The Basics of Housesitting – How does it Work?

Written by Freedom Strider

On March 11, 2019
The Basics of Housesitting - How does it Work?

The Basics of Housesitting – How does it Work?

by Mar 11, 2019

A stunning house in a great location, all to yourself for 3 weeks and it’s free?!

Well, believe it or not, this was our reality. Housesitting is one of those great little wonders out there and can be an incredible opportunity for the right people. You get to stay in other peoples’ houses and watch over their house and pets (if they have any) whilst they are away on holiday or visiting friends and family.

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We personally spent nearly a year housesitting throughout New Zealand, which saved us over $10,000 NZD in accommodation costs! Before we get into our experiences and questions you will undoubtedly have, here is a basic rundown of how housesitting works.

Don’t Forget

Download your FREE housesit checklist

Housesitting is an incredible way to travel on a budget and still have the company of pets, however, housesitting carries a lot of responsibilities. Here is a comprehensive checklist guiding you through what you need to know and not miss to ask before your housesit starts.

FREEDOM STRIDER

Housesitting 101: The Basics

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1

Homeowners decide to go away, but don’t want to leave their house and/or pets unattended.

2

They place an advertisement online via a housesitting website, giving details about their home, pets, how long they will be away, and more.

3

Housesitter(s) respond to this request and message the homeowners, saying why they would be great as housesitters (like a CV for a job). You can also be messaged personally from homeowners, but this is less common.

4

The Homeowners go through all the messages they get and narrow down their selection to one person (or couple or family).

5

Homeowners might meet their chosen sitter and discuss the details of the housesit. Dates and times, requirements, code of conduct, etc… This allows both parties to ensure they are appropriate for each other.

6

Homeowner leaves for pre-arranged holiday whilst housesitter carries out duties until homeowner returns.

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The Problem

So in short, people will request specific times and dates of when they will need someone in their house. Most likely, they have a pet (or multiple pets – usually dogs as these need the most attention) which will need looking after and/or walking. You as the housesitter must uphold your end of the deal to look after their house and their pets. In return, you get rent-free accommodation.

​There are plenty of websites you can use to find housesits, some are worldwide and some are country-specific:

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Trusted Housesitters: [£89/year]
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Kiwi HouseSitters: [$65 NZD/year]
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Mind My House: [$20 USD/year]
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Aussie HouseSitters: [$65 AUD/year]

We have personally used Trusted Housesitters and Kiwi Houesitters before. Both websites have been good to us and there are plenty of options. They are easy to understand, easy to apply and you can attach references from other homeowners along with pictures and message back and forth.​

Top Tip: Do not expect dates to match perfectly to your travel plans. If you wish to travel and housesit then you must be flexible with dates. Homeowners may ask you to come a day earlier or offer for you to stay a little longer after they come back. It is completely up to them whether they invite you though, do not expect it.

Commonly Asked Questions and Our Experience​

Before we get into the questions, two things:

1st: We have a housesitting checklist which you can download for yourself in the button below. It has many questions that you should ask to get the information that you need. It’s well laid out and you can take it along with you so you don’t forget anything. We recommend you check it out as it goes into a lot more detail about what to ask from the homeowners.

2nd: A very important thing you should know. Although we had mainly positive experiences, we did have a bad experience and a few little iffy moments. For this reason, we have started to, always, take pictures of the house in the state we left it in as insurance. This is to prove we had done nothing wrong in case anything did get out of hand. This helped prove our innocence in our bad experience – more explained later. We suggest you do the same, regardless of how nice the people seem.

Questions

Q1. Does it cost?

A: Usually not as it’s seen as a rent-free exchange. However, it is completely up to the homeowner to decide if they want you to help out with costs like bills. If it is short term (up to approximately 2 months), they usually don’t ask you to pay for the bills. But if it is for several months or over, then it is expected for you to help towards the bills. The host can ask you to pay your share of electricity and water even for a week if they want to. The one thing you should not have to pay for is rent unless the housesit is extremely long (e.g. over 9 months up to a year or two).

Housesits more than four to six weeks are possible, however, are not very common!

The longest we housesat for is four weeks at once, and we didn’t have to pay rent or bills. We did borrow the homeowner’s car and had to pay for the fuel we used. This seemed like a fair deal to us.

Q2. Do I have to pay for pet food?

A: Since you are doing a favour for the homeowners then it would be appropriate for the homeowners to pay for the food of their own pets. Yet again, it is actually completely up to the homeowners – so make sure you ask. When we housesat, most owners stocked up on canned food before they left, so we didn’t have to worry about it. One chose to leave us some cash to buy a few vegetables for their rabbit, but the rabbit’s main food was already supplied.

We have heard of cases where some homeowners leave cash and you leave the receipts of all the food you buy for the pets. Each owner will have a different way; just make sure you know before they leave. Don’t be afraid to ask questions – we know it’s a difficult hurdle.

Side note: Expanding on this point, every housesit is different! You may have a general plan but each homeowner is different in the way they approach housesitting, what they want doing and how.

Q3. What happens if there is an emergency?

(Pets get sick/house is broken into/you have to leave early for whatever reason)

A: Most homeowners give housesitters emergency contact information. This usually includes:

Phone numbers/email of the homeowners.

Address of where the homeowners are going on holiday.

Phone numbers/email/address of the nearest vet in case the pets get sick.

Phone numbers/email/address of close friends, family and/or neighbours who could be contacted in case of problems.

Most of these were given to us on every occasion where we housesat. Although we never had a major emergency, it was good to have that communication as a few little things did happen during our housesitting experiences, and we had a quick response. Always ask for these numbers so you have contact with someone if anything were to happen…

Q4. Sick pets- who pays for medical treatment?

A: Speaking of things that could happen…Make sure you arrange this! If the homeowners are off on their travels and their pet gets ill, and they needs to go to the vets, this usually is not free. If medication or surgery is required, it can get costly.

First thing you should do is, obviously, take the pet to the vet and get them checked out.

Meanwhile, make contact with the homeowners! If you cannot reach them, then try their family or close friends and go from there.

If the homeowner is near, they might come home and deal with it themselves. If not, then a few things could happen here. Either they will ask a family or friend to pay for the treatment, or you could possibly offer to pay and then they reimburse you.

Do not assume they will pay you back if you just pay and then tell them! Discuss before they leave and if the situation arises and make it clear!

You should not be forced to pay for other peoples’ pets!

Another situation (which we have never experienced but have known it to happen) is where the pet owners do not want to pay for vet care. This leaves you in a very difficult situation, but discuss through with the pet owners and come to an agreement of what to do. This is very rare though. However, we did have the understanding during one housesit that the homeowner is not willing to pay over $2000 if such an emergency arose… thankfully it never did.

Further examples of emergencies are in Question 5 below.

Q5. Can I get sued if their pet dies?

A: No. Never. The situation can be different but you can never be sued for their pet dying. A few situations where this issue may arise are:

1. Their pet is at the vet and a payment needs to be made for their treatment and I cannot contact anyone. In this situation, explain you are not the pet owner and the vet usually will treat the animal for 24 hours after they ask for the first payment. In that time they will also try to contact the pet owners. If there is still no contact after 24 hours then they will stop treating the animal, (since they cannot get the payment). In the eyes of the law, you cannot be sued if their pet dies because it is treated as homeowner negligence. Furthermore, regardless of the outcome (if the pet dies or survives), as long as you have not paid, then the homeowners will legally have to pay for the bill. They cannot sue you for not paying the bill.

2. The homeowner is unwilling to pay for the vet bill. If they have given you verbal or written instruction that they do not want to pay for the bill, then you cannot be sued. However be warned, if you pay for the bill, they are not lawfully required to give you your money back. And you cannot sue them either – regardless of the outcome of the treatment.

Q6. What do I need to know about their pets?

A: You need to make sure you know the routine for the pets you are looking after, and follow it exactly. Dogs often require the most attention and hence require more instructions than fish, for example. Some of the basic things you need to know are:

What time of day do I take them for a walk? How long for? How flexible are the walking times? Where can I walk them? Should they stay on their lead or can they run free?

When do I feed them? How often? How flexible are their eating times? What can they not eat? Do they have treats?

Where can they sleep? Are they locked outside/inside at night?

Are they scared of anything?

Though your general job description is as follows: you will have to feed the pets, love them (usually by letting them sleep on your bed…and feeding them again – that pretty much does the trick) and possibly walk them (cats included).

If you housesit pets, you will probably have owned a pet before so all of these questions and more come from what you would tell your neighbour if they were looking after your pet. Again, be sure to check out our checklist located down below for a full rundown!

Q7. Am I allowed to...

Borrow their car/leave the house overnight/have guests over?

A: ALWAYS ask any questions to the homeowners if you are not sure about something.

We always treated the house we were staying in like our own home. That being said, some people wanted certain things to be done which we would not normally do, or would do differently. Some allowed us to borrow their car to take the dogs for a walk in the park. Some said we could only use the car for emergencies. Sometimes we could leave the house for 8 hours, other times we could only be gone a few hours (usually dependent upon the pets). Others gave us contacts of neighbours and friends in case we wanted to go somewhere overnight.

Most things are common sense but ask everything like: where you’re going to sleep, whether you can use their car and if there is an alarm for the house and what’s the code.

Oh, and most people don’t take too kindly to having guests over whilst they are away, so that’s usually seen as inappropriate, but if you have a more developed relationship or you are regular housesitters to that family then possibly… ask first.

Q8. Aside from pets (or if there are none), what other things do I have to do as a housesitter? What's the point of me?

A: The other main reason people want to a housesitter (aside from pets) is so that their house is not left empty for the duration of their absence. In other words, they want their house to be kept safe. Quite often, we got a list of things that the owners wanted to be done whilst they were away. This included:

  • Keeping the house tidy and clean
  • Water plants inside and outside
  • Bringing mail inside (or possibly forwarding it on to their holiday address)
  • Making sure the windows/doors are all locked at night
  • Taking care of the garden (mowing lawn, collecting fallen fruit)

Treat their house with respect and kept it tidy (regardless of how they left it for you).

Q9. Is housesitting a binding contract? Are there legal actions if something turns for the worst?

A: This one is a little tricky to answer. Reading on the laws and the small print of housesitting, it is not a binding contract. Even though it’s a verbal agreement between two parties, in the eyes of the law, it is seen as though you are doing a favour for someone. Normal laws apply but nothing like if you were renting a place for example.

Here are 3 different situations and how they would be treated:

  • If something breaks that is out of your control (e.g. a tree falls on the house) then it is not your fault (unless you caused it). The homeowner is responsible for the costs of repairing the damage.
  • If you break something (e.g. you elbow the TV and it falls and breaks) then this is a civil matter and you must come to an agreement with the homeowners about the costs, as legally either party are required to pay (you will more than likely have to pay for it, though)… sorry.
  • If you cause a law breaking offence (e.g. you steal their TV), then this is a crime and is brought to the attention of the police and handled accordingly. You will probably go to jail or at the very least pay a fine of a value that could possibly buy you a new TV or two… so don’t steal.

If something does get out of hand after you have left their house (like one of our housesitting experiences did) then the website you applied on usually acts as the middleman in that situation. If the homeowner persists to contact you directly after you have gone to the website, go to the police. Do not retaliate!

As soon as either party acts in a way, that could be perceived as threatening, then the matter escalates from civil to criminal, hence the police get involved.

If you provide evidence (the pictures I talked about at the beginning of this Q&A) along with texts/emails and you are not in the wrong then this will be sufficient and the company/police will sort it out with the owners.

Note: A sent email or text are seen as legal documents of proof, which are of equal value as d consequence. So, be careful what you say – do not lose your temper.

Q10. What happens if the homeowners come back early? Do I have to leave?

A: Again, the answer is not black and white. It really does depend on the situation.

People usually come back from their holidays/trips early because there has been an emergency (family illness/death, trip has been cancelled, they have fallen ill themselves). They should tell you if they are coming back early, and will usually let you stay until the agreed date or at least 1-2 nights after their return until you can find somewhere else to stay, depending on how long a notice they give you.

VERY IMPORTANT: No matter the situation, here is the general rule both homeowners and housesitters MUST follow:

Both must be respectful of the other’s situation. This would include: If the homeowners are returning due to an emergency, then, from a human standpoint, it is appropriate for you to put an effort to make your exit quickly as to avoid being a burden. However, the homeowners should equally respect the fact that you have your own affairs to sort out, hence you need time to make your exit. At the very least, you would need to pack and find a place to stay (if you are not a local). If the homeowners give you less than 24 daylight hours to vacate then you have full rights to be outraged, unless there is a really good reason. They should give a reason why so that you understand the essence of the situation – even if all they want to say is a family emergency then that is okay, but no reason and abuse without explanation is most certainly not okay.

This being said, they are not required to let you stay at all, but it is often seen as bad manners and disrespectful if they do not allow you (the sitter) to stay at least 1 night so you can sort things out (e.g. pack). Most homeowners are kind, reasonable people (after all, they are trusting you with their house) so will be understanding.

If they do just want you out, then lawfully there is nothing you can really do, although discuss with them to see if they could just allow you to stay 1 night so at least you can sort things out. If they are being unreasonable then just get your things as fast as possible (stay up at night if you have to) and leave after you have handed the keys and house as instructed and do not communicate any further. If you feel threatened in any way then report the issue to your housesitting website and in extreme situations the police as well.

Don’t Forget

Download your FREE housesit checklist

Housesitting is an incredible way to travel on a budget and still have the company of pets, however, housesitting carries a lot of responsibilities. Here is a comprehensive checklist guiding you through what you need to know and not miss to ask before your housesit starts.

What Do I Get Out of This?

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Not only do you get free accommodation and a purring personal heater (cat) but you get to stay in a local neighbourhood, meet some great people and most of all you get your own shower and bathroom.

If you travel around via campervan or car, then you will know that having your own personal hot shower and toilet is one of the most luxurious things ever. Never underestimate the constant stream of hot water and the odour free toilet.

It is sometimes hard work looking after some pets but after you get past that, you just have to think about how much of a great deal you’re getting. We have saved probably £5000 – £6000 (NZD $10,000) on accommodation in New Zealand alone by only housesitting. Sam was working and earning money in an office whilst Polly worked at home while housesitting – therefore look at it as earning equivalent to what our rent would have been.

Know your options, just because you haven’t done it before or it’s not what you do as a person, doesn’t mean you can’t learn and develop yourself and after all there is a first time for everything.

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