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How to become a house-sitter

Monica Porter / 29 December 2015 ( 28 August 2020 )

House-sitting is a great way to stay in beautiful homes in fabulous locations here in the UK or some amazing locations abroad, and often make money at the same time.

Dog sitting on a doormat waiting to go out for a walk with a pet sitter
House-sitters' tasks may include looking after pets, basic security and light maintenance

If you're intrigued by the idea of visiting destinations you've always wanted to see without having to pay for your accommodation, house-sitting could be the thing for you.

House-sitters are generally expected to look after properties while the owners are away. Tasks may include looking after pets, basic security and light maintenance, but you aren’t normally required to work for more than a couple of hours a day. The rest of the time, you can enjoy a house that may be glamorous or belong to a millionaire, explore the local area and take in the culture.

You may also be happier! According to home and pet sitting company Homesitters, 82% of homesitters say the role has made them happier in their retirement. Their research found the top three reasons for becoming a home-sitter were:

  • Being able to explore different parts of the UK.
  • Spend time with pets.
  • Get away from their usual routine.

The research also found that almost all (91%) home-sitters found the extra income they earn from it useful to supplement their pension, while 67% say they save money on their own utility bills too.  Most use the extra income to pay for holidays, meals out, treats for the family and other general living expenses.

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What is house and pet sitting?

House sitting is simply looking after someone's home while they are away. This might be to make their house less of a target for burglars, or because there are things that need doing around the home while they are gone, such as pool maintenance and plant watering. One of the main reasons people might want a house sitter to begin with is to look after their pets, usually dogs but sometimes more exotic animals too. If you're doing a combined house and pet sitting job you'll be expected to walk the dogs, feed the cat, shut chickens up for the night, and any other task required for that animal.

Do you get paid for house sitting? 

House-sitter pay is usually low. Around £10 a day is common and there may be no fee at all. But travel expenses to and from the house are often covered, and of course there are no accommodation costs. 

It’s essential to control spending while you're house-sitting, though. Anticipate all outlays from food to mobile phone bills, and car rentals if you are abroad. If you are house-sitting long-term you might be expect to contribute to the utilities cost. 

House sitting isn't necessarily going to make you money, people often treat it as a way of getting a change of scenery or having a low cost holiday anywhere in the world, from close to home in the UK to further afield in Europe and even as far away as Australia. If you do want to get paid make sure this is clear upfront, and if you're advertising yourself through an agency like Housesitters include that information in your profile.

How do you know if you'll enjoy house sitting?

To get a taste of house-sitting start by sitting for friends or colleagues. You’ll get experience of the tasks required – anything from security checks to changing bulbs and fixing leaky gutters – see if you enjoy the experience, and can ask for the references that other clients will require.

After that, it’s a good idea to register with a reputable house sitting agency or website (for details, see below). They can link you with thousands of properties and owners around the world and may vet everyone involved. Some don't charge a fee but others do - this can range from around £30-£90. 

They may also offer advice on drawing up a contract with the homeowner, which can cover issues such as what you’ll be paid, what happens if you damage something, your food allowance and exactly what kind of work you’ll be expected to do.

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Make yourself attractive to potential employers

Take time with your personal profile for house-sitting websites. Include photos of yourself, relevant experience you have had in caring for homes, pets and gardens. Mention any language skills you may have whether it's just conversational or you're fluent.

You should also:

• Get character references from reputable people you’ve already sat for, ideally professionals such as a lawyer, banker, or a former boss.

• Get a DBS check. This will cost you £23 but is priceless to a homeowner, because inviting strangers into your home is not an easy thing to. Knowing that the police have vetted you can take the weight off a homeowner’s mind.

• Be flexible. You’re unlikely to get luxury properties in dream locations from the start, but if you build up your CV, those homes may come later.

• Be alert. The best jobs are often snapped up very quickly, so always be ready with your application.

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What should you know before you start?

Ask the homeowner questions before you take on a job, so you are informed about practical matters, such as emergency numbers, local transport and/or use of a private vehicle, distance to shops and other amenities, and whether you're covered under their home insurance or will need to get public liability insurance yourself.

Be prepared to deal with the problems and emergencies that crop up and be honest with the homeowners about anything that happens.

House-sitting is not suitable for those who have dependents or pets of their own, who need to know where the next month's income is coming from, who are unable to live out of a suitcase, or who are intolerant of other people's eccentricities.

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Where to find house sitting jobs

Trusted Housesitters: this site specialises in pet-sitting opportunities across the globe.

Mind My House: accessible international website with a community feel that links homeowners and potential sitters.

Nomador: international pet-sitting community site, with an emphasis on free house-sits. 

HouseCarers: established in 2000, this Australian firm has global coverage.

Homesitters: this company covers many higher-end properties and as their employee, you're supported by head office staff. 

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The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated. The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.