Interested in getting free accommodations while you travel the world? House sitting may be the answer. However, it’s not always easy to find the first housesits before you have built up references and a track record. James and Jenna of TheHouseSittingCouple.com show how they started in this interview and provide a step-by-step plan to get you started in house sitting. There is some great advice here. I love how they created a dedicated website to market themselves as house sitters.
Please tell us about yourselves?
We’re both Celts 🙂 James grew up in Cork in the south of Ireland and Jemma grew up in Edinburgh in Scotland. We met in Edinburgh where when we both worked for a small media agency in a ‘trendy’ part of the city called Leith. If you’ve seen Trainspotting or better yet read the book, you’ll recognise the name. Don’t worry, by the time we were working there it had evolved from a junkie paradise to a yuppie paradise, so it was quite a pleasant place to live and work for a while. We didn’t get together then but kept in contact and somewhere along the line James managed to woo Jemma with his charm.
Once all the wooing was done we quickly realised that we both wanted to travel but having worked in semi-digital roles before we wanted to be able to continue working as we travelled. Running an office out of a hostel dorm didn’t seem feasible and we weren’t sure what our income was going to be like so couldn’t commit long-term to self-catering, hotels or even private rooms in a hostel.
Like a lot of people who want to see the world, we had a lot of good excuses to put it off and this was just one of them. Eventually frustration at our then-current jobs got the better of us and we decided we needed to come up with some solutions to these problems which is when we came across house sitting.
Please explain what house-sitting is?
A house sitter looks after someone else’s house and often pets while they’re away. Before the internet, most house sitting was done by a local house/pet sitting agency and the agency would charge the home owner a set fee per day for someone to literally sit in the house.
While these types of agencies still exist, the type of house sitting we do is slightly different. We don’t charge (although some of the house sitting websites allow you to). Instead we take the free accommodation we get as payment for our services which is usually a few small chores that don’t take up more than an hour or two each day.
What type of work do you typically do in exchange for the accommodations?
99.9% of the housesits we take on involve pets. Most people are quite willing to leave their houses in the hands of fate, but have come to us because they’re not willing to put their animals in a kennel and don’t have any friends or family who are able to help out. This means that dog walking and cat feeding are pretty common requirements. It’s worth pointing out that most people aren’t just looking for someone to systematically feed their pets, but to really look after them and give them lots of attention while they’re away – something they can’t get in a kennel or cattery.
(To get an idea of what a typical housesit entail have a read through a random sample of housesitting assignments). Knowing what people are looking for will also help you when approaching a homeowner or writing up your profile.)
With houses that have a pool or a well-kept garden these will often need some maintenance and for longer term housesits we are sometimes asked to answer the phone and open on the mail, informing the owners of any bills that can be expected to come out of their account. Randomly we’ve also done viewings for people who were trying to sell their house while they were away as well.
A lot of our ‘work’ is simply living in the house. I know this doesn’t sound like work – and it probably really isn’t – but having someone in the home is a great deterrent to burglars and it means potential disasters such as broken pipes, leaks and everything else can hopefully be avoided.
How many different house-sits have you done?
We’re into double numbers now. We’ve housesat in the UK, France and Portugal and during that time have looked after cats, dogs, fish, turtles and even a farm of 18 alpacas.
How did you find your first house-sitting opportunities?
With house sitting there’s a catch-22 situation when starting out and that is in order to get a house sitting job you need to have references. We did have our website but settting this up and getting the right people to come to it might not be everyone’s forté. Despite this, we felt like we needed a few more housesits behind us before we could go out in full force.
To get around this, we initially started getting in contact with any family and friends who we knew that had pets and asking them if they were planning on going away or if we could encourage them to go on holidays so we could look after their house!
Has TheHouseSittingCouple.com website helped you find houses?
The House Sitting Couple certainly brings in a few emails a week but a large proportion of these emails come from the US and Canada where we aren’t housesitting currently. What it has been really helpful for is giving a lot of additional information about us that we haven’t been able to fit into our house sitting profiles on other sites. It just gives that extra bit of information about us to show that we’re two reasonably normal people.
Do you earn an income while you are house-sitting?
Yes, we both work remotely for companies in the UK and US.
What type of work do you do?
Jemma is a copywriter for a number of travel and fashion websites. Although James can occasionally string a coherent sentence or two together he tends to do a lot of technical consulting for websites.
Do you have any other blogs or websites youíd like to introduce?
If you want to know how Jemma’s getting on with eating her way around France, her food blog Jemma Eat World is worth a read.
Can you please provide some advice for people new to house-sitting?
Here’s how we would recommend you get started. (If we’d done things this way it would have saved us a lot of time.)
- Find some friends and family who have pets and want to go away. Even if it’s just for a night it’s a start. Housesit for them and get them to promise they’ll give you a reference when the time comes.
- Sign up with a house sitting website. Personally having signed up to all of the top ones I can honestly say we’ve had the most luck with Trusted Housesitters. A lot of housesitting websites are old and have terrible functionality so finding a housesit that’s current can be difficult but when you send an email to someone on Trusted Housesitters you tend to get a reply. Remember all those friends and family who promised you a reference. Get in contact with them and ask them for it now. Having references will double your chances of getting accepted on your next housesit.
- Apply for some local housesits. Although we were initially doing it for the experience we had some fantastic experiences housesitting in Edinburgh and did it while we were working full-time jobs. Occasionally people post for this sort of thing on forums like Lonely Planet so you could set up Google Alerts for “housesits in city” but, to be honest, we’ve done all of these things and it’s usually not worth the hassle.
- Once you have a few housesits under your belt, it’s time to start applying for those coveted ones somewhere further afield. Because we were planning on doing this full-time while working, we did a few dry runs and took on housesits abroad for a week here and there to see how we got on. We learnt a lot about what we needed and I was glad we got these things sorted in Edinburgh before we hit the road properly.
- I’d probably start thinking about a house sitting website now. I think it’s a handy thing to have but youíre definitely better off getting everything else sorted beforehand.