After the cost of flights, the next biggest expense on a family holiday is accommodation. What if I told you that you could have free accommodation in your choice of location, even in peak season? An apartment in Paris, a mansion in Los Angeles, an off-grid retreat in rural Spain, or a beach house in Sydney, just to name a few. You would probably be wondering what the catch is, or think that it is too good to be true. However that is exactly what house sitting offers.
In December 2016, my family house sat for the first time, using the services of Aussie Housesitters. We took care of a 1200 acre cattle property in rural New South Wales for 6 weeks. In addition to living in an absolutely gorgeous home and enjoying country life, we were responsible for three dogs and two chickens. We had minimal chores as far as the property – watering gardens and ensuring the cattle had water. A farm manager checked on the cattle regularly and we could phone him if there were any problems. It was a wonderful experience, we have remained friends with the home owner, and are going to be house sitting for her again in winter 2017.
House Sitting is the arrangement where a Home Owner has their house cared for by a House Sitter in exchange for free accommodation. The House Sitter may be required to simply occupy the house, or may also be required to care for pets, maintain the garden and/or swimming pool and various other domestic responsibilities.
The Home Owner is able to go on holiday with peace of mind, knowing that their home, garden and pets are well looked after. The usual concerns of having someone collect the mail and put rubbish bins in/out, fears of the house looking empty and being a target to burglars, and the considerable expense and stress of boarding kennels and/or cattery are all avoided.
The benefits are not all one-sided though. The benefits to the House Sitter include:
In the majority of cases, no money changes hands. It is important to discuss expectations around use and payment for utilities, internet etc however.
Some House Sits include the use of a vehicle. If public transport is not available or longer distances are involved to access services and attractions, this can be a god-send. Be sure to discuss insurance.
Separate bedrooms for parents and children often means that everyone sleeps better. Drinking wine and watching movies on your phone in the hotel bathroom while the children sleep gets old very quickly! More space is good for everyone’s sanity.
Family homes usually come with toys, books, games, DVD’s , bikes etc., which will be a big hit with the kids. Obviously you should check with the home owner first, to find out if there are items or even entire rooms which they would prefer not be used.
A fully equipped kitchen (which may include use of perishables – discuss with the owner) allows you to self-cater, again a big money saver. I’m not suggesting for a minute that you forgo the delicious street food of Penang or the best pasta of your life in Umbria, but it can be on your terms. If the kids are tired and difficult, you can eat at home, without worrying about toddler tantrums in the middle of a restaurant. You probably prefer to grab something quick to eat at home rather than wading through puddles in a monsoon to eat out. It also gives you the opportunity to prepare familiar food if you are having difficulty finding something that won’t be rejected by cautious palates.
A washing machine and clothes dryer means you can pack fewer clothes, saving costs on the hefty baggage fees.
Chances are that your House Sit will be in a residential area where you will have the opportunity to see how the locals live. Shop at the market, avoid the overpriced tourist traps and mingle with the locals, rather than being stuck in a resort. The Home Owners will usually leave you a list of recommended restaurants, attractions, grocery shops etc too. Take advantage of the local knowledge to find the best services at local prices.
Always dreamed of a beach front home, fancied yourself as a farmer or wondered whether your family could make apartment living work? If you have been thinking about moving house, House Sitting allows you to immerse yourself in the neighbourhood and discover if you are ready to commit to the location, without spending a fortune. Staying in a hotel just doesn’t provide the same insight into everyday life. House Sitting with kids provides the opportunity to try a different way of life without making an expensive long-term commitment.
Most (but not all) House Sits involve caring for animals. I have seen Sits advertised which requested care of large farm animals (horses, cows, sheep, goats and alpacas), dogs, cats, rabbits, ferrets, birds, chickens, fish, lizards, rodents and turtles. Obviously you would only apply for positions with animals with which you have experience and are confident. For families who are unable to have pets for various reasons, or who are travelling longer term and missing their beloved pets, caring for other people’s pets is a great opportunity.
The easiest way to find a House Sit is by Word-of-Mouth. Do you know of any family members or friends who are going away on holiday? Ask if they have considered using a House Sitter and offer to help out.
Social Media is another great source. Facebook groups, Internet forums and other Special Interest Groups will sometimes advertise for like minded people to House Sit e.g. Waldorf Housesitters, Christian Housesitters, Single Parents Housesitters etc.
If you are looking for somewhere outside of your social circle, or somewhere overseas, you may have more luck joining a House Sitting website. There are many, but all provide roughly the same service: in exchange for a subscription fee, you have access to advertisements for thousands of vetted and verified House Sits in many different countries. While the membership fee varies, it is worth remembering that just one or two nights free accommodation instead of paying for a hotel, will recoup your fee.
Some of the most highly recommended sites are: Trusted Housesitters, Mind a Home, Aussie Housesitters, and House Sit Match. Trusted Housesitters has the greatest number of listings, across 45 different countries, while Aussie Housesitters specialises in Australian listings. House Sit Match point of difference is that they interview both both Home Owners and House Sitters and ensure they are matched to find the best fit. This may provide additional peace of mind when House Sitting with kids.
Once you have signed up to your choice of Housesitting site and paid the membership fee, you need to create your profile. You want to stand out from the thousands of other housesitters, while showing that you are trustworthy and reliable.
Make sure your heading will spark interest and catch the attention of home owners. “Dog-loving House Sitters extraordinaire” will inspire more interest than “Family of four seeks free accommodation.”
Your profile is a House Sitting CV, of sorts. It should be written in a professional tone, but still show your personality and offer insight to your character. This is your opportunity to introduce yourselves, with names, ages, usual location, profession, any helpful skills and a brief background history. You should especially mention travel and house sitting experience, including pet care and gardening. Discuss your reasons for house sitting. (Hint: make it about the experience and what you can offer, don’t focus on the free part!) Don’t forget to check your spelling and grammar, and have somebody else read it through to check for errors.
Upload photos of your family. You should have a clear close-up of the entire family, at least one picture of you interacting with animals and at least one showing your family engaging in hobbies or interests.
Most House Sitting sites allow you to upload a video as part of your profile. This is a fantastic way to give a very clear insight into your family and really show who you are. It doesn’t have to be professional, just relax and be yourselves. You can cover the same introductory information as the written profile section. Home owners feel more confident about allowing you to stay in their home if they’ve seen you interacting in a video rather than photos and a written introduction alone.
Obtain references from employers, landlords and character references. You can also obtain a police check, although it’s not essential. To obtain a police check in Australia, contact the Criminal Records section of your state police department.
Send your application with a detailed, personalised cover letter. Mention the host and their pets by name. Be specific if you are familiar with their area or have cared for that breed of dog before, for example. Offer to meet face to face if you live nearby or by Skype so that you can chat about what is involved and get to know each other better.
Sign up for daily email alerts when new House Sitting positions are advertised and apply as quickly as possible. Home owners may be inundated with dozens of applications, and may not even read them after the first ten or so.
Keep applying. I applied for twelve positions before we were successful with our first House Sit. Don’t be discouraged if you don’t receive a response, or are declined because you aren’t the right fit. Keep applying until you find the position which is right for your family. Being flexible with your dates and locations will definitely increase your opportunities. House Sitting with kids is a fabulous way to have a holiday you could only dream of, at a fraction of the expense.
What do you think? Would House Sitting be a good fit for your family? What would your dream House Sit look like? More questions? Let me know in the comments.
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