Back before I moved to France, I was researching ways to quit your job and move abroad. One interesting prospect I stumbled upon was house sitting, and while it’s not a source of income, it can be a way to experience a new place while saving some money in exchange for your time.
What is house sitting all about? We caught up with Josie Schneider of House Sitting Travel to tell us more about it!
Before I started this blog, I first came across Josie’s site after searching the web for more info on house sitting. Being able to live like a local somewhere with free accommodations was something I wanted to look into. So today, I’m bringing you an interview with Josie Schneider, who along with her husband Conrad, has stayed in some amazing properties all over the world. Sound like something you’d be interested in doing? What is house sitting exactly? Let’s find out more.
Me: So first, thank you Josie for taking the time to talk to me. Tell us, how did you get involved with house sitting?
Josie: Conrad and I were on our first trip together to Australia. Both of us were “no reservations”-type travelers, and as such, we found ourselves at a tiny B&B in Alice Springs. Our hostess there was house sitting the B&B! We had never heard of this house sitting thing and as she was explaining it to us, we both knew it was for us. As soon as I could, I looked up house sitting websites and was immediately hooked on the thought of living in a neighborhood instead of more traditional lodging.
What is house sitting? How does it work exactly?
There are several house sitting sites where you get matched up with homeowners. More sites are coming on board all the time because of the popularity of this relatively new low-cost way to travel. House sitters pay an annual fee. Homeowners pay nothing.
Basically the process is similar to dating sites; each side expresses their wants, you communicate a few times to see if it’s a good fit, and then you sign contracts. As a house sitter, you fill in your parameters of what you want in a house sitting assignment: what countries, for how long, if you’ll look after animals, etc., and then you receive daily email alerts of all the house sitting posts that fit your needs. You apply to the ones you like.
Most of the time, the arrangement is an even-Stephen trade.
“You get a free place to stay and the homeowner gets peace of mind.”
All the details are spelled out in your signed contracts.
Why would someone need a house sitter?
The needs vary widely but in general homeowners need a house sitter to make sure their home is safe and looked after while they are on vacation. If there are pets in the home, having a house sitter means Fido can stay in his own home and not have to go to a kennel. House sitters can look after farm animals, too. So homeowners with a farm can leave everything is the capable hands of a house sitter who really loves the opportunity to share in that type of lifestyle temporarily. Looking after sheep or llamas or cows is quite an adventure if you know it’s only for a month.
Other reasons why homeowners need a house sitter are:
- They’re going away on a long-term work assignment
- The home is a second one and having house sitters means the landscaping is tended to
- The homeowner has a 2nd house on their property and having house sitters mean they get some extra work done, like a seasonal harvest, or landscaping help
- Like the B&B in Australia, those homeowners needed house sitting hosts while they were away
Who is house sitting for? Not for?
What Conrad and I adore about house sitting is that we really get to know the area where we’re staying. Imagine six weeks in Copenhagen. We went into the city center many times, probably ten or more times. We explored the back alleys and non-touristy areas. We got to know our neighbors and shared dinners with them, further immersing into the culture. In short, house sitting is really like living in a place. It’s marvelous. So if that sounds good, then house sitting is for you.
Other reasons for house sitting:
- Get an assignment near loved ones. You get to visit, then go “home” each night.
- Want to move to a new region? House sit there first to get the feel of it.
- Want to travel for less? House sitting means your lodging is free.
House sitting is not for you if the thought of sleeping in someone else’s bed sounds icky. House sitting is not for you if you want a tour to show you the major monuments and don’t want to cook.
“You’ve got to be flexible. You’re traveling when the people are away, so you’re going by their schedule. You’re living in their home by their rules.”
What types of things would make someone’s house sitter profile stand out (in a good way) to a potential client?
Professionalism, professionalism, professionalism. And while you’re being highly professional, you’re expressing that you understand the homeowner’s needs. You’re expressing how you have the experience in home-ownership or the equivalent that will show them beyond a shadow of a doubt that they will feel good with you in their special and unique home.
Do you find it easy to get comfortable in someone else’s home and settle in? How do you manage that?
I have no problem settling in to someone else’s home. In my past life, I was a window treatment decorator, so I visited hundreds of homes per year helping people with blinds and drapery. I loved it. I’d make friends with their pets and kids, share coffee and sometimes food together, and find that whole experience life-affirming. People are really fun and unique and fascinating.
Moving in to someone’s home is a lot more nerve-wracking for them than for me. The homeowner is always nervous that I’ll think they’re dirty or disorganized or not sophisticated. They go crazy cleaning before we get there. But a couple of hours together, and we’re old chums. All that apprehension falls away. Many of “my” homeowners are now life-long friends. We check in with each other to see how the kids are doing and what’s going on with jobs and other stuff.
Living in someone’s home is extremely intimate. As house sitters we see how you live, how you organize your kitchen, if the shower drain in plugged, if the dirt build-up around the stove is bordering on dangerous, if you have a thousand saved-up works of art from your children, if you’re obsessed with having fifteen sets of dishes, and on and on. The homeowner’s mother doesn’t even know all that stuff. I like this. When I email or Skype with my homeowners, I talk to them about these special things that bind us. One time, I found a small plastic bin under a piece of furniture in the living room of a home. The bin was filled with broken pottery pieces. When I talked with the homeowner about it, she cried because it was a cherished planter that broke and had been under there for years, waiting for a repair job. She hadn’t thought of it in a long time and we shared why it was so special to her. It’s the little things that count.
What have been some of the most rewarding moments as a house sitter?
Conrad and I like adventure and we’re outdoorsy. We accepted a 6-week assignment for an off-the-grid remote home on the side of a mountain in southern Spain. I can confidently say that those 6 weeks were the most unique of my life. I write a lot about it on my website. Read about it here or here or here. I urge anyone to try an unusual house sitting assignment that takes you outside your comfort zone. It might just change your life, like it did for us.
What would your advice be to someone looking to get involved in house sitting?
Get started now! It took us almost a year from posting a profile to accepting our first house sitting assignment. We’re extremely fortunate and have been house sitting ever since – going on 3 years now. Our unique situation allows us the financial freedom to be “on the road” for this whole time. We’re not wealthy by any means. We live on 40K per year, and sometimes less because my freelance writing salary is so fickle, and find house sitting to be the answer to traveling for less. Imagine no lodging cost!
So no matter what your situation, house sitting can work for traveling situations from the simple to the extreme, like ours. Have a three-week vacation once a year? Why not try a house sitting assignment near where you usually vacation? No cost for lodging! There are as many possible scenarios as there are people to think them up. I’ve written a book to get you started. I want to get you jazzed about the fun way to immerse in world travel or simply have a near-by getaway, so I wrote 100 pages of step-by-step tips and instructions. You can find out more about The House Sitting Book here.
Thanks again, Josie. Any closing thoughts?
You can see I get pretty passionate about house sitting, mostly because of the marvelous experiences that we’ve had, but also because I want to help others experience this, too. So what I’ll say is to follow your instincts with the homeowners. I believe you know when you read their posts or email or Skype with them, if you feel compatible with them. I believe you’ll have the most fulfilling assignments when it’s looking after the home of someone you admire and respect. And the mutual nature of that relationship is an extremely important part of what’s so lovely about house sitting.
You can visit Josie’s house sitting website, House Sitting Travel, here. Would you like to be a house sitter?