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Have you heard stories of people house sitting in amazing properties rent-free? Are you interested in trying it yourself, or maybe using a house sitter, but aren’t exactly sure what house sitters do? That’s how I felt before I took on my first house-sitting job two years ago in Perth when I moved to Australia from the UK.
I’ve since completed over 50 house sits, and I’m virtually fully booked with paid house-sitting assignments in Sydney a year in advance, saving me an absolute fortune in rent and allowing me to live in some beautiful properties.
So…what is house sitting exactly?
Keep reading, as I’m going to explain all there is to know about house sitting.
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WHAT IS HOUSE SITTING EXACTLY?
House sitting is when a house owner arranges for a house sitter to reside in their home while they’re away, usually for the primary purpose of taking care of their pets in the comfort of their own home, as well as keeping the house secure and occupied.
The house sitter not only looks after the pets, but usually carries out basic household duties like watering plants and gardens, collecting mail and keeping the home clean and tidy.
All of the facilities in the house, such as cooking utensils, washing machine, TV and Wi-Fi, are available for the house sitter to use free of charge.
WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS OF HOUSE SITTING?
The main advantages of being a house sitter include rent-free accommodation (or a wage if you’re a local person and pet sitting is your job), the opportunity to explore different areas and being able to spend time with animals.
The benefits for house owners include reducing their pets’ separation anxiety by keeping them in familiar surroundings, maintaining their routines and leaving them with a trustworthy person they can bond with. They also won’t need to pay for kennels and catteries, and their home and garden will be looked after and kept occupied and secure.
For a more detailed list of both benefits and disadvantages of house sitting, take a look at the following post:
HOW DO YOU FIND A HOUSE SITTER?
The best way to find or become a house sitter is to use a reputable house-sitting website such as Aussie House Sitters or Trusted House Sitters. Choose an experienced house sitter with good reviews and meet up with them beforehand to get to know them and see how they get on with your pets.
For step-by-step guide on how to find a house sitter, have a look through my following blog post:
If you’re using house sitting website that requires you to post an advert, the following guide includes a sample advert with all the necessary information you should include.
If you’ve already secured a sitter, the guide below will walk through all the things you need to do before they arrive.
WHO CAN BECOME A HOUSE SITTER?
If you’ve just come out of jail and you’ve got the look of a serial killer, you’re probably going to struggle! But if you’re responsible, trustworthy and a genuine animal lover, you stand a good chance of becoming a house sitter.
House sitting is particularly popular with travellers (especially travelling retirees in Australia, or the grey nomads as they’re known here), but also becoming increasingly popular with locals who want to save money for house deposits, and those who work remotely and have the freedom to live anywhere.
House sitting is a booming industry attracting people from all walks of life.
HOW DO YOU BECOME A HOUSE SITTER?
There is an abundance of house-sitting websites to join, which I believe are the best way to find house-sitting jobs and get started.
I joined Aussie House Sitters when I first got started, which landed me multiple jobs in Perth almost immediately, as well as a Christmas sit in Adelaide and another sit in Melbourne during my travels.
For more advice read my step-by-step guide on how to become a house sitter.
You can also read my story on how I saved $30k house sitting across Australia to find out how I started off with no references or experience and see some of the amazing places I stayed at during my Australian road trip. It includes plenty of tips on how to get house sitting jobs.
HOW LONG DO HOUSE SITS LAST?
House sits can last anywhere from a couple of days to a year.
Usually they cover people’s holidays, so one to two weeks is common, although month-long breaks pop up a lot too (particularly over Christmas in Australia as it’s the school summer holidays). People also go on weekends away or short business trips, and even lengthy travelling stints.
HOW DO YOU GET LUXURY HOUSE SITS?
The best way is to start small, gain experience and references and do the best job you can to so that people recommend you to others. Having a genuine love of animals is the main way to get ahead in house sitting.
One of the first luxury house sits I had (in the picture above) was for the parents of a family I house sat for in a tiny house in Sydney when I first arrived here. I spent lots of time with them at the meet and greet and showed interest in the dogs and their young daughter, contacted them when one dog fell ill and took her to the vet, and left the house spotless.
A few months later I found myself looking after their parents’ seaside mansion for three weeks in one of Sydney’s fanciest suburbs! This has happened on more than one occasion. Being a great house sitter and impressing clients is the only way to do well at this really.
I’ve stayed in properties of all sizes though, including small flats. In Australia I’d say the average house sitting property is a comfortable, detached family house with three to four bedrooms. I guess younger people in smaller homes are less likely to have pets or worry as much about home security.
Remember the most enjoyable house sitting jobs result from having pets that are a joy to look after and owners that are pleasant, not just staying in a big house.
WHERE DOES THE HOUSE SITTER SLEEP?
Where the house sitter sleeps depends on the size and set up of the house. Usually I sleep in the owner’s bed, but I’m sometimes offered a spare room instead.
WHERE DO THE ANIMALS SLEEP?
The pets continue to sleep in their usual place, which tends to be in the owner’s bedroom. Many owners assume their pets won’t want to share with a stranger and tell me to shut them out if I don’t want them in the room, but believe me, most animals will not allow this to happen!
Dogs bark continuously and cats will hurl themselves at the door until you let them in; I’ve had to spoon more than one dog in my time! The only problem is when they snore, which seems to be just as common in dogs as it is in humans!
DO HOUSE SITTERS SUPPLY THEIR OWN FOOD?
Usually, yes. Most house owners tell me to help myself to pantry items, tea and coffee and any leftover fruit and veg. A lot urge me to eat absolutely anything I want though. One elderly lady even froze me portions of homemade soup and showed me her secret stash of custard powder!
Providing food is not expected though, and most house sitters bring their own.
WHO PROVIDES HOUSEHOLD ITEMS?
Pet food should obviously be paid for by the house owner, and the owner should also make sure items like toilet paper, cleaning sprays, clean cloths and dishwasher tablets are fully stocked up before the house sit begins.
For house sitting guidelines and protocol, check my guide on how to prepare for your house sitter. If it’s an exceptionally long house sit you may want to make a more practical arrangement; I don’t think any house sitter would expect nine months’ worth of toilet paper to be left for them!
DO HOUSE SITTERS NEED THEIR OWN CAR?
I would personally struggle without my own car as I house sit all over Sydney and have quite a lot of luggage, and I’ve definitely needed one in the more remote locations. It isn’t essential though, particularly if you’re staying in cities and only have a backpack.
Some house owners have offered me the use of their car, but it is rare. Usually just if they want me to drive their dogs to a dog park or beach and they’re going to get dirty.
WHO PAYS THE UTILITY BILLS DURING A HOUSE SIT?
It is usual for the house owner to continue to pay the household bills during a house sit, since part of the house sitter’s payment for taking care of the home and pets includes free accommodation, and the owner saves a lot of money by not paying for kennels or catteries.
Do let your house sitter know if you have a limit on internet usage or if you want them to go easy on the heating/air con though.
Again, if it’s a very long house sit, say six months or so, and particularly if the house sitter is just keeping the house occupied and not having to look after any pets, you may wish to come to another arrangement and ask for contributions towards the bills.
DOES THE HOUSE SITTER NEED TO CLEAN THE HOUSE?
This is by far the most common question I get asked by my friends, and they always look horrified when I say yes.
The house owner’s main concern is usually the welfare of their pets, and I’ve rarely been asked outright to clean, but I think it would be very bad manners to stay in a house and leave it dirty. Apart from it going against you when you ask for a reference, it’s not very pleasant for the owners to come back to a grubby house after their holiday.
A basic dust and vacuum along with a clean of the kitchen and bathroom is advisable before the owners return. If I’ve slept in the owner’s bed I also like to put the sheets in the wash, particularly if they’ll be getting back at night.
Both the house owner and sitter should leave the home clean for each other out of basic courtesy. Obviously if the home owners hire cleaners you won’t have that much to do.
WHAT IS THE ROLE OF A HOUSE SITTER?
House-sitting duties vary hugely from job to job; you could have an easy-maintenance cat that just needs biscuits and water topping up (quite rare though), or a menagerie of animals that require medication, multiple walks and (sometimes homemade) meals, along with a list of household jobs.
Here are the usual tasks you’ll carry out:
Dog walking: usually once a day but occasionally up to three times, and sometimes involving driving to dog parks or chasing the dogs around the house and wrestling them first if they don’t like having their harness put on!
Poop scooping: clearing the garden and changing litter trays if you’re there more than a few days.
Cleaning up: vomit and toilet incidents from carpets, sofas and beds. Rare but it does happen!
Feeding pets: 1-3 times a day, which can be biscuits, tinned meat, cold or warmed raw meat, homemade rice and vegetables, washed and chopped fruit and veg for birds (involving regular shop visits to stock up on perishables) and cleaning the food bowls afterwards.
Medicating pets: squirting medicine onto food, hiding tablets or powder in meat, mixing medicine into drinks or pushing tablets into the back of pets’ mouths.
Sweeping patios and watering gardens: a lot of people have sprinklers on timers, but in some homes you’ll need to water plants manually
Cleaning the house: some places hire cleaners, but if not you should clean before leaving.
DO YOU HAVE TO PAY A HOUSE SITTER?
In Australia some house sitters charge a fee and some don’t. I started off house sitting for free accommodation only when I was travelling, but quickly started charging a fee when I moved to Sydney.
I would have lost a lot of money otherwise when comparing the hours involved (particularly with each house move) to the cash I’d have had left over if I worked those hours in a paid job and rented somewhere in my budget.
There’s definitely a big market for paid house sitting in Australia. I’m almost fully booked a year in advance and have many people booking their holidays around my calendar.
I solely use a website called Madpaws, which allows sitters to set their own prices. The site then takes a cut of the fee and provides insurance. My friend has just joined and already has her first paid house sit, giving her a weekend away from her crazy flatmate and a bit of extra cash!
It sounds backwards, but I’m massively more in demand now that I charge. Madpaws ranks sitters based on a review system, so once you build up your reviews you’re flying.
Madpaws only really works for local sitters though, rather than travellers, and it takes a long time to become established. It means there’s less competition from other sitters though.
In Australia, you will find house sitters willing to work for accommodation only on websites like Aussie House Sitters or Trusted House Sitters. The sitters on those sites are usually travellers or locals who temporarily don’t have a place of their own to save money.
SHOULD HOUSE SITTERS CHARGE A FEE?
For travellers and those occasionally house sitting for their holidays, house sitting for no charge can be a great deal to save on travel accommodation. I did it on my road trip and it was well worth it.
For full-time house sitters doing it locally, there is a lot more work in terms of applying for jobs, driving to homes in different areas, attending meet and greets and constantly packing and unpacking.
Personally, people hire me because I can be home all day with their pets. I nearly always look after dogs, and the owners usually don’t want them left alone for more than about four hours at a time. This has a huge restriction on my life and I can’t just head off on day trips with my friends at the weekend.
I also very often have to share a bed with the pets so it is literally 24/7. I’ve had huge problems at times with pets that snore, jump on and off the bed all night or wake me up at 5am every morning.
I also spend a lot of time and petrol money driving to and from homes, and have encountered many unexpected issues such as having to take pets to the vets or discovering they’re not well toilet trained.
Overnight pet boarding costs at least $50 per pet per night in Sydney, so the owners are not only making an enormous saving by using a house sitter (I nearly always have two or more pets at a time), but are getting a personal, virtually 24-hour service that would cost an absolute fortune if a kennel offered it.
I’ve even had owners tell me I’m under-charging and leaving me tips!
HOW MUCH DO YOU PAY A HOUSE SITTER?
On Australian sites like Mad Paws, all house sitters charge a fee and set their own rates, which are usually between $46 to $60 per night for one animal, with an additional increment for each extra pet (from $5 upwards).
The websites take a cut of the fee (around 15%-20%), provide liability insurance (a legal requirement if you’re charging) and release the remaining fee to the sitter once the owner confirms it took place.
They also don’t allow sitters to delete bad reviews, which some of the “free” sites do. Sitters can choose their own refund policy should house owners cancel.
The websites also check the house sitter’s police certificate and proof of identity, and offer online courses for the sitters. Madpaws even guarantees a replacement sitter if yours can no longer take the job, and unfortunately sitters do sometimes drop out – I’ve seen many urgent last-minute adverts on some of the “free” sites.
DO PEOPLE EVER HAVE BAD HOUSE SITTING EXPERIENCES?
Absolutely! I have met a couple of owners whose previous house sitters left their home in a bad state or even trashed it and had parties.
But neither of them had checked references and one even accepted the random friend of a man they found through Facebook, and this was a proper mansion with a lot of expensive artwork!
A common problem is house sitters not spending as much time with the animals as promised, and even leaving them alone over night.
As a house sitter myself, I’ve had many bad experiences. I’ve arrived to dirty houses with unwashed sheets, mouldy food in the fridge and dirty underwear gusset upwards on the bathroom floor!
I’ve had to clean up too many toilet accidents from the floor to count! This includes dogs with stomach bugs, adverse reactions to new medication and not being toilet trained. I once had a sit with three dogs that got kennel cough, which meant coughing up white liquid all day and night.
I’ve also had owners cancel last minute (less of a problem after I started charging, as owners pay upfront), come home up to two weeks early (once without notice), organise for building and decorating work to be done during my stay, not informing me I would have a housemate and sleepless nights sharing a bedroom with noisy pets.
On one occasion the owners split up just before the holiday and I ended up living with one of them (who was understandably inconsolable) for a week, had to evacuate for the day when the other partner returned for a fight, then hope they didn’t return to steal the cats during the second week I was alone in the house!
Although I’ve had quite a few bad experiences, I did end up completing over 100 house sits, so it’s inevitable that some of them won’t have gone well.
Overall, my experience of house sitting has been pretty positive, and it’s a fantastic way to travel or get to know a new city at a low cost. For house owners, it’s a brilliant way to keep your pets happy while you’re away.
Hopefully I’ve answered the question “what is house sitting?” and much more. But if there’s anything I haven’t covered, feel free to ask it in the comments!