For nine years I lived in million dollar homes for free and it is something that anyone who is neat and conscientious can easily do. My junior year in college, a professor who I had assisted received a year long sabbatical to live in a foreign country. During that time, he needed someone to housesit his house and asked me if I would be willing to do it. I paid no rent although I did need to pay for utilities. All that was required of me was to do some basic house and garden maintenance and keep the place clean.
On the recommendation of the junior year house sitting job, I received another year of free rent my senior year from a professor doing a teacher exchange for a year. Upon graduating form college, I ended up in the Lake Tahoe, CA area and using my two recommendations from college and a small advertisement in the local paper, landed a two year long stint in a beautiful home a stone’s throw away from the lake. It was the second home of a couple who had been transferred to Europe on business and needed someone to take care of the property while they were gone.
Even after I got married, my wife and I continued to live rent free in million dollar vacation homes as housesitters. It wasn’t until we decided to have children of our own that we decided to purchase a house after being able to live rent free for 9 years (5 while I was single and 4 more while married). That 9 years of rent free living (although I was always responsible for the utilities) enable us to save over $100,000 toward a house purchase since I paid rent to myself during the entire time.
Getting started is the hard part
By far the most difficult part of housesitting is to get that first job and it’s not that difficult to do. I lucked into mine as mentioned above, but others (you tend to meet others that are doing the same thing in your area when you housesit) said it just took a bit of promoting themselves and getting the word out. Once you get the first opportunity and do a good job, opportunities after that become much easier to secure through recommendations and word of mouth.
Being neat and responsible is essential
Once you have a job housesitting, being both neat and responsible are essential if you want to get more jobs in the future. The easiest way to get a bad name is to leave the house a mess when the owners return or have them hear about parties or other events that took place while they were gone.
Being single helps
Being single helps since you will be moving on a yearly basis or so to new places. It’s possible to do it being married without kids as well, but both of you have to enjoy it and be willing to move frequently. Once you have kids, it pretty much becomes impossible to do with the constant moving and the damage that kids can do to a house.
Basic maintenance skills help
What will be required to do as part of the housesitting can vary, but basically you will need to do regular maintenance and yard work. As you move into higher end houses, you won’t even need to do yard work as most will have gardeners come by to do it on a regular basis.
You must live light
Since the houses are furnished and you will be moving often, you have to be willing to live light without a lot of your own stuff. Even my wardrobe was fairly limited. I never bought my own TV until we moved into a house of our own. If you have a lot of stuff, there just isn’t room for it and it makes moving more difficult when it’s time to switch housesitting jobs.
Liking pets will increase opportunities
If you like pets (but don’t have any of your own) you will increase the chances of landing a housesitting job. For those people that have been transferred overseas for a specific period, they often need someone to take care of their pets as well as housesit.
Location, location, location
There are definitely certain locations that make it a lot easier to secure these jobs than others. Holiday vacation spots where people often buy a second home are a great place to find these opportunities as well as college and university towns.
Flexibility with work helps
Having a job that has some flexibility helps quite a bit. There is never a guarantee where housesitting jobs are available so you may have to move a little out of the area to secure one. Having a job that requires you live in a certain area can make that difficult while having a job where to can live anywhere can open up a lot of opportunities.
Programs aren’t worth the effort
Unless you have true flexibility to move anywhere to housesit, joining one of the many programs that help people find these jobs is not worth the cost. That’s because any advertisement will receive multiple offers making the competition for the jobs quite competitive. Working to let your friends and family know that you are looking to housesit along with placing a small ad in the local paper give you a much better chance of landing your first housesitting opportunity.
Housesitting is a great way to reduce the cost of room and board while at college and a great way to save money when you are first making it on your own. The more contacts that you make and the more references you have, the bigger and better houses that you will have an opportunity to housesit. With a little time and effort, you can find you’re saving thousands of dollars a year on rent.
(Image courtesy of Russ Glasson)