhere to stay. A little common sense and courtesy and you could become the primo housesitter!
First, I know some people charge for housesitting. In fact, my own housesitters often require I kick them back a check for feeding the cats. But by and large if I’m going to accept a housesitting gig, it’s going to be some place I want to go to in a house I want to stay in. I think those owners on vacation appreciate this as they realize how much money they are blowing on their trip and want to scale back. My grandmother is always telling me, ’but you should get paid!’ I say hogwash. No one is forcing me to hang out in North Beach every morning drinking the best cappuccinos known to man and eating the best tiramisu on the west coast. I am grateful and happy to have the honor. Now, of course my own housesitters don’t get luxury accommodations. They get a dinky cabin house in the woods no different than their own dinky house in the woods, so naturally the feeding of the cats and a check that the meth heads in the neighborhood haven’t sold my television is worth the $50 bucks. It’s more of a chore for them. If someone wants me to live in their house, sleep in their bed, and let my kids play in there too, what more could I ask?!
I think over the years I’ve pretty much cultivated a few simple rules regarding housesitting.
Seriously. How would you like it if someone went through your bank statements and sex toys? The only drawers I open are in the kitchen. And I know I’m a writer and should want to find out more, but you have to build trust with the family you are going to housesit for. Don’t go snooping; it’s just not nice.
Be mindful of it. If you can figure out how to turn a TV on and not mess up the TiVO recordings on a system that has ten remotes then go for it. I however, am just not that savvy. I watched TV in my friend's house just on however she had it turned on. She was recording random things and I got a nice sampling of stuff without doing a bit of surfing. Likewise, bring your own laptop unless you want to leave a history of where you go on their computer.
Pets should always still be living upon the owner’s return. Take the dog for walks. Be a good pet person even if you aren’t a pet person. Make sure they leave groomer/vet info. This last time I made sure to get the dog groomed. He smelled a bit when we got there and I thought coming home to both a clean house and a clean dog would be the perfect way to return.
Keep it clean. I tend to spread out in one main room with my stuff so that final clean up is easier and I don’t leave anything behind. I had my kids with me this last time and we kept our stuff in the den by the downstairs bathroom. It helped keep the toys from going MIA and reminded me well of when it was time to do laundry. This particular family had the maids come the morning I was leaving. Yay! They took care of the cleaning. But in general, leave it better than when you found it.
I cook with anything that would have gone bad and would have had to be thrown out in their absence. And even though I want to drink the 55 dollar bottle of wine and they said mi casa es su casa, I stuck with the under 20 dollar bottles instead.
Breakages and Mishaps!
Be honest about what you broke and replace where possible. I broke a tea cup once that I took to be antique and freaked out, but I told the person and found out they’d gotten it at Marshall’s for 10 bucks. Whew. I replaced it with a better cup. Make sure you have the numbers of all people who do any sort of maintenance on the place: the gardener, the plumber, etc. Odds are if they know the place and something goes wrong, they’ll work on it and wait until the return of the owner’s for payment.
How to become a Housesitter
Tell the universe
Word of mouth is best. Tell your friends with houses and pets in areas you want to go. I’ve gotten gigs on Craigslist before, too. Put up signs in places where people with nice houses tend to shop — a co-op in a nice area for example. Ask for referrals from people who you’ve sat for before. I know a few people who’ve been able to survive in expensive cities this way for much longer than they would have without the gigs.
A few friends of mine have done this with Europeans that want to visit Los Angeles and San Francisco and New York. They get to go to houses in Italy and France while families from there stay at their houses here. I’m still working on this one myself but don’t find many people from somewhere I want to go to swap houses with. It works best if you are at a ‘destination’ city.
Housesitting is definitely worth considering. It occurred to me that this house I sat for the last couple of weeks I’d been housesitting for nearly 11 years off and on. If I added up my time at that particular house I could almost say I lived there a whole year! Sure, it means my vacations are sometimes the same old, same old — but sometimes having a fantastic view of the bay and smelling fresh French bread wafting up from the bakery down the street is all I need.