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  • Writer's pictureNathaniel Mellor

Finding the Right Home Owners

Updated: May 8, 2023

Choosing the right home owners can make all the difference.

 

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In the article about setting up your house sitting profile, I briefly touched on choosing where to go.

Choosing where to go is nearly 100% up to you. I say "nearly", because, of course, house sitting isn’t available in every country, or every city. It’s also not available year-round for most places.

We've also talked to people who want to house sit in places

Two women cooking in a kitchen during a dinner party.

where the concept of "house sitting" isn’t common, like Eastern Europe, some African countries, and, hilariously, Italy.


Wait. Isn’t this an Italian Travel Blog?


As a new friend in Rome told us, “Italians are suspicious. We don’t like people living in our houses. We’d rather pay someone come feed or let out the animals once or twice a day.” And it’s absolutely true, as far as our experience is concerned. There are very few house sits in Italy from Italians.

But!

There are a healthy number of house sits in Italy offered by expats, international workers, retirees, students, you name it. This is especially true in cities and in the middle of nowhere—the kind of house someone bought to escape the world.


And just like house sitting in Italy, if you’re going to be house sitting in places like Eastern Europe or Sub-Saharan Africa, it’s usually at the house of someone foreign to the area. Which can be a bonus. Often times, expats want creature comforts of "home" that might not be standard to the area. For instance, an expat in Italy might have a dryer, dishwasher, or even air conditioning, which is unheard of—especially air conditioning.


On the other side of the spectrum, there are countries like France that have entire websites dedicated to French house sitting (www.nomador.com). Darcy and I recently completed a house sit in Caen, Normandy, France, and it was fantastic! For the two of us, it was off the beaten path (but not to any WWII history buff) and we made great friends!

A screenshot of Nomador, a house sitting website.
A French house sitting website.

Is there a place in Europe that does have frequent house sits?


As a general region, France is one of the few countries that have a number of house sits available at any given time. Between the expats and French nationals who love their pets, it’s easy to find one and go visit.


(Did this seem like a thinly veiled attack on someone? It was! Rome has an annual campaign of asking dog owners to not abandon their dogs at home while on vacation since this can lead to, among other things, dead dogs. Here’s one of many articles (in English).)


Before choosing a house sit, be very careful to read the description for the house sit! I cannot stress this enough. It seems like the obvious thing to do, but not only do you want to have a firm idea of what you’re getting yourself into, you also want to be able to refer back to the description if you find the homeowner was not as forthcoming as they should have been.


Now that we've covered the "where", let's talk about some guidelines


First: My Golden Rule: NEVER PAY MONEY. I mentioned this is the introductory article, but it bears repeating.


In fact, nearly all honest house sitting websites will tell you the same thing: don't exchange money with the home owners.

However, some homeowners think they’re doing you a favor by giving you a place to live while you visit their city.

But it’s you doing the favor. You’re looking after their animals while they are away, making it so the home owners aren’t paying for a house sitter locally, and most importantly, ensuring the animals are happy.

When a homeowner's description says the house sitter will have to pay electricity/gas/water etc., it tells me they greatly undervalue the service you are providing. This also tells me they might require you to do things they didn’t list on their description, “since we’re already doing them a favor by giving them this great house to use, what's the big deal in also asking them to do some chores or what not.”


In my experience, having money enter the mix on an international house sit is the basis of a bad relationship.

Not to mention, if they weren’t forthcoming about it, it can put you in a bad position, or risk a bad review. Which is, unfortunately, how these things work.

 

To add on to this, never buy anything for the animal they should already have, i.e., food, bedding, litter, treats, etc. All of those should definitely be provided for by the pet/home owner.

That being said, if you're falling in love with their pet and you want to buy them treats in a vain attempt to win their live, [check with the pet owner first,] then do so! We did a fantastic pet sit in Edinburgh with an adorable dog, and the owners said he loved sausages from down the street, at a restaurant. They made it clear he didn’t need these, but if we wanted to treat him, those would be okay. I personally like recommendations like this. Of course, we ended up spoiling the pupper rotten, but they made it clear we didn’t need to, which we appreciated. It was far more fun to do on our own volition.

 

The only situation in which I can understand paying for utilities is when there are no pets, and the house sit is long term (at least a month). Then I can understand the homeowner trying to keep costs low while offering a place for a traveler to sleep. Electricity and gas shouldn’t be too much for a month, anyway. At the very least, it’ll be cheaper than an AirBnB for a month.


Second: Check to make sure you’re not staying at a thinly veiled Workaway program. (If you’re looking for a Workaway program, ignore me!) Some house sits are looking for a live-in caretaker to do chores such as gardening, taking care of farm animals, etc. This fits in the purview of a house sitter, in my eyes. However, when they start asking you to help with their remodeling, or building a patio, or some other “trade” chore, my warning bells go off. Especially if you’re actually house sitting a small studio apartment on a larger property with a main house where they’ll also be staying.


If you don’t mind the idea of working instead of taking care of pets, keep in mind you will not be able to find a paying job without a visa, and the homeowners won’t pay, they’ll only offer lodging. I once saw a house sit offered in Guatemala that had the house sitters working long-term at their restaurant/resort location. Again, if this appeals to you, go right ahead! However, I am hesitant to do any work for someone without some kind of contract or payment.


Third: This one is far more subjective. Get a feel for how the homeowner writes their description. Do they sound demanding or welcoming? Is it detailed or completely lacking information? To get a feel for this, just search through different descriptions. Don’t take too long, though! Once you find a house sit you want, you’ll have to jump on it!


Next Up: Initiating Contact


Your first message doesn’t need to be a fleshed-out, color-coded, from-birth-until-today exposé on your life. Just a few sentences will do. “Hi, I’m so-and-so, and I saw your house sit. Your XYZ looks so adorable, I have a little furry guy myself. I’m proficient/well-practiced at the chores you need done. I look forward to hearing from you.” Something simple like that, maybe a few more bells and whistles if you think it needs it.

However, if you’re the type of person to show your personality on that first message, please don’t let me stop you! I want you to do whatever feels natural, that was just a little sample of how simple it can be.


When you’re sending out messages, try not to send out more than two or three at the most. You don’t want more than two people say yes, because then you’ll have to tell one of them “Oh, too late,” which makes it sound like you’re just in it for the vacation, and not the animals. I should reiterate, ANIMALS COME FIRST.

A cat looking at a dog.
Priorities number 1.

If animals come first, shouldn't I just send out one message?


Great question, reader! If you have time, and you’re planning your trip from a few weeks or months away, then I would recommend sending one message at a time. But if you’re in a crunch, and you need to find a house sit fast, then it’s okay to be a little blunt and just send messages. It might be uncomfortable to say “No” if someone accepts you, but if you’re in a difficult situation, you shouldn’t blame yourself.


Should I call the home owners to introduce myself?


Personally, we’ve only ever had one phone call and it was for a house sit in Florence. Thankfully, it never worked out since it started in March of 2020 but the point of the call was so the home owner could talk to us and get a feeling of who we are.


Usually Darcy and I exchange messages on the platform, then move over to WhatsApp or Signal, exchange a few more messages, and then it's just "we'll see you then! For our first ever first house sit we didn’t have a last name, address, nothing. (UK Border Patrol was real happy about that.)


Once that’s done, it’s just the waiting game!


More often than not, you’ll be asked to come a day or two early to meet the owners and the pets. This is totally normal. Usually you’re put up in their house for the night they ask you to come. You can also do what Darcy and I do and rent a hotel room. That way you can explore the city and meet the homeowners in a way that has minimal pressure. (After all, if something terrible happens, we aren’t getting kicked out of a house. We just go back to a hotel room and figure out Plan B.) But that's highly unlikely, people in the house sitting world know what to expect and know that you're not a professional house sitter.

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