Using Your Network to Housesit Around the World

April 1, 2010 43 Comments »

Maintaining the House

I’ve been back ‘home’ in the US for 4 months, yet I’m still living out of two suitcases, changing locations every week, finding unique adventures, and experiencing new things. I’ve been staying on lakes, farms, and in suburbs; watching cats, dogs, chickens, horses, and pipes (so that they wouldn’t freeze); gathering mail, picking up dry cleaning, taking out garbage, and transporting vehicles. All of this adventure was made possible through house-sitting.

I know that many people consider house sitting as a way to travel and see the world, so I thought I would give it a go considering I really have no home and wanted to stick around the US for a while keeping my expenses minimal. I first looked into the typical house-sitting sites around the web. There is a whole house-sitting industry out there – but I quickly found anything that involves travel and free lodging is saturated; everyone wants to do it. The competition can be tough.

I realized not everyone who owns a house and wants someone to watch it looks to these websites to find sitters. In fact, many homeowners probably don’t even know they exist. In addition, most Americans only travel for a week or two at a time and don’t consider hiring a house-sitter through a website service as they think it’s overkill. That’s where I come in; the short-term, flexible house sitter!

So, how do you go about house-sitting for short-term engagements?

Be Verbal – Physically and Virtually
I decided to use my network of friends and family to put out the word that I was available to house sit, animal sit, vehicle sit or farm sit – all for two simple things; a bed and an internet connection. I’ve learned that one of the great things about being older and well-traveled is that you are considered trustworthy. I put out updates on Facebook to all of my friends, I also put out updates in my monthly Ottsworld newsletter. Even in the electronic world of 2010, word of mouth is still very powerful. So when I found myself at lunch with my sister and one of her friends, the topic of my house-sitting came up and that launched into the friend needing someone to look after their house.

Often people might not consider house sitting at first. But given the opportunity people prefer to have a trustworthy, referenced individual staying in their house with their pets rather than a neighbor simply looking in on the pets once a day. People feel more comfortable having someone stay with Rover or Fluffy and keep them company. However, they don’t want strangers staying at their house – that’s why the friend-of-friends network becomes important; you’re not a complete stranger.

The long winter

Time and Place is Everything:
In order to housesit – you have to put yourself in places where people don’t want to be. For me, this meant the Midwest in the winter. In the 90’s I lived in Minnesota for 4 years and was quite familiar with the long, cold winters. These winters make a winter getaway a necessity in the Northern US. In this part of the country, people have to be concerned with freezing pipes and other issues when they leave their houses unoccupied. This is how I found myself moving from house to house in and around the Twin Cities and South Dakota for the last 2 1/2 months. In addition, if you have a network of friends that include families you can also take advantage of spring breaks. All schools have their spring breaks at different times and often families use that time to do a weekly get-away, and they leave their pets behind.

Curbside Service:
Parking in long-term airport parking can be expensive. That’s where I come in. Not only do I watch the person’s house, but I provide airport pickup and drop-off service; utilizing that person’s own car. Sometimes the savings of avoiding airport parking can be worth having me watch a house regardless of pets! I’ve made 12 trips to the Minneapolis airport in the last 2 months – yet I’ve never stepped on a plane myself!

Having a Home Base:
I have to admit – I was pretty lucky as most of my house-sitting gigs this winter lined up perfectly on the calendar. I’d go right from one to the other as different families had different weeks for spring break. However. there are bound to be a few days where you have no house lined up, which leaves you homeless! You need a home base and for me, I was lucky I had family in the Twin Cities. Between house-sitting, I would stay at my sister’s house for a couple of days until I moved on to the next house. If you don’t have that luxury, then I suggest couch surfing or finding a local hostel or someone’s home at AirBnB for cheaper short-term lodging.

Leave a lasting Impression:
While living in Vietnam for the last year, I never had to lift my finger to clean a thing. Cheap house cleaning is one of the great perks of SE Asia. However, when house-sitting, my motto is to leave the house in a better condition than when you arrived. My goal is for my visit to appear invisible. I even go as far as bringing my own food to the houses so that I have very little impact on my stay. The last day of my house-sitting is always the cleaning day; sheets, towels, bathrooms, floors, kitchens, and don’t forget to take out the trash. As an added bonus I try to leave the owners a gift – the gift of photography. Since many times I was watching precious pets and animals, I used my time there and my photographic skills to capture their furry loved ones; something the owners seldom do themselves.

Whether you are in your home country or traveling around the world, you can put these tips to use wherever you have a network of contacts. Thanks to my travels, my network of friends reaches all around the world. In fact, while in Vietnam, I also spent 3 months house-sitting for expats. So, if your travels find you nomadic, but looking for something different – you may want to reach out to your family and friends around the world and try out short-term house-sitting!

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