Travel isn’t cheap, so it makes sense to cut costs where you can. Airfares and accommodations take up the lion’s share of most trips and with a little detective work on the internet, you can reduce what you pay for flights and hotels. But there is a way to eliminate totally the cost of accommodations: housesitting. And unlike couch surfing, you get the whole place to yourself.
I’m housesitting as I write this, and I have been for a while. After returning from a trip to Central America, I lined up a two-week housesit in a fancy downtown Vancouver condo. Then I headed to Winnipeg to visit friends and family. I had a two-week housesit there. I returned to Vancouver at the beginning of the month and I’m currently looking after a very comfy house in West Vancouver – complete with a hot tub.
Not paying for housing for nearly two months has kept my summer travel costs low and that means I have lots of extra cash to spend on attractions, restaurants, car rentals and so on. All I have to buy is groceries, although many homeowners will say “help yourself.” In return I take care of a nice house and make sure the plants and pets are fed and watered.
Pros and Cons
The deal between homeowner and housesitter is mutually beneficial.
For the housesitter:
- free accommodation
- a fully furnished house, sometimes with pools, hot tubs
- the opportunity to meet interesting people
- generally longer term, you feel like you live at your destination
For the homeowner:
- someone to take care of the lawn, pets, etc.
- much easier than asking a neighbour, family member or friend to check up on a place
- security – lights on, mail taken in, makes the place looked lived in
- someone to deal with emergencies
There are no real cons for the homeowner, as long as they’ve done their work and checked out the housesitter. Owners should make sure that their homeowner insurance is valid with a housesitter staying in the home. Check with your insurer.
Also have a document (even a contract) that lays out expectations and responsibilities for both parties. The housesitter should have a guide to the house and contact numbers for the owners and neighbours.
There are no real cons for the housesitter either other than having to stick close to home during your housesit – especially if there are pets to look after. Because the length of time is fixed – you have to work around someone else’s schedule.
One of the best ways to find a housesit is through your own network of friends and relatives. They can also help spread the word. One big benefit of this method is that you’re not a stranger. There is much more inherent trust when the two parties know each other directly or through a common friend.
Both housesitters and those looking for housesitters often post on Craigslist and Kijiji. If you’re looking for a housesit in, say, Halifax, check out the ads relevant to that city.
I’ve had good luck using Facebook to find housesits. Changing your status to something like “looking for a housesit in Vancouver – please share!” can often shake a housesit opportunity loose. A lot of people who haven’t even thought about having a housesitter will be introduced to the idea.
If you do a good job, you’re likely to be invited back in the future. If you housesit for a number of different people, you’ll often get to choose where you’d like to go. I go back to Guatemala quite a bit because, once my name got around the expat community, I was suddenly in demand. Word of mouth is HUGE.
It may seem weird to toss your keys at a stranger; if that’s the case, do your due diligence. Check references. Don’t skimp. Look for someone bonded. This is one of the main reasons why word of mouth is so important. If someone comes recommended, that’s a very, very good sign.
Don’t charge a housesitter. They aren’t renting. They’re taking care of your place and pets in exchange for staying there. You may wish to negotiate things like utilities, but even so, the housesitter isn’t renting. They’re basically bartering their time for shelter. Respect that.
There is a number of websites that link up housesitters and homeowners. I’ve used Housecarers.com in the past. You can see what’s available (you’ll be shocked), but if you want to contact someone, you’ll need to sign up for a paid account.