For two weeks, I’m living in a lovely small house in a residential neighbourhood of Victoria, British Columbia. Total accommodation costs: $0. In exchange for my free accommodation in this rather pricey city, I take care of a black cat, keep the house tidy, and water the plants in the garden. That’s pretty much it. I can use the kitchen to prepare my meals, so I also save on food costs, compared to a normal vacation.
So, how did I get this gig? I registered on a site called TrustedHouseSitters.com, where homeowners can find sitters for their house and pets, and travellers can find free digs. Most people looking for house-sitters have pets, usually dogs or cats (or both) but sometimes horses, poultry or more exotic animals. So in order to be a house-sitter, you have to love and be able to care for pets. In my case, I only sit cats, which is somewhat limiting, but still, I found this assignment only 9 days after completing my profile!
It all boils down to convincing strangers they can trust you with their home and cherished pets. Yes, it is a tall order, but very do-able. First you write a detailed profile by filling out a form on the site. Then you upload photos, get references (from friends, employers, landlords, even previous house-sits if you have them). To get extra brownie points you obtain a police check, and if possible, upload a video. Yes, it requires some work, but I think you’ll agree that the outcome (free accommodation around the world) is truly worth it!
After a good night sleep in a comfortable bed (more comfortable than my own actually), I get up, feed the cat, have breakfast, water the garden (if it hasn’t rained), do some writing, give the cat her “lunch”, and if the weather is nice, I go exploring the city.
The other night I picked a big zucchini from the garden and used it in a beef stir-fry. Being used to living on the 12th floor of a downtown condo, I find it very cool that I can go out to my backyard and just grab fresh vegetables! And the cat makes a nice leg warmer as I listen to jazz on the stereo in the evening. I had forgotten how nice it is to have a stereo. I’ve only been here four days but I feel quite at home already.
TrustedHouseSitters (THS) charges $79 a year to register as a house-sitter. There are similar but smaller sites that charge less, such as MindMyHouse.com and HouseCarers.com. You can choose in which countries you would like to house-sit. THS is a British site, so half the assignments are in the UK. The other half of assignments are mostly found in Australia, New Zealand, USA, Canada, Europe, as well as a few in Asia/Middle East.
Each day you receive an email listing the most recent assignments, and you can contact the owners directly by writing a “cover letter” of sorts, outlining why you’re interested and why they should pick you. They also get a link to your profile. So in a way, it is like applying for a job. You have to act fast though, because the best assignments get a lot of applications. Right now, THS shows 4430 sitters versus 1653 house-sitting assignments. Homeowners are more likely to consider the early applicants. If you make the short-list, they will probably want to talk to you over the phone or Skype before making a final decision.
If you are flexible with your dates, and especially if your work is location-independent, you could house-sit your way around the world, getting to know places in more depth than if you were just staying in a hotel for a few nights. Most house-sitting assignments are over a week long, often 3 or 4 weeks or even longer.
I am just starting down this path, but so far I like it! I think the secret is to choose assignments that are within your abilities, and to communicate with the homeowner to avoid misunderstandings.
June 2016: I’ve now been house-sitting for three years and have compiled everything you need to know to be successful with Trusted Housesitters in this massive post: Become a house-sitter and get free accommodation. Check it out!