There's house-sitting – and then there's house-sitting.
You've probably done the first. Maybe you were a teenager, and your neighbors went on vacation and paid you a few bucks to check in on the house – or even stay for a few days and watch the pets and collect the mail. And then there's the type of house-sitting where you travel to another city, state or even country and live in a home while the owners are away.
"It's so variable," says Josie Schneider, 60, who lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan, with her husband, Conrad Knutsen. Schneider, a freelance writer who blogs at HousesittingTravel.com, and her husband spent three full years living in other people's homes.
"We were basically homeless. We sold all of our stuff, stored some things in Conrad's daughter's home and for a long time traveled. And a great deal of that was spent house-sitting," she says.
In three years, Schneider says they house-sat in four homes, the shortest stay being 10 days and the longest being a year and a half.
So what's the appeal? After all, you're taking care of somebody else's home, a responsibility you may not want. If you're skeptical or intrigued, here are some of your questions answered.
Why should you house-sit? Mostly, it's a form of free lodging, allowing you to stay in a country or state longer than you might have otherwise. Most people house-sit for about two weeks – at least if they go through TrustedHousesitters.com, says founder James Cave, a native Irishman who is currently house-sitting in Berlin but lives in England.
Cave says the main reason people use the service is to avoid putting their pets into boarding kennels when they are away. He adds: "Some homeowners also have other needs besides pets – pools that need cleaning, plants that need watering – so it makes sense to get one person who will do it rather than trying to arrange all of these things separately."
Watering plants and cleaning someone’s pool may sound banal, but if you're an American cleaning someone’s pool at a villa in Madrid and then swimming in it, as well as soaking in the sites around the city for a few weeks, you may start to see the appeal.
Some people choose to house-sit for reasons other than travel. "There are fantastic opportunities for all kinds of different people," says Jodie Thompson, who runs InternationalHousesitting.com and the mobile magazine "House Sitting World” with her partner Nat Smith. Thompson and Smith hail from Australia and are currently house-sitting in New York. They haven't lived in their own home for about three years.
As for these fantastic opportunities, you don't have to travel far to house-sit. You could do it in a region close to friends and family. Thompson says she has heard of house-sitters who haven't paid rent in years and use the extra money to save up for a house.
Instead of buying a second home or paying rent somewhere, Schneider says she and her husband plan to house-sit in the future to escape the Michigan winters.
How can you find a house-sitting gig? There are plenty of online resources for aspiring house-sitters. They include MindMyHouse.com, HouseSittersAmerica.com and LuxuryHouseSitting.com. If you have a country in mind where you'd like to stay, you may want to put your country of choice and the word "house-sitting" into a search engine and see what you come up with. For instance, AussieHousesitters.com.au focuses on sitting in houses Down Under.
As for how these sites make money, generally you'll pay a membership fee. TrustedHousesitters.com, for instance, charges $7.49 a month to homeowners and house-sitters. MindMyHouse.com charges house-sitters $20 a year, but it's free for homeowners.
There are also home-swapping sites, in which you travel somewhere and stay in someone's home while they stay in yours. Sites include home-exchange-usa.com and homeexchange.com/en/. Generally, it's like house-sitting while on vacation, only both of you are, in a sense, house-sitting for each other.