Housesitting

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unemployable
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Housesitting

Post by unemployable »

Housesitting gets occasionally brought up around here, although it doesn't appear a dedicated thread has ever been made for it.

From a search it seems a fair amount of ERErs have done it, and the comments seem overwhelmingly favorable.

I am looking to reduce my housing cost, don't need to live in a certain place or need a lot of things, and am getting tired of where I am living now. I want to jump around a bit in fact and explore/live in some new places. I'm a cat person but am less compatible with dogs (not completely incompatible tho). You can be out of the house for a whole day or longer with cats, but dogs need to be walked.

Generally if you go through the big websites, the only direct cost is the signup fee. The housesitter is unpaid but does get to use the house's utilities and amenities for free. There may be secondary costs such as driving to the next housesit and buying cat food. Can you "graduate" to paid gigs?

How viable is housesitting as a long-term living strategy? How long have people here done it? As in surfing from one housesit to another over many months or years. What should I know before trying it? I suspect there is an art to minimizing gaps between assignments. I am already adept at sleeping in my car and can do it several days at a time, but don't, like, want to do it for two weeks in January. Were there aspects of it that got tiresome/old and you wanted out?

Freedom_2018
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Re: Housesitting

Post by Freedom_2018 »

We've done over 40 housesits in almost 4 years in the US and overseas. From multi month to a week. Have had almost always good to great experiences. Have not paid rent or utilities in the past 4 yrs ... certainly paid hotel, camping, gas and airfare.

Some points I can mention from our experience and attitude to house sitting. Different strokes for different folks:

- Do it for the right reasons. For us what that means is that we do not use a housesit as a free Airbnb so that we can hit all the tourist spots and get a free holiday/stay. Since we have no fixed home base...the housesit is our home and we treat it as such. Of course a housesit will lend itself to exploring a new area and that is very welcome but secondary to creating a home atmosphere for ourselves and the pets left in our charge (since we no longer have pets of our own). We tend to keep our housesitting and touristic exploring separate.

For example this year we are out of the country for 9 months and
of that 3 months is house sitting the rest will be in tourist/travel mode.

- Leave a place and pets better than you found them. We spend a lfair amount of time with the pets since we both like animals and it is great to be able to 'borrow' them and get our animal fix. To that end we've often spent our own money on getting them toys etc and overall significant time on them. When we had our own cat, he was a bit like our kid. We do get a bit emotionally involved and that makes for a richer experience. There are many many wonderful and bittersweet stories here. Also we tend to prefer sitting for people who seem highly caring and responsible for their pets versus those who go on and on about how amazing the furniture, fixings, appliances and zip codes of their homes are.

- Would not want to do this for money. We've been offered sometimes and we always make light of it and then offer to take the owners out for a drink and a bite to eat. We almost always turn up with a nice bottle of wine or some other gift for the owner and pet (dogs of course love this). Taking money would make me an employee and if I had to be one I'd have stayed in my well paid corporate gig instead of cleaning out the cat box.

We've also been offered 'permanent' sitter type positions...as in six months at their property A and six at property B as they shift base between seasons. Not interested in being a full time house sitter either. More to life at this stage.

- Generally we pick a part of the US or world we want to see and see if we can work a sit in or around the area. It is a great way to get as close to a 'local' feel as their friends/neighbors sometimes befriend you and often we get to know them much better than the home owners themselves.

-;Honor your commitment. We've known of housesitters who will cancel on a sit (sometimes with very little notice to the owner) if something better comes along after they've agreed to do a sit. To us this is unconscionable as someone is booking flights and travel plans based on your word to them. Basically it is a handshake deal and the risks can be very asymmetrical at different parts in the process. Similarly it is for the housesitter when they are say going overseas for a sit etc. What goes around comes around. Keep good karma :-). Of course genuine contingencies can occur on either side so always keep time and monetary buffer.

- We gave housesitting a shot after reading some blogger website and we both had some experience volunteering at an animal rescue center plus many years of having many pets and we're getting a bit tired of motorcycle touring and camping etc after leaving my job in 2012. It turned out to a a rich addition to our various modes of traveling and now when I look at a map, the world seems to be more personal and friendlier with a memory of a lovable cat in a small English village in Kent or a pair of naughty dogs and their clueless owners in Valencia or the wonderful people in Santa Fe who were an ebbing but beautiful light in this world.

I'm sure you can find lots of specific dos and don'ts of housesitting on google/blogs. I just wanted to share my experience.

Thanks
M

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Re: Housesitting

Post by unemployable »

Thanks for the insights. Doing it for money as opposed to doing it for free wouldn't move the needle too much for me. I mean I'd rather have monrey than not have it, but what are we talking, like $100-200/week for a decent amount of pet-sitting and property maintenance?

A couple questions:

How did you deal with gaps between sits? I presume you can sit multiple houses at once if they're nearby for a couple days, but how much downtime should one be prepared for?

Does it ever get creepy? Like people nominally offering housesits that are actually "seeking arrangements"?

Freedom_2018
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Re: Housesitting

Post by Freedom_2018 »

Yes, money is in that range if offered... oftentimes by those who are new to having housesitters or the overly apologetic and polite types. But as I mentioned we quash the money question before it gets out of the gate pretty much. Also we tend to prefer sits much more oriented to pets than property maintenance - not subjecting myself to possible injury mowing your ridiculous lawn...thank you very much.

- We like gaps between sits. Like the silence between musical notes, the gaps are where a lot of the personal fun/adventure resides. Housesits are more of a relaxing/downtime sort of thing. The objective is not to maximize house sitting time but to have it strategically placed for recovery and catch-up on mundane/domestic activities.

Sometimes though it becomes too easy to go from one sit to another and I have to remind us that we need to get back in the saddle for fear of becoming soft/lazy.

- Why would you want to sit multiple houses simultaneously? Sounds painful or more likely I am not understanding the question.

- Gaps between sits if going from one to another are usually hotel nights. Sometimes camping if in the US and there are interesting camping opportunities around...having said that haven't camped in well over a year....my Alaskan Guide tent from Cabela's is not happy.

If you are trying to maximize housesitting time, best bet would be folks who go away for multiple months regularly...(second home, children overseas etc) you have a few such clients in a circuit...you are pretty much set. Competition would be very strong for such gigs I assume especially if in a major city.

- We housesit to cover when owners are away so wouldn't have any chance to run into "seeking arrangements" type situation. Are there sex tapes of us floating around ( a la creepy Airbnb stories)? I don't think so based on the people we sat for, but if there are I think it would be surprisingly impressive :-)

M

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Re: Housesitting

Post by unemployable »

Freedom_2018 wrote:
Thu Sep 05, 2019 10:53 am
Sometimes though it becomes too easy to go from one sit to another and I have to remind us that we need to get back in the saddle for fear of becoming soft/lazy.

- Why would you want to sit multiple houses simultaneously? Sounds painful or more likely I am not understanding the question.

- Gaps between sits if going from one to another are usually hotel nights. Sometimes camping if in the US and there are interesting camping opportunities around...having said that haven't camped in well over a year....my Alaskan Guide tent from Cabela's is not happy.

i was thinking these issues go together. Say you have a sit going from the 1st to the 14th and you're trying to plan out your life after it ends. You have Offer A from the 12th to the 21st, and Offer B from the 20th to the 30th. If A is close to your current sit you may want to take it just to have somewhere to "live" immediately after the 14th. So for a couple days you split the time between houses. Explaining the situation to both owners, of course.

But it sounds like I'm overthinking this and filling in the gaps turns out not to be a problem, at least at your level of experience.

Freedom_2018
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Re: Housesitting

Post by Freedom_2018 »

Key thing is to reply quickly to the opening... especially in a popular/competitive area as they will get inundated with responses.

I think most homeowners would be understanding of an overlap and as long as you ensure pets are taken care of properly and are upfront about any such issues.

In these kind of interpersonal, non-enforceable type dealings a lot depends on how you come across....empathic, responsible, trustworthy, not needy etc.

anesde
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Re: Housesitting

Post by anesde »

This is fascinating to me. I had no idea this market existed, and definitely not at the scale that Freedom_2018 alludes to.

Is there a demographic that is more likely to partake in this? Is it more suited to people with pets? What sorts of tasks are you expected to handle? How do you go about sourcing new gigs?

The only first hand experience I have with this is my parents splitting time between the US and Portugal (they’re retired immigrants). They have friends/family look after their properties when not around. They do the same for other friends/family. No one lives in the empty houses, just comes by to check up, etc as needed. They don’t have pets which might change the equation but in general I don’t think it would ever occur to them to find a house sitter (or monetise the empty house). I would think the stress of strangers in their house every 6 months or so would not be something they would be comfortable with.

EDIT - Actually I stupidly forgot that I did this once for a couple of mutual friends who went away for 2 weeks. They lived in NYC apartment and had a cat. I lived there for free (was a great location actually) and took care of their cat. Ironically it was when I found out I was allergic to cats.

In any case we knew each other so they felt comfortable asking me. What I’m really blown away by is the premise of complete strangers partaking in this.

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Re: Housesitting

Post by unemployable »

https://www.trustedhousesitters.com/
https://housesitter.com/

among others.

Both the owner and the sitter are charged a signup fee, which serves as one barrier to entry. You make little or no money and don't have a permanent residence so can't do it as a "job", and probably can't do it while working at most traditional jobs. Doing it with kids/pets of your own is very difficult to impossible. All this narrows the pool of available sitters substantially.

I've been doing research on this elsewhere, both on and off the net.

Many people with nicer houses don't want to deal with AirBnB and the like, but they want their place watched over, might need some routine maintenance done and don't want to put their pets in a kennel. A housesitter solves all these problems in one fell swoop for basically the cost of utilities. They often want someone older and it helps if you can speak the language of their wealth level (finances are an obvious example, but also say if they play golf or travel to expensive destinations).

I suspect a little networking goes a long way -- I have started to expand my offline network myself -- and mitigates the stranger-in-my-house aspect. Reputation scoring is how AirBnB became successful so why wouldn't it work with an online houseitting exchange.

I live in a vacationey area for now and may do one or two sits around here to gain some cred and get a feel for how it works.

Freedom_2018
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Re: Housesitting

Post by Freedom_2018 »

@anesde

From my observations, over and above individual tendencies it has something to do with trust level in different cultures (obviously prompted by history, general level of material affluence, legal structures and existing norms).

From what someone once mentioned to me, Spain, Portugal or indeed most countries in the world (I'm originally from India so not in any position to point fingers at anyone on this) there is a lower level of trust in their fellow man. Their default assumption would be that they would expect to be cheated, lied to or their place be misused or squatted upon if they were to let a random stranger live in their house.

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Re: Housesitting

Post by ScrewTheAverage »

@Freedom_2018 thanks for sharing your personal experience, lots of great info!

We too would like to share our thoughts/experience/perspective.

We've been house sitting since 2016, and contrary to @Freedom_2018 we prefer to leverage house sitting to facilitate sightseeing and travel to locations we want to visit (instead of mostly separating it). In 2016/2017 we sold 95% of our stuff and spent a year traveling overseas and house sitting. We really enjoyed it so upon returning to the US we decided to continue doing it. Fast forward to the present and we’ve been on the road for 3 1/2 years (four continents, 26 countries, and ~80 cities) all while having the pleasure of doing 63 house sits.

In terms of lodging, when we’re not house sitting we travel hack to get ‘free’/heavily reduced hotels (via points), mattress run, Airbnb’s, or simply pay for a hotel.

For the entire year of 2019 we paid for 10 nights of lodging. Out of those ten days nine were Airbnb’s, one was via travel hacking. Our total 2019 lodging costs were less than $300 for both of us.

Our house sitting preference is to arrive early and stay late so we can insure a proper handover/pets can get to know us while their owners are still around. This preference and the immense graciousness of the homeowners allowing us to arrive/stay late helps with making the sometimes ‘Tetris’ like game of finding house sitting dates that work from sit to sit be more successful.

We've had sits from a few days to a few months. Sits in huge 4000+ SqFt Victorian houses, 400 SqFt studios, historic buildings, and luxury high rises.

Here are some things to consider/possible 'downsides'...keep in mind that they depend a lot on the individual needs/requirements/preferences/personality of the house sitter(s).

- Travel costs to get to the house sit and overall cost of living for non-housing items (i.e. Bucharest vs Oslo)
- Number of pets, feeding requirements (Raw diet, supplements, etc), medication requirements
- Access to public transportation, personal vehicle requirement
- Number of walks required per day (in case of dogs)
- Weather (you may see a lot of opportunities in Phoenix in the heart of summer, or Toronto in the dead of winter)
- Slow internet access

As for where to find sits there are several sites out there for house sitting, depending on what type of house sit and location/setting you're interested in. We've used both MindMyHouse and Trusted Housesitters, although the large majority of our house sits are from Trusted Housesitters. A Trusted Housesitters membership comes with a higher cost (but it's peanuts compared to the cost of one hotel night and you don't need to pay a fee to view the listings), there are dozens of new sits listed daily, with many in the US, UK, across Europe, and a few scattered through the rest of the world. They’re the big player in the field, so the high volume of listings and the intuitive user-interface comes with very high competition in applicants.

In our opinions some of the keys to success are having a great profile, references, communication, reviews (once you’ve started to complete assignments of course), a great introduction/application letter, pursuing the listings and asking questions, attitude, and so on.

We’ve written a six part series on house sitting that covers: what's house sitting?, choosing a service, creating a great profile, finding an awesome house sit, the house sitting process, what 'everyday' life looks like, and the fun, memorable, and not so glamorous side of house sitting.

The guide is written from the perspective of someone wanting to be a house sitter but can easily be used by a homeowner to know what to look for/exclude from sitters they may potentially select.

In the end house sitting isn't for everyone (like anything else), but if done correctly, it's mutually beneficial. A homeowner gets to keep their pets in their own home (comfort for their pets), save on boarding fees, and the house sitter gets to save on lodging and have furry friends around.

We hope that helps! :-)

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