Hustling for home (or: how to find a house sit)

In our last post, Tim addressed a question that we hear often as full-time house sitters: What do you do with all your stuff? It’s true that our aspirations for a minimalist lifestyle are somewhat hampered by our love of books and music and our need of wardrobe for work and for play (which in my case extends to a very basic amount of jewellery and makeup). We also carry pantry items like olive oil and rice rather than buying these afresh each time, and of course, toiletries, laundry detergent, a couple of guitars, and a small but highly useful printer. All our worldly possessions fit in one small car and are quickly packed – but you should take Tim’s word for it.

There’s another question that we hear equally as often: How do you find house sits? A typical conversation might go like this:

Q: How do you find them (house sits)? Are they people you know?
A: Usually not.
Q: What? You mean strangers let you stay in their house?
A: Basically, yes.
Q: What *registering disbelief*?! How do you find them?

It’s a fun question without a cut-and-dry answer (except, perhaps, ‘hustling,’ which we technically do a lot of). There isn’t any particular magic to it. On a few occasions we’ve been lucky to house sit for friends or on the referral of a friend. Of course, it’s hard to compel your friends to go away routinely and in a sequence that neatly aligns and keeps you housed, so eventually it becomes important to look farther afield, especially if sitting full-time.

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We traveled farther afield to look after beautiful Belle and her brother Ollie.

We rely on a few major sources for sits:

House sitting websites

House sitting websites are akin to a self-directed matchmaking service. It’s not as swift as Tinder (or whatever the kids are using these days), but it is perhaps in that spirit. You, the sitter, make a profile detailing your experience with homes and pets, your interest in house- and pet-sitting, and your availability, along with a few friendly photos to give homeowners a sense of who you are. This profile is public, and anyone can view it. Similarly, homeowners will post an ad giving broad details of the duration, location, and responsibilities of a given sit. This can range across styles of housing, from a flat or a mid-terraced Victorian home to a modern detached house with a large yard and garden. All of the homes we have viewed or sat for have been well loved and tidily kept, in neighborhoods where we have felt safe at all times of the day.

Occasionally it happens that a homeowner will send you a private message regarding a sit without having posted an ad. It is like manna from heaven when this happens, and on two occasions we confirmed sits in this way (five weeks and three months respectively). This is infrequent, though, and seems less frequent this year than last. More commonly, the sitter will apply copiously to ads of interest, and one must apply to many because the competition can be formidable. In a place like London there can be a deluge of applicants, so watching the sites closely for new opportunities and being among the first to apply will greatly raise the chances of one’s message being looked at, let alone considered.

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The nonchalant cat Fred’s owners didn’t post an ad, but rather found our profile.

Tenacity in the face of rejection is the watchword. We have, on countless occasions, not received a response at all from an owner, or received a form email thanking applicants for their interest. This is all part of the process and is not to be taken personally. Eventually, an owner will take an interest and invite further conversation.

When that happens, you talk about the broad things: duration, location, pets. If that all works, you talk about the finer things: Can we have guests? What is transit like? If it’s a long sit, do we have the option to go away for a weekend break? This not to be glib; sitting is a great responsibility, but everyone needs a small break at some point. It’s important to be honest about needs and expectations at this stage of the conversation.

Generally, when a sit is agreed it is done on a handshake. Contracts are available, but we’ve only ever signed one, and that was the only sit in our history which didn’t work out. Open, honest communication from both parties is the key to making the sit a success. We also like to accommodate an owner’s preference for communication during a sit: some enjoy receiving updates and photographs, and some prefer not to be troubled unless a major issue arises.

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Our first house sit, overlooking Lyttelton Harbour: not too shabby.

The first house sit we organised through such a site was over Christmas and New Year’s 2014/15 in New Zealand. Then based in Wellington, we thought a trip to the South Island would be a fine way to spend the holidays, but were concerned at what the cost of accommodation would amount to over those two weeks. We registered with Kiwi Housesitters, a friendly, New Zealand-specific site. Without much fuss we organised a 10-day stay in Lyttelton, just outside of Christchurch, which gave us a privileged location above a beautiful harbour and the opportunity to explore the city as it was beginning to re-emerge from its devastating earthquakes a few years prior.

On planning to relocate to the UK a few months later, we signed up to the sister site, UK Housesitters, and managed to organise a three-month cat-sit in Glasgow before even departing Wellington. We were quickly intrigued by house-sitting, and simply kept an eye to opportunity and allowed the future to unfold. To help our odds, we joined a second site, Trusted Housesitters. Between them we have done fairly well, with 22 consecutive sits and counting over the past two years. It of course helps that we have by now built up a wealth of experience along with fine references; our willingness to be open to location certainly helped us in the early days.

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We enjoyed our stay in Glasgow, where we even practiced cat yoga.

So, how do these sites stack up? Some may find the numbers interesting.

Housesitters UK is a smaller site, focused exclusively on UK house sits. It trades on lesser volume, but seems to present less competition amongst sitters as well (although this latter point may be changing). Membership cost us £20 for the year, a rise from £15 last year with no discernible improvement to the service – indeed no sign of service at all; their most recent blog post is over a year old, and they have no social media presence that we have been able to find. There is no cost to owners to post an ad, which ought to make it the more attractive. Over two years on this service we’ve applied to or been approached for 52 sits, of we confirmed and completed nine, a rate of 17.04%.

Trusted Housesitters is an international site, which means that sits are posted in locations all over the world. So, too, might your competition apply from anywhere, and in a desirable destination like London owners can be overwhelmed by the volume of applicants. We have found that being local to the city and expressing a willingness to meet the owners as part of the vetting process makes us more attractive candidates (indeed, many owners rightfully worry that a sitter from abroad may experience a change in plans that prevent them from even getting on a scheduled flight). Membership with Trusted is expensive at approximately £90/year; monthly and quarterly subscriptions are available at a higher rate pro-rata (we have managed to stumble on discount codes reducing our rate 15% and 20% in each of the last two years). Here we’ve applied to 143 jobs, resulting in seven confirmed and completed sits, a conversion rate of 4.89%. Trusted gives more detailed metrics, so we can see that 20 owners didn’t even read the message we sent; we came in as second choice on three sits, and were offered but had to decline a further 16 for reasons of scheduling or other logistics. The balance sent either a personalised or mass message to decline our application, or, more commonly, told us by not telling us anything at all. Trusted has obviously invested in its site in the last year or two, making improvements to the design, search functions, and inbox, but most recently it has added some frankly irritating new features that I wish could be disabled; I find the effort to resemble LinkedIn or Facebook doesn’t carry across well to the type of service.

By the numbers and effort involved, Housesitters UK has proved the better return. However, we could not manage to sit full time were we not active on both sites.

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Making friends with the locals, a real up-side of house sitting.

Networking

Like so much in business and in life, networking delivers.

To wit: I belong to a London business women’s group, on whose e-bulletin board I recently posted our upcoming availability. We’ve confirmed one sit from that, are in conversation about another, and had to turn down a third which didn’t work with our schedule.

We have also recently launched our Facebook page so as to better connect with homeowners, give greater transparency to what we do while on a sit (without, of course, compromising the privacy or identity of home owners), and indeed, to create a memento for ourselves.

Housesitting is a topic of conversation that piques most people’s interest in some way, so it is quite easy and natural to strike up a conversation about it with friends, co-workers, acquaintances and strangers. These casual conversations – the act of letting people know what you are doing and what you are looking for – can also result in both house sits and meaningful referrals.

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Took a bit of hustle to find these two, but it was worth it.

Housesitting is a serious business, akin to a full-time job; it’s a great responsibility to care for someone’s home and pets. There are no guarantees of what the next sit will bring, or indeed, whether there will be one. My sense from monitoring the house sitting sites is that Brexit has resulted in fewer Britons traveling this year; or at least they are staying nearer home and taking travels of shorter duration. A devalued pound coupled with inflation in everyday costs such as grocery and utilities has simply hit people in the pocketbook. Year over year, the sits now advertised are discernibly shorter, yet there seems to be an uptick in the number of sitters actively registered on both sites we use.

The act of finding sits can be a lot of work requiring a certain entrepreneurial hustle. The search for the next sit is nearly constant; we monitor the sites daily and submit applications with frequency. We have had countless email and telephone conversations with owners, and typically pay a visit to homeowners to meet them and their pets before agreeing a sit. While this is a lot of work, it is worth it to both ensure that the sit is suitable and both parties are happy with one another, and it is worth the work in order to be able to do what we do.

For those interested to try their hand, I recommend taking on a few local, short-term sits for friends or acquaintances. Build some experience and gather references, because these are vital when being considered for a lengthier or long-distance sit. Giving homeowners confidence in your capacity, integrity and care is paramount.

As a result of house sitting, we’ve been able to live in and learn about myriad parts of the UK and of London (a motley collection of villages if there ever were). We built up our profile over 10 months of UK-wide travel with sparse income, yet sitting in London while working has enabled us to save. We have gotten to meet and in some cases befriend some wonderful people, spend time with an array of pets with their quirky personalities, and simply experience life from an unconventional perspective. It’s an adventure we’re keen to continue.

Meanwhile, we’re keen to hear about your experiences in finding house sits What’s worked? What hasn’t? What’s been most surprising? Leave us your stories in the comments below.

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4 Comments Add yours

  1. expatpatty says:

    Thank you for sharing your tips in this blog. I am just looking to get into in-home catsitting in Wellington. Your suggestion re starting with friends/family to build some references is the approach I am taking.

    Sounds like an amazing journey you are on!

    Like

  2. Teresa says:

    Hi Expapatty, thank you for your comment. How exciting that you are starting on your own house/pet sitting adventure! Taking a few smaller, local sits, besides building your references, helps you to figure out for yourself what you are willing to live with and commit to for a longer period. From a recent glance at Kiwihousesitters.co.nz, it looks like there are some enviably long sits going, so don’t be shy to throw your hat in!

    Please come back to let us know how you’re getting on. Good luck, and let us know if you have any questions we might help with along the way. 🙂

    Like

  3. homeminderuk says:

    Hello, you make some good points about housesitting & I can relate to many of them as I have been fulltime house/pet sitting in the UK for the past couple of years (see http://www.homeminderuk.wordpress.com ). One of the major problems that I have encountered has been the unspoken expectations of the homeowners who seem to consider that I will clean up their untidy/dirty house/garden & pick up pet poo left from aeons before…when I had the temerity to suggest that my remit was cleaning on my watch only, I was given very short shrift! Needless to say, that particular owner did not give me the requested reference.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Tim says:

      Ha, yes, we know exactly what you mean. People can be lovely, until you hit their sensitive spot. We have also missed out on a few references. The biggest annoyance is often that they will simply stop communicating, even when we ask for honest feedback. We always try to sort out any issues that may have cropped up, but it’s impossible if you’re simply stonewalled.

      Liked by 1 person

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