Gypsies In The Palace – How To Start House Sitting In Ten Easy Steps

  • Potala Palace from roof of Jokhang in Lhasa, Tibet

We are homebodies who love to travel, and have found that house sitting is a great way to get the best of both worlds. It offers opportunities to explore a city or region in detail and become immersed in a culture. We have done dozens of house sits over several years all over the world, and made friends with many neighbors and locals who we would never had met if we were staying in hotels. For twenty years we had pets at home, and we find that house sitting allows us to enjoy their company without the travel-limiting responsibility of owning one.

The vast majority of house sits involve caring for dogs and/or cats thereby making house sitting virtually synonymous with pet sitting. Cats are always easier than dogs. House sits without pets raise flags for us. Our only house sit without a pet was one of our first and turned out to be in the middle of a dodgy neighborhood with questionable characters wandering around everywhere. Anything within reach through the bars of the gated wall would disappear overnight. We even had police helicopters occasionally circling the area. It quickly became apparent why the homeowners couldn’t ask the neighbors to keep an eye on the place and were looking for a house sitter.

The duration of a house sit can range from a couple of days to several months, and up to and over a year in some cases. They are generally quid-pro-quo arrangements where homeowners do not pay for house sitting services and do not charge rent to house sitters. Depending on the circumstances, house sitters may be asked to pay a portion of utilities or some other expense. However, when pets are involved (which is all the time) we don’t pay for anything. The understanding is that any utilities we use are in exchange for looking after the pets.

 

House sitting responsibilities will mostly include:

  • Caring for pets (dog walking, litter-box cleaning, etc)
  • Property maintenance (watering the plants, mowing the lawn, etc)
  • Overseeing any hired service- or trades-people (gardeners, plumbers, etc)
  • Collecting mail (and possibly paying bills)
  • Communicating with homeowners while they are away

 

How To Become A World-Class House Sitter

1. Decide Where You Want To Go

Do you have a dream destination on your bucket-list? Start there. Or, maybe you want to live rent-free in your own city, and you don’t mind living small and moving every few weeks or months. Although looking for house sits in places you want to visit is obvious, check for listings in your own city as well. You’ll have a better chance of landing your first house sit if homeowners know you are a local and familiar with the area. If you live in a small town, you might even know the homeowners personally.

Our very first house sit was in our own hometown, where it was easy to meet the homeowners in person and visit their house and cat. We were flying out of town to begin our global house sitting adventures on the same plane on which they were returning, and had arranged to leave their vehicle in the airport parking lot for them. During our last minute cleaning and laundry right before we had to go, the cat disappeared.

We looked all over and around the house, but couldn’t find Bailey anywhere. Panic started setting in as our search became more and more frantic, and our situation more and more hopeless. We had lost our first pet during our first house sit, and were sure to be a total disaster and abject failure at our new endeavor. At the height of our desperation, Diane opened the linen closet door to find Bailey happily sitting there, thoroughly enjoying our game of hide-and-seek. We just made our flight.

 

Pet sitting in Costa Rica

Alex with Omber and Felix in Costa Rica

 

The best place to start your house sit search is probably at the fittingly-named Housesitsearch.com. It crawls the most popular house sitting websites which you can filter by location, date, duties and other criteria. Clicking on a listing will take you to the listing on that particular house sitting website. However, Housesitsearch.com may not always list all the available house sits within your search parameters. You will have to visit the individual sites for a complete overview of their listings.

 

2. Register On House Sitting Websites

There are several websites that connect homeowners and house sitters. All of them allow non-members to browse and search for house sits, but a membership and profile are required to apply for house sits or contact homeowners. Homeowners, on the other hand, can often list their property and pets for free.

Once you’ve searched and clicked around the various house sitting sites, you’ll get an idea of which ones will work best for what you’re looking for. The three main house sitting websites we use are:

Trusted Housesitters
Receive 25% off your membership when you sign up using this link. We will receive 2 months free too.

HouseCarers
Receive a 12 month membership and a bonus 6 months when you sign up using this link. We also will receive a bonus 6 months on our paid membership.

Mind My House

We have also used country-specific house sitting websites such as:
Housesit Mexico
Housesitter Canada
Nomador mostly lists house sits in Europe

We had a membership with Housesitter.com in the past but found its user interface awkward. House sit listings do not include dates which requires contacting every homeowner in that location – a laborious waste of time. Other privacy issues with the site also prompted us the cancel our membership.

 

3. Create Your House Sitter Profile

It is a noisy sea of house sitters out there and the more you can stand out, the better your chances of landing that perfect gig. Approach your profile as you would a professional resumé or cover letter, but adopt a familiar tone and give homeowners a sense of your unique personality. Most websites will provide guidelines for developing a profile, and below are some tips we’ve come up with.

Tell homeowners about yourself – where you’re from, your general history and employment experience, and why you love pets.

Pet sitting with a cat

Diane and Kitty

You love pets. Outline any experience you have with caring for animals, particularly with any aging pets who needed medication. You’ll jump to the top of the shortlist if you own or owned a pet, especially if you have used a pet sitter yourself.

You have lots of relevant skills. Any property management should be included, even if it’s just growing flowers in your backyard. Homeowners are more comfortable with house sitters who know how to troubleshoot and fix minor issues around the house. You’ll jump to the top of the shortlist if you own or owned a house, especially if you are a do-it-yourself kind of person or have done any carpentry or renovations yourself.

You love traveling and doing fun things. If you’re reading this, it probably shouldn’t be too difficult to explain why you like going places. Describe any activities in which you participate and any hobbies you have. If you and the homeowner both enjoy cycling or playing guitar, that lifestyle connection will make them notice you more than a house sitter who doesn’t.

You are a house sitter. Even if all you have done is feed the neighbor’s cat for a weekend while they were at the cottage last summer, let homeowners know about it. Add more details about your house sitting experience, such as the variety of pets and scope of your duties, as you complete more house sits.

Wrap things up with a summary of yourself and your experience. Remind homeowners why you would be their ideal house sitter and direct them to your house sitting video.

Check Out Our House Sitter Profile

 

4. Picture Perfect

Select a good, smiling head-shot at the website’s maximum resolution as your profile picture. Upload as many photos of you with animals as the site will allow. If you don’t have enough pictures of you with pets, include photos of you doing fun things and/or at popular tourist destinations. Eventually, you will have an array of pictures of yourself with a variety of pets.

 

5. Create Your House Sitting Video

“Hi. I’m Bob and I really like pets and traveling, and want to be your next house sitter.” Hopefully, we can do better than that.

Your house sitting video is where your outgoing personality, wide breadth of experience and knowledge, and great sense of responsibility are going to shine through. Be creative and have fun. A good video with some thought behind it will make your head visible above the crowd of shoulders more than most other efforts. Often, it is more important than reviews, references or even experience because homeowners can see and hear you, and develop a personal connection.

Record footage of yourself throwing balls for the dogs, playing with the cats, vacuuming the carpet, washing the car, mowing the lawn, shoveling the snow, watering the garden, etc, etc, etc. If you don’t have any house sitting or pet sitting experience, maybe your friends who have pets and properties can help.

When you’ve compiled all your videos, photos and music, you’ll need to edit it into something engaging. It should be long enough to showcase all your talents, but short enough to keep someone’s interest and attention. We recommend somewhere between 3 and 5 minutes, and the more engaging it is, the longer it can be. We use a couple of the many free video and audio editing software tools available online. Alternately, video editing can be done directly on some streaming platforms such as YouTube.

If you make an effort to plan videos of pets and footage of you doing chores that you can edit down to 3-5 second clips, it won’t take long before you collect more than enough to make a decent video. Soon, you’ll have to “kill your darlings” and leave great clips out to showcase the variety of pets, circumstances and duties with which you have experience.

 

Blue World Nomads

Check out our House Sitting Video

 

We completely planned, prepared and scripted our video when we were coming up with ideas that might make a homeowner chuckle, giggle, smirk or laugh, and make them notice and remember us. It has been the clincher for securing several house sits. The narrative needs a bit of an update, but we always remember to take a few videos and photos of our pets having fun to include every time we edit our video. It’s due for a revision at the end of the summer.

 

6. Apply For Your House Sit

Presumably, you have already found a few house sits in which you are interested. Now, it’s time to apply for the job. You will be contacting the homeowners through the house sitting website, so they will be able to review your profile when they receive your message. Keep your message brief with a short outline of who you are and what your experience is, why you want to visit their part of the world, and how adorable their pets are. Address your message to everyone who is on the listing, including any pets – it’s cuter that way.

The chances of successfully landing a house sit are directly proportional to the number of applicants (which is usually visible on the listing) and the quality of your profile, experience and reviews (which will improve quickly).

You can also include a link to your video, and a resumé or curriculum vitae of your house sitting experience. The need for a house sitting resumé is a matter of debate, but it can’t hurt for the small amount of time it takes to write and maintain one.

 

7. Ask The Right Questions

You have applied for some house sits, and then an email appears in your inbox. Reply promptly with an invitation to meet via video chat. There are several ways for people to meet face-to-face online such as Skype, FaceTime and WhatsApp. Provide your username or handle on whatever platform you use. Ask if they have a Welcome Guide or manual they can email to you, and tell them you look forward to hearing back from them.

Then another email appears in your inbox from the homeowners. Reply promptly and be flexible when scheduling the video chat. Now, it’s time to do some homework. Research the destination and the services and activities it has to offer, if you haven’t already done so. Next, research the pets. What are the breed’s characteristics and behaviors? If the pets have any medical conditions, what are the signs, symptoms, medications, etc? Research the homeowners. By now, you probably know their names and the city where they live, so look them up on the internet.

Compile a list of questions for the homeowners that you will ask during your video chat. The more questions you have about and the more interested you show in their pets, the more you will endear yourself to them. Below is the minimum information you will need after your video chat.

 

  • Pets – name, age, breed, feeding, routines, behavior/personality, medical conditions, medications
  • House – square footage, kitchen, laundry, neighborhood, shared facilities, garbage/recycle/compost, internet/phone, electrical system, water/sewer system, security/nanny cams
  • Duties – pets, mail, bills, maintenance, cleaning, plants/garden, petty-cash/slush-fund
  • Vehicle – highly recommended in case of pet emergency, left/right side, insurance, parking

 

Watering plants at a house sit in Mexico

Watering plants at a house sit in Mexico

 

Even if you write down all your questions, you’ll probably think of something to ask after the video chat. Keep a list of these to have answered next time you contact the homeowners. Homeowners like it when you ask lots of questions – it means you care. They will probably have questions for you as well. Answer them honestly, crack a couple of jokes and make sure you ask to see their pets.

If they offer you the house sit, accept it. And, before the end of the chat, make sure to ask them for their address, email and phone number if you haven’t already found it online. You will also want them to send you a Welcome Guide outlining details of the pets, house, duties, etc. Most house sitting websites provide a template for homeowners to write one. It is very important that you have emergency contact information and instructions on operating anything you might need to use.

 

8. Keep Your Fingers Crossed

Then another email appears in your inbox offering you the much-coveted house sit. It may be a message from the homeowners indicating that they have chosen you and will send you an invitation to accept the house sit, or it may be the invitation itself. Reply promptly, and accept the invitation.

Request their contact information and Welcome Guide if you haven’t already done so. Until you have their address and email, the house sit is not confirmed and your search for similar opportunities should not end. When you have an email, you can contact them directly without having to log into the house sitting website. When you have an address, you can search it on Google Earth to see exactly where it is. In more developed destinations, the house will probably even be on Street View and you can get an idea of what the neighborhood is like.

Some house sitters and homeowners draft and sign an agreement outlining the details of the arrangement. Occasionally, we will discuss house sitting contracts when we’re kicking ourselves about not making some part of an arrangement clearer with the homeowners. But, realistically there is no worthwhile recourse for a broken house sitting agreement.

The bulk of house sitting relationships are built on trust, goodwill and flexibility. Seldom, if ever, are they compromised by malicious, dishonest or neglectful behavior. Once the house sit is confirmed to your satisfaction, you can start making travel arrangements. Contact the homeowners with your travel plans and flight information as soon as you have booked your transportation. This will reinforce you commitment for them.

Pet sitting in Canada

Alex and Bruce

If you don’t have much experience caring for dogs, we suggest you start with small ones. They eat less food, produce less poop, and if they have any obedience issues, smaller dogs are much easier to control than big ones.

Dog ownership is a big responsibility and, unfortunately, some dog owners don’t spend as much time training their pets as perhaps they should.

If it turns out that you are pet sitting an unruly or disobedient dog, you might have to learn how to train it yourself, and your interaction with it before the homeowners leave may be quite different than after they’re gone.

We had two large bulldogs for three months once, and they had the run of the place when we got there. After walking them the first few days, our arms and backs were sore and we were pretty frustrated. That’s when we learned how to train dogs to be good and obedient. We found this website that provided more excellent information and tactics than we could ever possibly use. DogBreedInfo.com

Within two weeks, the dogs were heeling properly on our pack walks, waiting patiently for their food and much calmer than when we first arrived. We still use the same strategies anytime we pet sit a dog that needs a little fine-tuning. That way it’s better for everyone.

 

9. The House Sit

Communicate with the homeowners about the details of your arrival and be punctual. Go over any last minute questions you may have, and make sure you know where the utility appliances are, such as the electrical panel, water shut-off, drainpipe clean-out and any other important details and information about the house. Review any dietary requirements, medications and routines for the pets, and ideally take the dog for a walk with the homeowners before they leave. Walk through the house so you are familiar with your new home and know where to find the vacuum cleaner, broom and mop. Ask if there are any security cameras or nanny-cams, and don’t let them leave without giving you a detailed Welcome Guide.

If you are taking care of a pet, the homeowners will have to leave you some petty-cash or a slush-fund that you can use for incidental expenses involving their pet. These could range from buying toys and treats to paying for medication. Their credit card information should be on file at the veterenarian’s office and can be charged for any costly emergencies.

Unless you are sure that the homeowners share your views and opinions, try to keep politics out of any conversations. Instead, focus the discussion on the trip on which they are about to embark and their pets. Help them with their luggage, give them a ride to the airport, see them off and assure them that their pets are in good hands and that they have nothing to worry about on their exciting trip.

 

“So long, Boss. Knock ’em dead. Don’t you worry about a thing.
We wish that we could come along. We’d love to hear you sing.
The limo’s here, your bags are packed, the list is by the phone.
Me and Snake will watch your place and treat it like our own.”

 

Be mindful and diligent in your house sitting duties, and treat their home and pets better than you would your own. Be a friendly, considerate and respectful neighbor, and get to know the locals – which is presumably one of the reasons you’re there. Be a communicative pet sitter by sending updates and photos of the pets, and be available for a video chat during the house sit.

Be flexible and sensitive to the homeowner’s apprehension. For some people, you may be the first stranger thay have had look after their place and pet, or it may be the first time they have ever left their pet with someone else at all. Every once in a while, homeowners may organize that a friend or family member is going to come by at some point and “visit the kitties” or some other pretense. It’s okay and comes with the territory, but this visit should be at your convenience, for a specified period of time, and only once.

Be prepared to take the pet to the vet. Animals get sick, and you might just happen to be taking care of one when it does. The homeowners should have left contact details for at least one veterinarian or animal hospital, and ideally you have a vehicle in which to transport the sick pet.

 

Pet sitting in Mexico

Diane with Ginger, Lacey and Benson in Mexico

 

While we were looking after the bulldogs, one of them developed a growth on her chest which caused us some concern. After several trips and surgeries to the vet, it was removed and stitched up and eventually healed. Luckily it was nothing but, had arrangements for payment not been made with the vet beforehand and had we been unable to cover the costs, the dog’s welfare may have been jeopardized.

For the most part, in tropical countries, you will be house sitting for expatriated westerners. As a result, your interactions may be limited to other expats. You’ll have to make an effort to meet the “real locals”, and “the help” is a good place to find them. Many expats employ locals for domestic duties such as gardening and house-keeping. Try to make friends with them and get invited to birthday parties and stuff like that.

Rarely, you might meet a more privileged homeowner who also considers house sitters as “the help” and treats them accordingly. Remember that you are providing a very valuable service for which many people pay a handsome sum of money, and you are also saving them the cost of keeping their pets in a kennel while they are away. If either the homeowner or house sitter are uncomfortable about the situation for whatever reason, they may end the house sit at any time.

 

“We’re Gypsies In The Palace – they left us here alone.
The order of the Sleepless Knights will now assume the throne.
We ain’t got no money, and we ain’t got no rights.
But we’re Gypsies In The Palace, and we’ve got it all tonight.”

 

Occasionally, you might look after an animal who you feel is living in less-than-ideal conditions. This could be a tricky problem, because you don’t want to presume anything or offend anybody. If a pet is being neglected, however unintentional as it may seem, we believe house sitters have an ethical obligation to raise their concerns.

We had one house sit with two dogs and a cat. The cat was kept outdoors and given very little attention. We quickly found that she was dehydrated, malnourished, covered in flea bites, and extremely affectionate. We bought and gave her some flea medication, cleaned her little house out, and made sure she got plenty of water and brushings. We took her to the vet to have her checked out and discuss the situation, and paid for the visit ourselves. The homeowners had been gone for a week before we arrived, and someone else had been looking after the pets. So it was easy to assume that the cat normally looks fine, and that the week before we arrived was a bit rough on her.

But, we went over everything that we found helped the cat’s condition, and offered suggestions on how they might continue doing the same – in a very non-judgemental and non-accusatory manner. The last thing that would help the cat is a defensive and indignant owner. Luckily, they were very receptive and understanding, and assured us they would continue with the flea medication and be more sensitive to the cat’s physical and emotional needs. They also paid us back for the vet bill and the toys, treats and medication we bought.

 

10. Follow Up

Before the homeowners return, make sure that the house is clean and in good repair and the pets are groomed and calm. Pick them up at the airport, help them with their luggage, welcome them home and ask them how their trip was. Tell them how much of a great time you had with their pets and how much you enjoyed their lovely home.

 

Car wash at a house sit in Mexico

Clean Machine

 

Debrief the house sit with the homeowners and discuss any issues that may have arisen while they were away. Thank them for their hospitality and generosity, ask them to keep you in mind next time they’re looking for a house sitter, and let them know you will contact them in a few days to follow up about the house sit.

 

“Hi there, Boss. We waxed your car. We raked and mowed the lawn.
We couldn’t find enough to do in the short time you were gone.
Man, it sure is peaceful here. You’ve really got it all.
And if you ever hit the road again, give me and Snake a call.”
– Jimmy Buffett and Glenn Frey

 

Send them an email a few days after house sit ends and address it to the pets – it’s cuter that way. Ask that, if everything is in good order and the pets are healthy and happy, you could send them a review request from the house sitting website on which you connected. Before you send the review request, make sure the review will be a positive one. Once a review has been submitted by a homeowner – good or bad – the website will be reluctant to remove it.

When you’ve received the review or reference, gather it with your pet photos and videos, and update your house sitting profile, resume and video. It won’t be long before you’ve got a few house sits under your belt. Soon, past homeowners will begin asking you to come back and take care of their poodle again, and strangers will start contacting you to see if you can take care of their lovely pets and beautiful home in an exotic location for an extended period of time. Then you’re living the dream.

Travel The Blue Path

By |2019-10-28T07:17:04-08:00June 4th, 2019|Categories: Travel|Tags: |2 Comments

About the Author:

Diane and Alex have spent their lives together in the Coast Mountains of British Columbia. For 25 years, they have been going down The Blue Path and trying to see and share as much of our ocean planet as they can.

2 Comments

  1. Tina Witt October 24, 2019 at 17:20 - Reply

    Great post! Loads of good tips!

    • thebluepath October 25, 2019 at 08:57 - Reply

      Thanks Tina. We’re glad you found our house-sitting blog post helpful. House- and pet-sitting is a great way to see the world and enjoy the companionship of furry friends!

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