So you want to travel the world, visit different continents and save a few pennies on accomodation at the same time? If so then house-sitting could be a very viable option for you. The concept is simple, you stay in someones house whilst they are away (sometimes for a week, a few months or even up to 1 year!), often for free, and in return you look after their pets, their garden and sometimes carry out some small DIY tasks.
I’m currenlty writing this article whilst on a house-sitting assignment in Argalasti, Greece. It’s a 6 month assignment and I’ve been here for just over 3 months. Whilst this is not my first house-sitting assignment, it is my longest. The experience to date has been great. I thought I would write a little about the pro’s and cons of house-sitting and what a newcomer can expect from house-sitting and how to get started.
Often you’ll find that you’re first house-sitting assignment could be the hardest to secure. After which, it gets easier and easier as you build up experience and a so called ‘client-list’. You may also find that once you house-sit for someone once, they will often contact you to house-sit again and again each consecutive year as many houses are left vacant during the winter as the owners move to their summer house.
Due to the improvements of technology, Internet, travel and communications, more and more people are finding themselves in situations where they can work remotely and want to work remotely. This means of course that there is more competition for house-sitting assignments and often you’ll find that experienced house-sitters, older couples, and people who are retired are seen as more reliable and thus get the best house-sitting jobs. This does not mean that younger people cannot get started house-sitting, it just means it could be a little harder.
Home owners tend to trust couples more, so if you’re young and single you could be in for a hard time. Think about doing your first house-sit with a close friend or family member. Often a male/female couple would be the best. Two young lads looking for a house-sit in Ibiza would obviously not be as successful as a recently retired couple.
So what can you do to improve your house-sitting CV and set yourself out from the rest? Well first things first, you have to understand that people are giving you their home and often their beloved pets to look after so they want to make sure they find the most suitable person(s) for the job, someone who is caring toward animals, reliable, smart and has a good background (IE, no criminal convictions, good references, relevant experience etc).
I have found it very beneficial to set up a small website that provides all the information that prospective house-owners would ever want to know. This website will also save you a lot of time in the future as you will not have to keep sending people the same information when they request it, instead you can refer them to the website and ask that if they need any more information about you they can contact you.
On this website I would recommend uploading the following information (which I’ve found most house-owners request) :
- Photographs of you and your family
- Your CV and relevant previous work experience
- At least 3 contactable references from different backgrounds and of different relationships to you
- CBC (Criminal Background Check)
- Information about you, why you are travelling, how long you are staying for.
- Your current employment status and any commitments from back home
- Previous relevant work experience
- Previous house-sitting work
- An introduction video
I would also say it is of up-most important to make the website look as professional as possible so that people know you are serious about what you are doing. (if you would like a simple yet professional website designed and hosted for 100EUR please look at my website portfolio and contact me for more info).
For those looking for examples of dedicated house-sitting style websites, you can find my personal CV website here: www.paulthomson.me, you can also see my Fathers dedicated house-sitting website at www.petnpad.com, this I hope will give you a good idea of what to include on your own site.
So what are the cost implications of house-sitting? Well as you’re not paying rent then you’re saving money from the off right? Well, many times, people wrongly assume it will be cheaper to live in a house-sit than where they currently are but here are many factors to consider which vary from house-sit to house-sit. Before you embark on your first house-sit you should agree with the home-owner who pays for the bills, and what you are liable for. Some house-sitters decide to get a contract drawn up, either a standard template one suitable for all assignments or a tailored one often produced by your lawyer. Whilst this may seem like a more secure option, many people don’t like to enter into a contract (especially in when in different countries) and often prefer to get a ‘feel’ for someone prior to letting them stay.
Heating and Utility Costs
Are you responsible for the heating of the house you are living in? What about gas, water, telephone/Internet? Many buildings in Europe are not designed and built to the same standards as that of the UK construction, often cast entirely from concrete and lack proper insulation (single glazed windows, draughty doors, no roof insulation etc). As a result, during winter the temperature inside buildings can match that of the outside and sitting around the fireplace at nights is common just to keep warm (I’m currently in a fleece and hoody sat in front of a blazing fire and can still see my breath… Greece in early winter…).
Cooking is often done with gas stoves as electricity can cost more. If this is the case, where do you get the gas bottles from, who is to pay for them and do you have transport to get them (see below).
If you are staying during the off-season (often winter), you will need a plentiful supply of wood to keep warm (10 tonne for a winter should suffice). Make sure you arrange this with your host before setting off else you could be cold for a good couple of weeks before you find a supplier who can sell you wood at a competitive cost.
A little money saving tip for winter house-sits. Get some thermal trousers and tops before setting off. Your body expels more than enough warmth to keep you warm, the secret is to trap the heat and keep you warm. A good pair of thermal trousers and a thermal top can cost you £30-£50, but they will pay for themselves many times over with the money you save on heating costs. Additional benefit of wearing thermals is it’s much better for the environment too!
Internet costs, access, availability and speed
Another commonly overlooked money-eater is Internet. In many places you will not have access to internet from the house you are house-sitting in and so you may need to visit the local cafe and borrow theirs, whilst this may be a nice idea, internet is normally reserved for paying customers so you’ll have to buy a drink or two (at 3EUR/coffee x2, 4 days a week = 84EUR/month). Also, the internet may not be high speed as many places in Europe still rely on GPRS or 3G for connection. If you need fast internet for your work this has to be a consideration.
If you do have internet in the house you are house-sitting, who is paying for it? What is the speed of the connection? Is it always online? – In many european countries you’ll be surprised how often it is not working, even when connected through the telephone line via ASDL…
Top tip: consider buying a wireless router to save having to sit in one place to be connected to the internet, there are a number of good WIFI routers on the market, some can even take a USB dongle so that you can share your 3G/GPRS connection around the house.
You are still a tourist… Food Costs and local services
Even though you may be staying at a house-sit for many months, you are still a tourist in many people’s eyes and as a result you will often be charged tourist prices (even if you are outside of the tourist season) until you get to meet the locals and people start to accept you into their community. This is a big issue, even more so if you don’t speak the language as being able to negotiate on your bills can often only happen successfully in the native language. Expect to be charged an additional 15-40% to what the locals will pay for the same thing. When ordering from a restaurant, make sure to get a menu in the native language, experiment with what you order if you can’t read the language else you could get the inflated prices on the ‘foreigners’ menu.
If you are staying far from the local town or city then access to a car is preferred. Do your house-owners have a car you can borrow for free? If not, can you negotiate a price for the use of the car? Remember, that a car equalls freedom and without it you can find yourself stranded in many situations and a ‘quick trip to the shop’ for some essential groceries can often take hours, especially with the reliability of some European public transportation systems.
Other points to consider:
If you find yourself in a local village or town, many locals may not speak your language. I would earge you to learn the very basics of the local language prior to leaving. The time invested will make you stay much more enjoyable and will save you lots of money as you’ll be able to negotiate prices with people in their native language (no more tourist taxes!)
If you’ve come from a big city or used to an active social life, you could be in for a shock. Whilst many people say they long for a ‘quite life’ in a ‘quiet town’, when you eventually start living this dream, you’ll soon wonder what you’ve gotten yourself in for. Often towns in rural areas will almost shut down for the winter with many families staying at home and not venturing out. I personally feel this is getting even more prominent with the current financial situation which is happening in Europe.
Be sure to check what the weather is like during your time house-sitting, remember that often roads may often be dirt tracks and when heavy rain falls they are often inaccessible. Make sure not to just look at the temperature but the rainfall… mud and rain = no access via car and hard walking. Take it from me!
You may have to pay for drinking water where you are house-sitting, this may only be a couple of Euro’s per 5ltr bottle, but it all adds up and the bulk of the bottles can make it a nuisance to travel with. Consider investing in a portable ceramic water purifyer, and you’ll never have to go to the shops again for water.
If you are travelling with your partner on your first house-sitting assignment this may not affect you too much; but if you were to secure a house-sit assignment by yourself you must like being in your own company!
I will be writing more articles on house-sitting in the near future, if there is any information or topics you would like me to cover in the future, please let me know in the comment section below. Have you had any interesting experiences with house-sitting in the past or have any tips/suggestions for other vistiors? Please leave them below…