How to Find Your First House Sitting Job and get Free Accommodation
My First House Sitting Experience
I’ve been in Christchurch, New Zealand, for several weeks and decided I want to stay longer. I fell in love with the trekking, Kiwi lifestyle, and never being too far from both the mountains and the beach. The problem is it’s peak season here, and on my budget I can’t afford to pay $25+ per night for an Airbnb. A hostel is out of the question (I need my re-charge time), and since I’m planning to stay a while and work (more on that later), I either want roommates or a place to myself.
I explained my situation to an American friend who lives here, and the first thing she recommended was house sitting. Before committing to a long-term rental, she used house sitting to try out different neighborhoods. I couldn’t believe some of the amazing places she’d stayed at for free.
My First House Sitting Job with Kiwi House Sitters
I signed up on one of the most popular house sitting sites in New Zealand, Kiwi House Sitters. At any given time, there are over one hundred house sitting jobs available across the North and South Islands.
For $65 NZD (about $45 USD at the time) I bought an annual subscription, giving me messaging access to homeowners. That’s the cost of two nights of Airbnb accommodation here, so assuming you get a house sitting job, a subscription pays for itself.
I created a profile highlighting my green thumb, childhood growing up with dogs, and experience as a people manager at a tech company. Then I filtered by listings in the Christchurch area with only dogs and/or cats (before filtering, I found listings with every kind of animal from pet possums to horses) and read through each of the ones in my preferred neighborhoods.
I reached out to an ad for a three-week sit watching a home, garden, and cat while the owners headed overseas for the holidays. We set up time to meet and walk through the house and their expectations, and my first message turned into my first house sit! It was a huge relief not having to worry about accommodation for the holidays, and since then I’ve confirmed another house sit that starts when my first one ends.
Why should you house sit while traveling?
Two words: free accommodation.
The world is getting smarter about how we spend our vacation money, and more alternatives to hotels are emerging. Since the launch of Airbnb in 2008, the idea of booking a private house, apartment, or room for travel accommodation has become widely accepted. But the vacation accommodation space has evolved even further, and now you can find opportunities to stay at a private home in your destination for free–by house sitting.
House sitting saves homeowners a lot of money and it gives them peace of mind to know someone is taking care of their home. Leaving a home unoccupied is probably not an issue for a long weekend, but the longer you’re away as a homeowner, the more you’ll need to do when you get back–and no one wants to be the home with the tallest grass in the neighborhood! The solution to this problem is a house sitter–someone who temporarily lives in the home for free, in exchange for taking care of the home. That could include taking care of the lawn and garden, caring for pets, and handling maintenance (or emergencies) as it comes up.
As a house sitter who takes on these responsibilities, you get free accommodation, allowing you can travel longer and save more money for the fun stuff.
Who House Sits?
House sitting is a gig that easily works for someone who has a lot of free time or works from home and has flexibility–like a digital nomad or retiree. Some people even house sit as a lifestyle, moving from home to home, sometimes seasonally sitting for the same house every year. You could see a whole country by house sitting!
But don’t write off house sitting if you’re a short-term traveler! Moving from city to city and re-packing every couple of days is a common–but stressful–trip strategy; You get home feeling like you need a vacation to recover from your vacation! House sitting is a great alternative to this, and staying in a home rather than a hotel is a truly local experience. You can find house sitting opportunities in major tourist destinations, but it’s also a great way to discover a hidden gem off the beaten path.
But house sitting is not for everyone.
- It’s not for those who are uncomfortable staying alone in an unfamiliar place. Getting familiarized with a strange place give you some surprises, and there’s no front desk reception to answer questions. It took me two days to figure out who was throwing dirt clods at the roof of my first house sit until I read a news article about rock blasting in the mountain range that backs up on the house!
- A home comes with upkeep. A house sitter is responsible for taking care of any maintenance needs or accidents if they happen. A good homeowner will give you a list of emergency contacts and sometimes a list of preferred maintenance and repair services.
- House sitting may involve taking care of pets or gardens. If you can’t dedicate the time and effort to the homeowner’s animals, house sitting with pets (or high maintenance yards) may not be for you.
How to Find Your First House Sitting Job
I’ve shared my tips below to help you get your first house sitting job.
- Before paying for a subscription, search for your preferred destinations. There are dozens of global and localized house sitting websites. The most common model is subscription-based for house sitters, and free for homeowners. This small fee helps run the site and vet potential house sitters. Check different house sitting sites to find the ones with the highest volume and best looking listings before paying for access. Tip: if you’re not sure where to start, Facebook travel groups are a great place to ask for recommendations.
- Build your profile. Once you’ve picked the right site for you, it’s time to build a profile. Thinking like a homeowner is critical here. Make sure to highlight any skills and strengths that will make you stand out and say ‘responsible’. For example, do you have experience with pets, or a serious green thumb? Choose photos carefully and use ones that you’d be happy with a potential employer viewing.
- Start looking for house sits at least three weeks in advance and research the neighborhood before reaching out. A handful of homeowners post their house sitting opportunities months in advance, and the majority post a month in advance. Near major holidays, a lot of listings go up a couple weeks before, but unless you’re booking last minute travel, you’ll want to have your arrangements made early in order to avoid getting stuck paying peak rates for a hotel or Airbnb. If you don’t have a car, check whether there is public transit nearby, and figure out how far you’ll be from amenities like the grocery store. Make sure you’ll be comfortable in that neighborhood.
- Reach out to the homeowners of your favorite listings and tell them why you’re the right sitter for their home. Think ‘responsible’ and keep it short–a concise, easy to read message will get prioritized over lengthier ones.
- Meet in advance to go over expectations and walk through the house.Suggest meeting before the start of the house sit (in person or via Skype if you’re not local) to show the homeowner how much you’re interested. Meeting in advance gives you a chance to get to know each other and get a feel for the home (if you can go in person).
- Confirm your arrival time at the start of the sit and go over any how-to’s when you arrive. You’ll want to go through things like how to connect to the wifi and whether there are any limitations (in New Zealand, it’s common to have a data limit), the homeowner’s utility preferences (hot vs. cold laundry, heating, and A/C vs. open windows), and the location of items like detergent, garage door openers, keys, the tool kit, etc.
- Join local Facebook groups and get to know the community! I’ve found this to be one of the best ways to learn about upcoming events and places to meet people.
- Send a check in email or text a couple of days in. This doesn’t have to be anything other than letting the homeowner know everything’s going well, but it’s a courtesy that will reassure them the right person is taking care of their home.
- At the end of a sit, request reference. If everything went well, a reference can go a long way towards getting your next house sitting job. Some websites have a section where these are displayed.
Have more questions? Send me a note and I’m happy to share my advice!