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house sittingHave you ever heard of House Sitting?

My husband and I have a running argument about traveling. I want to travel more. He's concerned about the cost of getting care for our two rescue dogs, Izzy and Winky, and my Moluccan cockatoo Mr. Grant. And it's not just the cost. It's the upheaval that the animals have to go through when we leave. So when I found out about these house sitting websites that are out there, I HAD to dig deeper and learn more.

What is a House Sitting service?

House sitting is the practice whereby a person leaving their house for a period of time entrusts it to one or more “house-sitters”, who by a mutual agreement are entitled to live or stay there temporarily. Either in paid positions or rent-free, in exchange for assuming any combination of responsibilities, such as taking care of the homeowner's pets, performing general maintenance (including pools, lawns, air-conditioning systems etc.), keeping trespassers off the property, readdressing the mail, and in general, making sure that everything runs smoothly just as if the owner was at home. It is reasonably assumed that pet-care is typically a paid service, although some “house sitters” may choose to include this as part of their agreement at no cost or a nominal fee. [1]

I found two people who use house sitting services regularly

The first person I spoke with was Jo Ann Schneider or Josie for short. Josie and her husband have been all over the world! They have been able to travel to places that others only dream about because of the costs. She and her husband are retired, and they receive Social Security among their other ongoing payments. But for most people on a fixed budget, traveling around the world might not be an option. How did they do it? They used house sitting matching services. Josie and her husband had been staying in bed and breakfasts when they found out about house sitting.

“In 2008, we were in Australia and we were staying in bed and breakfasts. I had a book of bed and breakfasts in Australia, and we would look in the book to find a place to stay in a town we were headed towards. In Alice Springs, in the red center of Australia, we booked a bed and breakfast, and we got there and our hostess said, “I'm not the homeowner here. I don't own this place. I'm just house-sitting for them.

We looked at each other and looked at her, and we were very confused. And she explained how you meet up with home owners on websites and that you can go and stay in someone else's home while they're on vacation, and it's an exchange that no money changes hands. It's free to the traveler, and the home owner gets peace of mind knowing that their home and often their pets are looked after.”

Their first house sitting experience was for a young couple in Copenhagen and they stayed in their home for 6 weeks while the couple traveled. However, when I interviewed Josie, they had just returned from an 8 month, around the world, house sitting experience!. They started in Helsinki, worked their way down through Scandinavia, UK, seven countries in Europe, Singapore and Australia, and then back to the US where they live.

I asked Josie how she was able to do this and get the trip scheduled in advance

“We kept adding on. It's logistically impossible to have them all scheduled or committed to beforehand. In an eight-month time period, the people eight months out were not posting their need for house sitters yet. So yes, we had to do it as we went along.”

Not only does the house sitter get to stay for free, but you get to have amazing experiences

“They're all unique and very, very different from staying in a hotel in that you have neighbors, and the homeowners often introduce us to the neighbors. What that gives us is a real look into the local culture. We share dinners, we talk about politics, culture, taxes, and the quirks of the area. It has allowed us to really immerse in a culture that's quite impossible when you stay in a hotel. Our neighbors have taken us on little road trips in the area or hiking, shopping.”

Logistically what happens is the homeowner posts on one of the matching services what they are looking for. The dates of the trip are listed, along with the animals and other details of the assistance that's needed. Once it's posted people apply to the house sitting position. The first time Josie applied for a house sit, the homeowner got over 100 applications!. What made her decide on Josie and her husband? The letter of introduction is what gave her the edge. Now, of course, she still went through an interview process of sorts, but it was really the letter that got her noticed. Josie teaches people how to write their introduction letter on her blog, housesittingtravel.com. She also gives other tips and tricks to traveling such as how to accumulate frequent flyer miles.

But what about the other side? Having people stay in your home?

To get that perspective, I talked with Chris Román. I asked Chris what interested her in exchanging homes?

“When my kids were young, we didn't have a lot of extra money. I couldn't really bear the thought of all four of us stuck in a hotel room together, throwing away expensive food and meals out. We started trading our home with people around the Western United States, and it worked out great.”

I asked her if she was nervous about someone staying in her home

“I think for me the key to finding great people is always looking for somebody that has a number of glowing reviews. It's sort of like Yelp, you look and you can see there's some people that are new to this. Or maybe don't look like quite your kind of people, but there's lots of people where people can't just say enough good things.”

“Yeah, so I begin by looking for people with lots of great reviews, which gives me confidence. Then I reach out to them through the site. You can actually reach out proactively to people in your area that sound good. Or you can publicize on the site you request, and have people apply.  Once there seems to be mutual interest then I typically Skype with them and we get a sense of each other pretty quickly.”

It can't all be good though, right? I asked Chris what her concerns were

You wonder, “Am I going to hear from these people at all? When I come back is the house going to be a mess?” Honestly, I've had someone come to clean the day after we got home both times and the house didn't even need it. They had stripped their beds, put it all out in the laundry, the house was immaculate.

Chris loves to travel. And now with the ability to have people house sit for free, she's able to get out more. In fact, she's even started a blog called Explore Now or Never. Her blog talks about travel tips and how to get out and see more even if you are afraid. She helps you through all of that.

I have to admit, I am in love with the house sitting idea. I don't know if we would have tried it if we wouldn't have already stayed at an Air BNB when we went to the Pasadena Rose Bowl Parade. But we are going to give it a try!

If you would like to try it out, the service we decided on is called Trusted Housesitters and, if you use my link at RockYourRetirement.com/Sitters you'll get 20% off and I'll get a couple of free months!

This post about retirement and retirement lifestyle first appeared on http://RockYourRetirement.com