How would you feel about living in someone else's house?
House-sitting – taking care of someone's house, garden and pets while they're away for longer periods of time – is a growing trend in Australia, with several websites dedicated to pairing up homeowners and potential minders.
"I would say that the majority of sitters are people who are wanting to travel," says Nick Fuad of Aussie House Sitters. "House-sitting provides an economical way to do this on a budget."
With rent prices skyrocketing in many areas, some are even using it as a way to live rent-free and build their nest eggs.
"House-sitting is a valid alternative for housing for many sitters, even if it is only for a year or two while they are saving money," says Fuad.
However, using house-minding as a primary form of accommodation can be difficult: if you're unable to line jobs up one after the other, for example, you could end up having to stay with friends or family or sleeping in a caravan.
Haylee Knight of The House Sitters recommends that minders have alternate accommodation. "The house-sitting lifestyle is just not reliable enough as a primary form of accommodation," she says. "Having said that, if the house-sitter is fairly flexible regarding location, they may pick up a position that runs for a year or two and this may be enough to save the deposit for their own home."
"In our experience, the most successful sitters are retirees who sit for fun and adventure."
People also use house-sitting as a way to check out an area, before they agree to move or sign a lease, says Fuad.
As a homeowner, the idea of letting a stranger into your house while you're away can be daunting: concerns about theft and damage may readily come to mind. Knight says homeowners should talk to their insurance company about what's covered.
"Usually the [insurance] company prefer having a sitter looking after the home rather than leaving it vacant," says Fuad. He adds that many homeowners who choose to have house-sitters have animals, and are drawn to it because it means their pets can be comfortable in familiar surroundings while they are away.
"All sitters have different skills and experience and there are different sitting jobs to suit them, so the important thing for both a sitter and a homeowner is to find the right match," Fuad advises. This doesn't just mean finding, for example, a minder with a green thumb for a home with an extensive garden; some homeowners may prioritise a person who will spend more time with their animals over someone who will keep the property perfectly clean and pristine.
Sue McConville, who has completed over 30 sits using Aussie House Sitters, is an agent for a number of manufacturers and importers. She and her husband originally began house-sitting as a way to reduce rising accommodation costs, as her job found her constantly travelling around Queensland and northern NSW.
"Now we just love it," McConville told Yahoo7 Finance. "I would continue even if I wasn't needing to travel for work."
The pair have no home base and house-sit full time, having put their belongings in storage. "We have been back to most of our sits two or three times... one of them for eight sits with more booked!"
Apart from the money they have saved, McConville loves being able to spend time with so many cats and dogs. She's seen some more exotic animals too: her house-sitting adventures have involved fish, lizards, aviary birds, chickens, ducks and cows.
The arrangements have worked out exceptionally well for the couple, who intend to keep sitting for the foreseeable future. Their calendar for 2014 is already filling up: "The sad part," says McConville, "is having to turn down repeats when we're already booked."
House-sitting 101: How to get started
1. Sign up with a house-sitting website.
Most of them allow homeowners to list for free, while hopeful house-sitters will usually be charged an annual fee for access to the listings.
Knight says The House Sitters takes a different approach: "Rather than charging hopeful house sitters a joining fee, we charge a small fee per assignment they wish to apply for."
2. Find a house.
Look through available listings for suitable placements. Keep in mind that the more flexible you are, the better your chances of landing a job.
Homeowners are also able to browse available sitters and may contact you directly, so make sure to put your best foot forward in your profile. Apart from availability, HouseMinders suggests a few other desirable traits: pet lovers, green thumbs and homebodies (as security-conscious owners might prefer someone who's occupying the house as much as possible).
3. Arrange the sit.
While it's normally a straightforward trade (care of the house/garden/pets in exchange for free accommodation), terms are ultimately between the owner and the sitter.
For example, while the minder generally pays for their utility costs, an owner with a less desirable job (this can be due to the location or the state of the property) might sweeten the deal by offering to cover all costs. There are also professional house-sitters who charge fees for their services.
It's a good idea to sign a house-sitting agreement so that any wrinkles can be ironed out beforehand and both parties can rest easy, knowing that they're on the same page.
4. Sit... and start arranging your next gig.
If you decide to house-sit continuously, it's a good idea to put a portion of your belongings in storage so that you can move more easily. You should also line up fallback arrangements (e.g. staying with friends or family) in the event that you find yourself without a place to stay.
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