House Sitting from Scratch: A Guide to Free Travel

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Published in Nomadic

I heard that house-sitters travel around the world live for free in amazing places, in beautiful homes with all the mod-cons, while hanging out with gorgeous pets.

I decided to investigate. I figured any proposal where you live in free accommodation, and can also say goodbye to electricity, internet and pay TV bills, is worth a closer look.

As usual, I’ve taken a leap of faith, rented out the family home and have nearly a year of house sitting booked. I’ve also undertaken other nomadic experiments, and living and working overseas which also required a leap into the unknown.

The learning curve was steep, but this guide will help you navigate for a smoother journey. Soon you could be living the life in a French chateau, an Australian coastal paradise or a mansion in Belize.

The Steps . . .

The Basics

There are few deals in this world that are truly win-win. House sitting is one of them. You get to travel and explore the world with no accommodation costs. You can live with no mortgage repayments, rent, electricity or internet bills. In return for this idyllic lifestyle, you save your clients hundreds, even thousands of dollars, provide peace of mind and security for their property.

The nuts and bolts of it are this:

  • People need someone to look after their home and/ or pets for a period of time and other people need somewhere to stay, they arrange a trade of time for shelter and everyone wins.
  • Home/ pet owners post ads through agency websites, house sitters apply via that website – both parties need to be members.
  • Usually after a selection/ interview process the owner selects their preferred house sitter and the job is confirmed.
  • Agreements about duties, costs and house rules/ expectations usually take place during the selection process, so both parties are comfortable.
  • Like other jobs, you’ll find casual, part-time and full-time sitters. It all depends on individual circumstances.

Ask Yourself: Is it for me?

Before charging off to live in somebody else’s home with their beloved furbabies, there are a few questions you should ask yourself and be honest about.

  • Will I feel weird living in some one else’s home? Some people never feel quite at ease in someone else’s space. If this is you, perhaps think again about house sitting. To enjoy the experience, you must be able to adapt to a variety of surroundings and routines with ease.
  • Am I comfortable following house rules and routines? No matter the length of the sit you will be expected to live by the house rules laid down by the home owner. This can be as trivial as taking off your shoes to go inside but may extend to whether you can invite guests over and even allowing pets into the bed with you.
  • Am I prepared to treat it like a job? At the forefront of your mind, no matter how infrequently you house sit, should be the fact that you are providing a service. It is your job to make sure you provide the best service you can. This includes not just following the house rules and routines, but also leaving their home just as they left it, or better. Other small gestures like offering a lift to the airport or offering to buy basic pantry provisions for their return add to the level of service which will benefit you and your ratings in the long run.
  • Am I flexible? If you want are considering house sitting on a part, or full-time basis you will need to be flexible about location and dates. There are always more house sitters than assignments, so in order to keep a free roof over your head, be prepared to consider alternative places and times. I know of a few people who house sit in only one region and succeed, but this is quite rare and would take time to build regular sitting jobs with return clients. To start off you will need to be flexible as more experienced sitters with a number of references will win sit-gigs over you.
House-sitting give you a lifestyle of the rich and famous, this one is from Mind My House.

How To Get Started

These are the steps you’ll need to navigate through:

• Join agencies
• Create your profile
• Submit applications
• Travel the world.

Joining Agencies

The beauty of house sitting is that it can take you to every corner of the world, but I felt more comfortable starting in my own country before taking to the international stage. There are agencies, or sites that specialise in particular countries as well as those that provide a boarder international perspective.

Top Tip

Join several sites

This maximises your chance of finding a sit that fits with your dates, locations and types. I signed up with four sites to begin with, but two probably would have been ample.

House Sitting Agencies: Which to join?

A great starting point is this international comparison site. It gives you a great overview of what’s out there and where you could be headed on your house-sitting adventures.
The table below is information about sites that I joined and what were good and not so good about each. As you can see prices vary a little, but most have similar features.

Site Pros Cons Costs
undefined Aussie House Sitters

UK House Sitters

NZ House Sitters

USA House Sitters

Canadian House Sitters  
Country specific

Lots of choice

Largest sitting website in Australia

Easy to use – rated 4.8/5

Browse for free

Good range of filters to narrow search

Map feature

Can upload documents to your application

Rates owner’s communication

Get defined email alerts  
Need to join each country’s site – which could be costly. 12-month membership:  

$AUD 84.00

£GBP 29.00

$NZ 84.00

$US 30.00

$CAD 59.00

Mindahome AUS

Mindahome UK  
Country specific

Lots of choice

Browse for free
Filters limited to location and dates

Map feature

Can upload documents to your application

Rates owner’s communication

Get defined email alerts  
Sit search interface geared more for owners.

Use advance search option to set date range.
12-month membership:

$AUD 59.00

£GBP 15.00
Mind My House  
International site

Good for Europe, Canada, USA and UK

Browse for free

Map feature

Can add documents to your file/ dropbox to attach to applications

Get defined email alerts
Limited choice for Australia and New Zealand

Limited filters  
12-month membership:

$USD 20.00
Good for International sits

Lots of choice

Easy to use

Browse for free

Local transportation options aredetailed in eachad

Defined email alerts

Can add ‘additional information’ with references in your profile.  
Limited location filter

No map feature  
12-month membership:

$USD 89.00

Per quarter membership
$USD 35.00
Trusted Housesitters

To get a discount on your fee quote this code: RAF264446
International site

Insurance up to $1mil is included in your fee

Lots of choice of countries

Includes ‘use of car’ filter

Map feature

Get defined email alerts

Free 24/7 vet phone line
No free browsing

Often sits are very short

Can’t add documents as attachments to applications

Can’t add further references to your profile
12-month membership:

$USD 89.00

There are other websites you could consider too, here are a few others that are well regarded:

House Carers
House Sit Match
The House Sitters (AUS)

You will also find handy support for sitters, such as sitting agreements and information about insurance considerations.

The variety of choice is amazing. These examples are from Trusted Housesitters

Securing A Sit: How To Stand Out From The Pack

There are always more sitters than there are assignments, and owners can be swamped by applications, particularly if they’re in a desirable location, so it’s important to make your application count.
There are several elements to a good application:

  • Your profile
  • An additional profile flyer with further info and pictures
  • Personalised first contact message

How To Make Your Profile Pop

When you join a site, you’ll be asked to complete a profile. This is essentially your advertisement to prospective home or pet owners.

Familiarise yourself with listings – Owners and your competition. Pay attention to the language used to understand exactly what owners are looking for in a sitter.
Get an understanding of locations – Less popular areas are good spots to get your first few sits if you don’t have any references. Once you have some good reviews, you’ll be more successful getting the choice sits.
Get a police check – It doesn’t cost much but it shows owners a level of professionalism and that you care enough to go that extra mile. This will give you an edge over other applicants.
Select pictures that reflect you – Preferably include some pictures with animals. Even if you pose with friends’ pets to get good shots for your profile, that’s OK.
Write your profile – include:
o Engaging headline – Think of qualities you would want in a house sitter.
o Background – age (people like maturity), career, interests, reason for house sitting, travelling solo, couple or family.
o Experience and skills – types of properties you’ve lived in, degrees of skill with gardens, pools and maintenance. Also, the range of animals you have experience caring for.
o Lifestyle – Include if you’re a non-smoker, active and so on. Let the owners know if you’re likely to be home with their pets and their homes occupied for long periods of the day.
o Life experience – It’s worth including your travel experience to demonstrate your ability to adapt into new settings and cultures. Only a sentence or two is needed though.
Find references – If new to house sitting you can use Airbnb reviews, rental agency references, or friend and family you’ve helped.
Vocabulary counts – Make sure you use powerful adjectives and verbs to describe your skills/knowledge/experience e.g.: energetic, proficient, patient, efficient, meticulous, diligent, attentive, industrious, persistent, patient.

There are magic places waiting for you. This one is from Aussie House Sitters

Additional Profile Flyer

As part of your application it’s good to include additional information. You can upload a flyer as an attachment to your application on most sites. Just a one-page flyer that lists all your skills, more pics and references. It helps you look professional, organised and allows you to go into more detail about what you can offer.
It is important when you start out as often you can’t upload third party references onto the site profile, they can only come from your clients on that particular site. Obviously, this is pretty limiting. Not only does attaching a flyer allow you to show your references, it also helps set your application apart with the extra time and care it’s taken you to prepare the flyer, also the website profile parameters are often limiting making it harder to sell yourself.

Flyer tips:
• Keep it to one page.
• Organise into sections with headings.
• Use tables and dot points to minimise reading requirements, too many words will work against you.
• Highlight your unique selling point as best you can.
• Remember you are in the service industry now, put the client’s wishes first.
• Make it visually appealing. Use boxes, sections, graphics and photos, but don’t overcrowd the page. Also, use no more than 2 font types – you can bold or italicize for effect and still keeping it looking professional.

Here’s the first profile flyer I did for us. We had no house sitting references then.

Top Tip

Mirror the language in the advertisement

Mirroring is a well-known body language technique designed to create rapport and affinity. This can be harder to do when not face to face, but if you reflect similar language in your application as used in the ad, the owner will feel more connection with you and therefore, you are more likely to have a successful application.

The Application

Now that you have the site profile and your flyer done, edited and polished, you’re ready to take the bold step of your first live application.

The application process can happen quickly, or in some cases may take days, but they usually consist of these stages:

  • Response to owners ad – first contact
  • Additional information – e.g flyer
  • Phone interview
  • Closing the deal – offer and acceptance.

Response To Owners Ad – First Contact

To start the application process off, you’ll see there is a dialogue box where you type in your interest in the sit. This is the client’s first contact with you, so it’s important to get it right.

Here are some tips:

Apply early: Given the competition you will improve your chances of success if you get your application in fast. You can request alerts, or join the Facebook page
Read the assignment details several times: Make sure the sit suits you. Things that can affect your enjoyment of a sit can include: air conditioning, wi-fi, remoteness of location, access to public transport or amenities, dishwasher, work load of duties.
Personalise the contact message: Explain why you’re interested in this particular sit, do you know the location, do you love their particular breeds of pets, or do you have specific skills and experience that would be of benefit? Use the pet’s names where possible.
Mention you have attached the flyer for their consideration.
Offer a phone or Skype interview.

If you are not confident with writing the first message off the cuff, you can always save one in a word document to copy and paste into the dialogue box, remembering to tweak it for the specific sits.

Here’s an example:

I am interested in looking after your lovely dogs and home. I’ve met a few Schnauzer’s and love their intelligent, lively personalities. I am very interested in the local area, particularly the national parks and would love the opportunity to explore.
I’ve uploaded a more detailed profile for you to look at, but feel free to ask any questions I may not have addressed.
I look forward to hearing from you and am available for a chat by phone or Skype.


Top Tip

Apply for 2 or 3 sits in the date range you want to fill.

This maximises your chance of securing a sit. Often owners will not get back to you about your application due to the volume of applicants, meanwhile you’re missing other opportunities.

Phone Interview

Most owners will want to chat with you to gauge if you’re what they’re looking for. But don’t forget, you’re also interviewing them. I use an interview sheet to stay focussed through the chit-chat, as well as manage prospective sits. You can also include scripted parts if you feel you might stumble over or forget your words when confirming a sit.

Closing The Deal

Once both parties are happy to proceed, a good way to close the deal with the owner is to offer to send them with a checklist, and/ or a sit contract. All house-sitting websites have contracts available for your use. I have developed a checklist that I email through, just to make sure nothing is forgotten in the hand over. It is a form that owners fill out with information like emergency contacts and wi-fi password. Also, I think it helps provide a good service and makes you look professional.

How To Become a House-sitting Rock Star

As mentioned before, this is very much a service industry which relies heavily of reviews and word of mouth. If you provide an excellent service you will not only receive return clients, but you will be approached directly by owners who have read your reviews or heard about you.

Here are a few pointers to make sure your clients are getting the best service:
• Respond promptly and be reliable.
• Be organised – This is important when you are juggling multiple applications and/or sits.
• A few weeks prior to the sit, send a courtesy email to your client re-confirming your arrival time and other details.
• While you are at the sit send regular updates, mostly in the form of photos. Be sensitive to the specific concerns of the client so you can send images that allay their worries.
• Follow the routines and techniques of the client, even if you think you know better.
• Return their home in the same condition as you found it. Clean, tidy and organised.
• Leave a departure memento. Just a little something to welcome the clients back home. It should be cheap, but thoughtful. Here’s a list of cheap, easy ideas. I particularly like #11. I’m not very crafty, so I leave cupcakes (from a mix) or mini quiches with a thank you card.
• Provide a de-brief report. Leave a written outline of your sit, how you followed routines and the highlights of your time. This can be in the thank you card.
• Write and request a review. Your reputation is created by reviews, be prompt and as generous as you can in writing yours. You can request a review from the client in the thank you card.

Top Tip

Make Yourself at Home

Take a few of your favourite things with you to make the sit your place. Little things like your favourite mug, pillow, throw rug or even saucepan can make a strange place feel like home.

The Last Word

I hope this has been useful and that you enjoy house-sitting as much as we do – the places it takes you, the pets you meet, and their people too make a truly rewarding experience.
Just remember to be reliable, adaptable and provide excellent service and you will find the world will open up to you in ways you never expected.

If you have any tips, experiences or questions about house-sitting, I’d love to hear from you. 🙂

2 thoughts on “House Sitting from Scratch: A Guide to Free Travel

Add yours

  1. Ever so helpful as always, created our resume but having read this info will go back and rehash. Absolutely you are having a great time. Rhonda

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