When my husband Michael and I packed our bags seven years ago, we set out to explore the world— without spending a fortune—with the end goal of eventually finding a place overseas to settle down. Since then we’ve visited almost 30 countries and have lived in Italy, France, Spain, Belize, Costa Rica, Panama, and Ecuador—but we haven’t spent a fortune. In fact, we spend 50% less than we did while working full time and living in British Columbia.
Rent, or lack of it, makes up the large part of our savings. As housesitters, we’ve been able to stay in luxury properties all over the world, for months a time, and never pay a dime in rent.
A question we’re often asked is “Are there enough house sitting opportunities to go around?” The answer is a resounding yes. We now have so many requests for repeat sits and referrals that we have to turn some of them down. And since we can’t clone ourselves, here are our top tips on how to become a top-rated housesitter and live anywhere in the world for free.
The Perfect Profile
Your “profile” is simply the personal information you provide on the housesitting websites you’ll use to secure all your housesitting jobs. Two of the main ones that we like to use are Housecarers and Trustedhousesitters, although the latter has lots of competition. We also use a variety of country-specific sites depending on where we are going. Far too often, sitters waste this valuable opportunity to market themselves effectively.
Your profile will allow the homeowner to get to know you, to see what benefits you bring to the table, and to start building trust between you. Remember, the homeowner is considering inviting you, a stranger, into their home while they go away. They need to feel comfortable with you and see you as the solution to their problem. Everything in your profile has to work towards building that comfort level.
- The benefits you provide the homeowner. What skills, experience, and aptitudes do you have that are appealing to a home and pet owner? Put yourself in their shoes—what are their concerns and fears? They may be worried about coming home to a neglected garden, unloved pets, or a dirty house. They could be afraid that the sitter won’t be able to cope if there are any unforeseen emergencies.
Your goal is to allay these fears, (even though they may not be consciously aware of them) when they read your profile. For instance, are you a homeowner yourself, do you have experience with pets and livestock or enjoy gardening? Are you practical and handy around the house? Are your career or employment skills of benefit here?
Hint: Instead of just listing your attributes, turn them into benefit statements like “Yvonne has the green thumb, ensuring your garden is in safe hands.”
- Use clear close ups of you (both of you if a couple), clearly showing your faces, preferably without sunglasses. Also, include pictures of you with yours or other people’s pets. If possible, include some action shots of you walking or grooming the dog or cat. Include photos of your house or garden as well, anything that supports the benefits you bring and your ability to look after a home.
- Character references. These are vital. If you do not have previous housesitting experience, these can easily be obtained from employers, prior landlords, friends, and acquaintances.
Hint: Busy people may be short on time, so write a reference for them and then ask them to approve what you have written. Most people prefer this option as it saves them time.
- Endorsements from previous housesitting clients. The only way you will get these is to ask for them, especially when you have a client who is happy with your services. Again, you can make life easier for them by jotting down their positive comments and asking them to confirm that’s what they would like to say.
With as many as 40 or more applicants applying for each international housesit at any one time, you have to stand out. You need to get the attention of the homeowner immediately. Your first communication with them is the message you send in response to their sitter-wanted advertisement.
Rather than just blast off a generic “pick me” message, be specific. Carefully review the posting, taking note of names (owners and pets), character traits mentioned, and any specific tasks they have asked you to do. Then carefully draft a response incorporating what you have learned, i.e. “We would love to protect Rover from falling leaves and give Bailey her cuddles.” Also, explain briefly who you are, invite them to read your profile, and let them know if you’re already in the area.
Do What 98% of Housesitters Don’t
There is a simple way of letting the homeowner get to know you and become comfortable with who you are. It’s a vital part of building trust between you and new clients.
All you need to do is make a short introductory video of yourself. It doesn’t have to be a Hollywood production. It’s just you sitting down, introducing yourself, and explaining why you housesit. You don’t even need a video camera as most smartphones take excellent quality video. Be brave, ask the kids to help, and before you know it you will have something that will set you apart from other potential housesitters.
Housesitting: 5 Places I Stayed for Free Around the World
By Yvonne Bauche
After five years of traveling in over 30 countries, my husband, Michael, and I find it hard to pick any one spot as our favorite. We’ve stayed in so many lovely homes; each with their own unique characteristics and charms, but all with one thing in common…they didn’t cost us a dime to stay in because we were housesitting. Here are five of the most memorable:
We fell in love with the ever-changing views from the renovated villa perched high in the hills near Lucca, Tuscany, Italy. We enjoyed five idyllic weeks here, eating alfresco meals under the vine-shaded arbour, and drinking in the changing light as dusk settled into the valleys below.
Another favorite was a wine-lover’s dream; a domaine in France all to ourselves. The comfortable home was nestled amidst acres of vines bisected by paths, perfect for evening walks. It came complete with a sample bottle of each of the domaines’ varietals and the keys to the wine warehouse.
A highlight had to be the heritage home we stayed at in London during the 2012 Summer Olympics. The ceiling was so low in some places that we cracked our heads a few times on the hard as nails beams. We soon learnt to avoid them and enjoyed the character and history of this beautiful home.
We also enjoyed having all that London has to offer. Our door opened onto a busy street with pubs, bakeries, shops, and transport all in easy reach. The best part though was our hidden garden, when the hustle and bustle became too much we retreated to our little oasis. Here with bird song and the tinkling fountain to soothe us, we could unwind and wait to see if the fox family would come to sun themselves on the shed roof.
You might be thinking by now that we travel like this in Europe only, but that’s not the case at all. In Belize we had a home deep in the jungle.
We were often visited by howler monkeys during the daytime. They would swing from tree to tree, close enough to our shady porch that we could identify the alpha male, the teenagers, and the moms with babies clinging tightly to their chests as they passed. Our evening visitors were mostly bats, attracted to the bananas we had put out, but if we were really lucky we would have a more elusive visitor. Sitting on a moonlit night watching an extraordinarily cute, big-eyed kinkajou munching away is one of life’s special moments.