[Note: This is just us, telling our personal story about our own experiences. We want to share some of the lessons we have learned as house sitters. We do not mean to be overly judgmental about people or their pets. Apologies if anything in this story makes you uncomfortable. We do welcome your feedback!]
Still At Home With No Home
Our life as full-time travelers started when we left our condo on October 25, 2018. We were officially home-free at that point, but not yet ready to leave Seattle. We had scheduled some follow-up medical appointments with our local doctors and the last one wasn’t until December 4, 2018. So we had to figure out how to stay another 41 nights in the Seattle area.
Our first goal for that period of time was to make sure we didn’t overstay with any of our friends. We decided only to stay with friends who asked more than once if we wanted to stay with them, and then for only 3 or less days at a time. Our second goal for those 41 days was to build a resume with TrustedHousesitters so we could add that option to our full-time travel plans.
Our Options for Homes on the Road
Traveling planning is my #1 responsibility now that we are full-time travelers. Alison focuses on our budgets and tracks our spending, and I book our homes and other travel logistics. Initially I outlined three main options for where I would look for our homes on the road:
- Hilton properties, using our pool of existing points
- Airbnb homes, which feel a bit more like home than hotels
- Hotels.com properties, where we can earn points for free nights with every stay
Each of these three options has an individual cost in real dollars for every night booked. The cheapest option is Hilton properties using points banked during my years of traveling for work, since the only costs to us in real dollars are the taxes. Our second option with Airbnb is attractive because we pay for them with our Chase Sapphire Reserve card and get 3x the travel points, and also because we can choose homes that have a full kitchen and then cook at home. The third option is Hotels.com, and that’s the one that gives us the biggest bonus since we earn 3x travel points for every dollar spent, and then also earn points through the Hotels.com points program which basically means every 11th night is free.
In addition to these three great options, we wanted to add one more that would offer both a “homey” feel along with a cost savings. We had heard a lot about house sitting and we liked the idea of having one option from the sharing economy since that is a prominent part of full-time travel for other people we are following. So we added TrustedHousesitters as a fourth option for our homes on the road.
How Did We Find TrustedHousesitters?
We first heard about this particular program from Gwen and J on the FIRE Drill Podcast. I was power listening to their fun podcast throughout 2018 and got so many great tips including this one. The timing was perfect! That podcast episode is called “Retiring at 33 after only five years of work – Anita at The Power of Thrift.”
We actually met Gwen and J, the bosses of the FIRE Drill Podcast, in person when they hosted a meetup in May of 2018 at Gasworks Park in Seattle. We enjoyed meeting those two and a bunch of other people from the Seattle area who were also pursuing FIRE. That was our favorite FIRE-related meetup so far! There’s a photo from that meetup on the FIRE Drill website so go check it out! Scroll down to the last photo on this page and you can see Alison there at Gasworks, pictured right above Gwen’s head!
First of all, this program offers us real homes to live in for free, in exchange for treating the owner’s home and their pets the way we would treat our own home and pets. It’s a big responsibility for us to take on. And it’s an amazing travel hack that can save us a lot of money. It does involve actual work, and it really makes us feel grounded. We have both had our own pets in the past and we have also taken care of pets for our friends and family before, so this seemed like an obvious progression for us now that we are full-time travelers.
How Did We Get Started?
I signed us up for TrustedHousesitters on August 21, 2018 and paid $119.00 for our first year of membership. The first step when we joined the program was submitting five personal and professional references from friends and colleagues relating to our trustworthiness as home and pet sitters. We also completed identity and document checks.
After that we started researching available house sits in the Seattle area that fit within our scheduling window. After about two weeks of research on the available options, we booked five house sits that fit within our timeframe and within about a one-hour drive of downtown Seattle.
Since we still had our car and condo when we booked these first few sits, we were available to introduce ourselves in person to each of the homeowners as part of our application process. That allowed them to get to know us and ask us about our experience, and it allowed us to hear from them directly what they most needed from their sitters. Today we offer to introduce ourselves with a video chat, but when we were asking for our first few sits without a housesitting track record we wanted to offer something extra. Applying for house sits in the area we lived in and being available to meet in person as much as two months in advance of the start date was a huge benefit in getting those early house sits.
We were offered all of the house sits we applied for in person. And no games, we accepted all of the house sits we were offered during those in person visits. Ironically, the first one we applied for was our fifth and final sit in the area, and the last one we applied for ended up being our very first sit. We didn’t really know what we were getting into when we were applying, so we learned our lessons as we went from place to place. Each of these first five house sits taught us something new about house sitting, and about what we should be looking for and paying attention to when we apply for house sits in the future. Serious lessons learned!
Building Our Resume
At the end of our 41 nights living home-free in the Seattle area, we had spent 16 nights with various friends, and 25 nights as TrustedHousesitters. We completed those first five stays with 5-star reviews from each of them. And with that, we were bonafide sitters with a perfect rating and a resume with both dogs and cats. We were officially ready to take our show on the road!
House Sitting is a Big Responsibility
These experiences are kind of like joining a little family for a short time. It gives us a sense of purpose and accomplishment to do the “job” part of the house sit. And it really can feel like a job sometimes, because it comes with a set schedule and some really important responsibilities. The house and garden always need some kind of maintenance. And the pets we care for are little creatures with feelings who need to be loved and protected while we are there. We like the idea of being in real homes where we are needed, and we like having tasks to finish and responsibilities to meet. We always feel grounded as house sitters because we really move in and enjoy the space. And it’s wonderful to live with these little creatures who need us while we’re traveling. We often leave with new relationships and deeper connections both to the place and the people after our house sits.
Saving Money as House Sitters
The only real cost to us with TrustedHousesitters is the annual membership fee of $119. Comparing all 4 of our chosen options for homes on the road, house sitting is the one that really gets us the biggest bang for our bucks. Our budget for nightly stays as full-time travelers is $50 per night. Since some places we stay in cost more than $50 per night and other places cost less than that, as I book our stays I work towards balancing everything to meet a year-end goal that averages out at $50 per night. With this number as the baseline, that means we only need to spend 2.38 nights as house sitters in a year to cover our annual membership fee. After that every night we spend house sitting for the rest of the year is free! As of the date I’m writing this post, we have had our membership for 6 months and had 43 nights as TrustedHousesitters, which has saved us $2,150!
What Else Do We Get?
Of all of our options for homes on the road, house sitting is the one that gives us an emotional benefit as well as a financial benefit. And it’s the only option that always provides us with a built-in way to give something back. House sitting also puts us in touch with local people, and they always have something personal to share about what they think is worth experiencing in their city and community. We find we have something significant in common with each of the owners we meet, we build trust and relationships with them through our stays, and in some circumstances we have remained friends with them after we leave. Trust is the key here. After all, it’s a very intimate process to be living in someone’s home and taking care of their property and pets while they are away.
Lessons Learned – The Tough Ones
I’ll start with the TOUGH lessons. Because the truth is we have had our share of those as house sitters. I’m hoping we have gotten them out of the way now. And I’m hoping that sharing our experiences will make things a little easier for someone else.
Is the house in good shape?
When we applied for our first 5 sits we had the advantage of showing up in person to see the houses and meet the owners and pets before we committed. But we were focused on being accepted ourselves and were not evaluating conditions the way we should have. We entered a couple of homes that were clearly not being cleaned or maintained regularly, but we didn’t think about saying no ourselves. We should have at least considered the possibility that we might want to decline some of those early options.
If you Accept a Rural House Sit, Make Sure You Can Handle It
We are open to homes that are so rural they require experience with well water, septic tanks, generators, wood stoves for heat, etc. We have that experience as homeowners and landlords, and since Alison has the skills and confidence to handle anything at these types of homes they don’t intimidate us. If you accept a house sit at a place like that, make sure you really are experienced and comfortable with those types of things. We have now had 2 house sits in rural areas, and everything that could happen did. We had short- and longer-term power outages, had to keep systems going with generators, ran out of water in the wells, etc. We have seen it all!
For us, house sitting is all about being flexible and accommodating. We have decided to always arrive in close proximity to a house sit at least 2 days before it’s scheduled to start, so our travel delays won’t interfere. And we are always prepared to stay for at least one extra day after the sit concludes, in case the owners have travel delays of their own.
We learned our lesson at our 2nd house sit, when we had scheduled to leave and drive 45 minutes to the next house sit the same day. That seemed perfect, until the owners from the first place texted to say their flight home was canceled due to weather. They had elderly pets with medical issues so they needed extra care and we were committed to taking care of them until the owners returned. But we had to be at our next house sit by early afternoon since we had 3 new pets to feed and a dog that had to be taken out to poop and pee. Our solution was for me to get on a bus to get to our 3rd house, while Alison stayed back an extra night at our 2nd house. It was a bit of a challenge for us but we were really happy to make that extra effort and help those owners out. And since then we always plan extra time and flexibility at the front and back end of every house sit. And we will never book back-to-back house sits for the same day again!
Are the Dogs Well-Behaved or Trained?
We ask a ton of questions so we know exactly what we are getting into with every pet. And if dogs are described as aggressive or untrained or hard to manage, we want as much information as possible so we know what we have to do to keep everyone safe and avoid any issues. Most importantly, all of the dogs we have cared for have been manageable for us. Ironically, the only really well-trained and well-behaved dogs we have cared for didn’t need to be walked on a leash. Most of the dogs we have cared for have been untrained, unneutered/unspayed, traumatized, or aggressive, and one dog was all of the above.
Most of those dogs had to be walked on a leash to get them to poop and pee every day. Also, the dogs that were aggressive were mostly larger dogs and since I’m 5’2” and Alison is 6’2” we were comfortable with Alison as the primary handler for those dogs. Even untrained dogs always recognize Alison as an alpha and follow her, which makes life easier for us as dog sitters. We did have one house sit for a pair of small dogs with Napoleon syndrome (one dog wanted to go after people and the other one wanted to go after dogs) and since they were ankle-sized I was happy to manage them on walks. As dog sitters we have to be ready for anything so we start by being really well informed about the dogs we sit for.
…It’s Really All About the Owners
After our first five house sits we came up with this phrase, “Pets are never a problem.” Most pets are great, but if their owners are stressed-out, disorganized, overwhelmed, or neglectful that always seems to be reflected in their home and their pets. In most cases behaviors we were warned about, like dogs pulling on the leash and being difficult to manage on walks, or dogs being prone to drama or being really aggressive during walks, were all behaviors we could manage and even modify very quickly. Alison and I are calm people at home and that seems to work well for the pets we take care of.
Observe Behaviors and Adapt
We interviewed for one house sit with a rescue dog that was large, muscular, aggressive, and traumatized. This dog requires multiple walks in the neighborhood daily to poop and pee. It’s too bad she doesn’t have a backyard she feels safe in. What’s most concerning, is this dog will attempt to attack another dog if she sees one, which is why this dog wears a very serious harness and a nose-lead for walks.
We saw this described in the house sit ad, but liked the neighborhood and schedule a lot so we wanted to see in person how the owner handles her dog. So the three of us planned a time to take the dog for a walk around the block together, and sure enough on our walk an off-leash dog came running out of its yard barking and ran at us. As expected, “our dog” went ballistic and completely lost her mind. Since there were three of us, the owner managed her dog while Alison and I stopped the off-leash dog before he could get too close and we got the attention of that owner so he could take his dog back to their house. We all helped diffuse the situation, but we also saw how close we were to a really bad situation. We probably should have declined that sit, but we wanted to help and we wanted the experience on our resume. So we accepted and we created our own routine to make things easier. We saw for ourselves about a half dozen dogs in the neighborhood including more than one off-leash in their front yard. So we avoided the neighborhood for our walks and went to the busy main street instead. Alison walked the dog while I stayed a half block ahead to watch for other people or animals and redirect if we saw anyone.
Elderly or Injured pets?
This one is not a problem – it’s just something important we have experienced. Almost every house sit we have had included at least one animal that needed extra medical attention. In fact, 5 of our first 7 house sits had at least one pet that was injured or had medical issues for us to deal with. Most importantly, our 5 experiences where pets had medical issues were all situations we were able to handle as their caregivers. And 4 of those were situations where the pet owners were completely on top of things and gave us all of the information we needed to make sure we could take care of their pets. For us that has been the norm, and we are very happy to accept those house sits where the owners are excellent caregivers themselves and make an effort to prepare us to keep their pets comfortable while they are gone.
…Again, It’s Really All About the Owners
To be perfectly honest, we have had one bad experienced, but only one out of 7. Here’s the good, the bad, and the ugly from that experience. The pet owner told us when we arrived that their elderly cat was actively dying of a brain tumor. They said the cat was uncomfortable, confused, falling down, having difficulty eating and drinking, and might be injured by their dog since the cat was not able to protect itself and their dog was prone to aggressive behavior. They said their cat could die at any time or the process could drag out for a while. And then they left. That was a terrible situation for us to be in, and obviously a bad situation for the cat as well. From our perspective that didn’t seem like a responsible decision for those pet owners. That’s our opinion. And it’s tough to say what the lesson is. First of all, once we commit we will always follow through and care for the pets. Second, it gave us a chance to make contact with TrustedHousesitters staff and ask for advice, which was helpful as well as reassuring about the program. Third, this particular experience does NOT represent the TrustedHousesitters program or community – these owners were breaking the Code of Conduct in multiple ways which is why we contacted the program staff immediately. Fourth, if we had that situation to do over again now and owners said that to us when we arrived, I think we would tell them we were not comfortable with their decision to continue with their weekend plans if they believed their cat was suffering and likely unsafe. And then if they still chose to leave, of course we would stay and take care of their animals. But from our perspective, that really was a bad situation.
More Lessons Learned – The Good Ones
Now here are the GOOD lessons. We have mostly had good, wonderful, and even fabulous experiences as sitters. And we both feel like we have gotten more out of house sitting than we have given back. House sitting has been an amazing addition to our travels and our lives. Truly!
Owners Can be Amazing Hosts
We have met some wonderful people who make a real effort to accommodate their sitters. Some of them leave us little gifts to find when we arrive, or bring us little thank you gifts when they return. Others go out of their way to introduce us to their neighbors and their community before they leave so we will really enjoy being visitors there. And some owners have become our good friends after the end of our stay. This kind of thing is not what we expect, but it happens more than we would have guessed. It’s a treat when we arrive at a home to find a handwritten thank you note, or fresh flowers from the garden, or a bottle of wine, or a cheese plate. We have had some really generous hosts that go out of their way to make us feel welcome and thank us for our help. When that kind of thing happens we are always really grateful!
We Love Maintaining Well-Maintained Homes
We are happiest when we find homes that are clean, well-organized, have a minimalist feel rather than being overly cluttered, and have been maintained outside as well as inside. When we have our first meeting or video chat or call we always ask owners if there are any service people that will be coming to the house while we are there or if their home requires any special maintenance. That’s our way of finding out if they have house cleaners, gardeners, pool cleaners, or anything else involved in the way they maintain their homes. Sometimes they say yes and we realize there will be people coming and going while we are there. Other times they say no and talk about what they do to handle their own home maintenance. Either way this is how we start that conversation and keep ourselves informed.
Sometimes our house sits have included use of the owner’s vehicle for no cost or low cost to us. One owner offered their truck and two scooters for free while they were gone. Another owner offered to rent us their vehicle or scooter for a really low cost that was half what it would cost to rent from an agency. In both cases we said yes!
Variety in Home Locations
We have been sitters at a really wide variety of types of locations. We love areas that offer us an opportunity to take long walks, whether they are in urban areas or more remote or rural areas. Once we stayed at a beautiful home on forest land that was essentially off the grid, using rain water for drinking and bathing, and a wood stove for heat. Another time we stayed in a retirement community that happened to have a trail head right at their gate. We have also stayed in a historic landmark house next to a big awesome park and beach. And the house we are in now is a custom home on an island with 180’ views. Other times we have stayed in homes in really fun neighborhoods that are surrounded by markets, restaurants, and bars. We love the variety of experiences we can find as house sitters!
Additional Tasks for Extra Spice
Some house sits have unique extra responsibilities and we enjoy those and even look for them! Don’t be afraid to say yes if you see a house sit like that and are open to that sort of thing. Our current house sit has the additional responsibility of managing two rental units next door. These owners need sitters who have experience handling rentals, who are comfortable greeting guests, taking deposits, verifying that cleaners have done their jobs, helping guests deal with any complications with their stay, etc. We have been landlords ourselves before now, and we were thrilled to put that experience to work as house sitters. We are REALLY enjoying these additional responsibilities at our current house sit. Since this is a 15 day stay in a remote area we would probably be bored if we didn’t have extra tasks to add to our routine. We have met a lot of other travelers through this house sit and had a more interesting experience as sitters because of the added responsibility of the rentals next door.
To Scoop or Not to Scoop
We are comfortable taking dogs on required neighborhood walks and picking up poop. And we are comfortable scooping litter boxes for cats. We have had multiple house sits that involved scooping litter boxes for cats AND picking up dog poop (double whammy?). I’m also happy to say that we have a few pet sitting experiences with dogs that don’t require picking up any poop and cats that don’t have litter boxes, and those are certainly a real bonus!
Sometimes They Only Look Tough
Sometimes house sits that sound really challenging are the easiest house sits. Here’s a dog example: The first sit we completed had 4 large dogs, 2 of which were elderly and had minor medical issues, all at a rural home that required having our own vehicle as well as experience with wells, septic systems, and a generator. Taking all of that on during a wet-weather season did sound like a lot of work. But in reality, the house was setup perfectly for those conditions and those were the most well-trained and obedient dogs we have ever met. We could walk them for miles in the woods off-leash and we barely had to whisper “come close” to get them to immediately heel at our feet. They also bathed themselves in an outdoor tub when they got muddy. Seriously. It was amazing! Here’s a cat example: The most recent house sit we completed had 9 cats at a small condo, which sounds like a ton of work to keep up with. But there were no litter boxes to deal with and the cats could not have been easier to take care of or more fun to spend time with. That owner must be the inspiration for the phrase “cat herder,” because she has 7 of those cats trained to go for evening walks every night. They follow her, and they followed us, all over the condo complex like a little cat parade. It was fabulous! So there you have it! Those 2 house sits were the ones that seemed harder to do as jobs when we read their ads, and they proved to be the easiest house sits we have had so far!
We love meeting new people and when we meet someone we really connect with that’s an amazing gift. So far we have had that kind of connection with 3 out of 7 of the owners we have met while house sitting, and now we have those people as new friends to stay in contact with. We are really grateful for that. Finding new friends through our house sits is the ultimate bonus!
The End – For Now
Ok I think that’s where I will leave this story for now. I am writing this from our 7th house sit. We are looking forward to seeing the owners when we pick them up at the airport in their truck tomorrow, and we can’t wait to hang out with them on our last night here, before they take us to the airport the following day. This is one of those experiences where we have made new friends, and we couldn’t be happier.
If you have any questions about our experiences or the TrustedHousesitters program we would love to hear them so ask away!
Interested in Joining TrustedHousesitters?
The bottom line, in case it’s not obvious, is that we LOVE this program and highly recommend it. If you are interested, I’m including a link you can use to join that will get you 25% off your annual membership, and two free months of membership for us if you join. You can also just search for TrustedHousesitters online and join on your own of course! Here’s our link.