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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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.
Try it out with friends first
Start by house-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 £25 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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Ask the right questions
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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House-sitting agencies and websites
Trusted Housesitters 08081 785384: 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 01296 630730: this company covers many higher-end properties and as their employee,. you're supported by head office staff.
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