Last year my girlfriend and I managed to live for nine months straight without paying a cent in rent. We also managed to do this in France, a country we had both always wanted to spend some time living in, although we could have done the same thing in several other countries including Canada, the UK, Australia and New Zealand.
My girlfriend and I are house sitters. Basically, we look after other people’s homes while they’re away. Usually this involves us living in the property and carrying out a number of chores such as walking the dog, feeding the cat, watering plants and collecting the mail.
A typical house sit lasts for around two weeks, although we’ve taken on house sits as short as a weekend and for as long as five months. We don’t get paid to house sit, but then again we don’t pay rent when we do; when we lived in France for example our only costs were food, leisure and the car we chose to bring. Everything else, including utilities, was covered by the homeowner.
From living rent-free (and perhaps paying off some debts while you’re at it), to travelling cheaply, there are plenty of great reasons to house sit.
How To Get Started
When it comes to promoting ourselves and looking for new house sits, we’ve tried everything from setting up our own website to creating ads on Craigslist, Gumtree and Kijiji. In the end though, the easiest thing you can do is sign up with a house sitting website. TrustedHousesitters.com, our favourite website, posts around twenty new house sitting jobs per day (you can see the latest jobs here).
They also have a dedicated page for house sits in Canada if you’re thinking of staying local and a dedicated page for house sits 60 days or longer if you’re looking to live cheaply for several months. Note: Canada can be a great place to pick up long term house sits. Due to pipes freezing, many home insurance policies are invalid if the home is left empty for more than 4 days during the peak winter months and for this reason many Canadians get a house sitter when going away.
Creating A Great Profile
Regardless of whether you sign up to a house sitting match-making website, create your own website or advertise yourself on Craigslist, you’re going to need to make a killer profile; a simple writeup about yourself that’ll convince a homeowner that you’re the right person for the job.
There are two big mistakes house sitters tend to make when it comes to writing their profile. The first is making it all about what you’re going to get out of the house sit i.e. saying you want to house sit because you need to save money. There’s no harm in doing this, but be sure to highlight what you can offer the homeowner first i.e. do you have experience with animals, are you particularly good at gardening etc.
The second big mistake is actually over-selling yourself. A lot of house sitters advertise DIY skills when they’re not needed. Unless stated most homeowners don’t want to come home to find their home modified in anyway.
In short: writing a great profile is a balancing act. Be sure to explain why you’d make a great house sitter but don’t exaggerate either.
Get Some References & Credibility
It can seem like a catch-22 situation; to get a house sit you need references, but you need to have done the house sit to get the references.
The best starting point is to speak to friends and family. Let them know that you’re setting yourself up as a house sitter, and let them know that if they’re ever going away you would love to look after their house.
After that, the next thing to do is to apply for some house sits in your area. When we started out house sitting we didn’t have many references so frequently got turned down for house sits away from home. We did manage to get accepted for quite a few house sits locally however. The reason for this is because homeowners were more willing to take us on if they could meet with us first. Even though we were initially only taking on these house sits for the reference, we really enjoyed living in another part of our town for a few days and had some really wonderful experiences house sitting locally.
Don’t worry if you’re struggling to get enough references from previous house sits. References from employers, previous landlords and character references can all help to boost your credibility.
And finally, although references are very important, other things you can do to make your profile more trustworthy is to include plenty of photos and to get a criminal records check. Note: Canadian citizens can find more information about this here.
James and Jemma are the house sitting couple.
Since starting out as house sitters they’ve looked after more than fifty animals through Europe (includes 18 alpacas). You can find out more about them at thehousesittingcouple.com