An expansive brick farmhouse covered in greenery and vines in the town of Fordingbridge in the United Kingdom. A private beachside two-bedroom apartment with balconies in Australia's state of New South Wales. A house in a small Colorado mountain town half an hour outside Boulder.
What do these seemingly "storybook" residences have in common? They're all available to stay in — free of charge — if you agree to house-sit (and, oftentimes, pet-sit) while there.
Whether you're planning a budget-friendly vacation from work or looking to travel in retirement, house-sitting is a viable option for consumers aiming to cut travel costs. Not only do house-sitters not need to pay for accommodations, but sometimes they're allowed access to the homeowner's car to get around. (Note there isn't usually an exchange of money involved here — the free accommodation is the payment.)
The stipulations are different for each scenario but usually include taking care of pets, keeping everything clean and maybe some light gardening.
Although the housing itself is free, it's important to note that house-sitting sites do charge users membership fees to search opportunities. Options include TrustedHousesitters.com ($119/year), HouseCarers.com ($50/year, but you can get notified of house-sitting opportunities via email for free) and HouseSittersAmerica.com ($30/year and for the U.S. only).
One such user is Silvana Clark, a speaker and author "based" (loosely) in Seattle, who primarily uses TrustedHousesitters.com with her husband. She has house-sat in a variety of destinations, like Spain, Portugal, France, Germany, England (that was two months in a six-bedroom manor house), Switzerland and Australia.
Her most recent stint was three weeks in a luxury Paris apartment, where she took care of a little dog and was able to use the owner's car. Closer to home, she and her husband found a one-month house-sit near D.C. to spend time with their daughter without booking a hotel.
Wondering how you can get started? Check out the options on all three sites before you make your decision. Afterward, you can sign up for email alerts to be notified about new opportunities and search house-sits in the areas you're interested in traveling. Some sites tell you how many people have applied for a certain house-sit — on TrustedHousesitters.com it's often 10 people or less, says Clark.
When you create your profile, choose a professional, friendly-looking photo, double-check your spelling and grammar, detail any work or house-sitting experience and include all experience with pets, says Kathy Robinson, who's based in England and has hired about 27 house-sitters so far through TrustedHousesitters.com.
Try giving it a read from a homeowner's point of view, and see if there's anything you would change or add to make yourself a more desirable candidate. (Clark usually includes the fact that her husband has experience managing apartments, so he can fix broken garbage disposals or other issues in a professional manner.)
The application process is brief but usually involves sending the homeowner a little blurb about yourself by way of introduction. Make it professional but friendly, and just like when applying for a job, reference specific sections of the post and capitalize on anything you have in common.
And once you get the job? While you're house-sitting, consider renting out your apartment or house on Airbnb or, if you'll be out of your own house long-term, having a renter sign a six-month or year-long lease. That way, you'll be making money and saving on utilities.
And make sure you leave the house you sit for clean in order to get a good rating — that'll impact how attractive your profile is to others who might want you to stay in their abodes.