Irene and Mel Williams took on their first house sit in April 2014.
When Mel and Irene Williams sold their home in Victoria, British Columbia in November 2013, their #1 priority was to travel. They set in motion a plan to use house sitting as a vehicle for inexpensive travel to destinations they had always wanted to visit … and some they had never even considered visiting at all! In their first eight months of house sitting beginning in April 2014, this couple has successfully completed seven sits in four countries (Canada, the UK, France and Germany). It is just the beginning of their grand adventure as you will learn in the interview below with Travel with a Challenge’s editor.
When you retired and sold your home, what made you consider house sitting as a strategy to achieve your travel goals?
There was an ocean and mountain view from the Williams’ first house sit in Gibsons Landing, a ferry ride from Vancouver, B.C.
A: In 2013 even before our retirement, we saw an article about the fundamentals of house sitting in Travel with a Challenge web magazine. It provided a realistic eye-opener that got us thinking. Then we discovered people who were into house sitting, including a Victoria friend who had been in England and Scotland for the past year “on the job” and loving it. Obviously, economics is a big part of anyone’s motivation. Staying in hotels and eating out can be very expensive whereas house sitting covers accommodation expenses and sometimes even includes a car. Then there is the added bonus of living more like a local which appeals to us.
Had you done any house sitting before, or was this a new experience starting in April 2014?
A: It was a totally new out-of-the-blue experience for us but we have looked after our own homes so how difficult could it be to look after other people’s? We have cared for a friend’s pets a couple of times but never actually stayed in their homes as house sitters. We should point out right up front that house sitting almost always includes caring for pets or occasionally even farm animals. If you don’t feel comfortable with looking after animals, your house sit options will be greatly reduced.
How did you select a house sitting organization to work with? What are the benefits of working with an organization rather than recruiting house sits by word of mouth on your own?
Walks in the English countryside with two dogs were a daily part of an Oxford, England house sit.
A: Our first lead was www.trustedhousesitters.com, which we learned about in the Travel with a Challenge article mentioned earlier. It has turned out to be the best of the two sites we use, the other one being www.mindmyhouse.com. Working with an organized site provides a level of trust, safety and listings worldwide. It also gets your name out to a lot of potential home owners and provides a list of owners seeking sitters. Once you have a positive history, it is certainly possible to develop your own website and go out on your own if you wish to do that.
Do you have any criteria for selecting specific house sits to apply for?
A: Our selection is guided by several factors: timing, location, pets and pictures. If there are no pictures up front with the assignment, we will ask for them as negotiations continue. Pictures familiarize you with the house and pets, and help you feel more at home when you get there. Pets are a personal choice: we only take on dogs, cats and fish. And we’re willing to look after up to five pets. Sometimes farm animals are included in a house sit or there is a request to help with an owner’s Bed & Breakfast business for a small wage, but we’re not interested in those options.
Deux chats très charmants were part of a house sit 40 minutes outside Paris, France.
Between house sitting assignments that are not too far from one another, we also don’t mind having a week to a month to travel as tourists. For example, while doing several sits in France and Germany, we had time between them to explore those countries more as well as Spain and Portugal on our own dime.
Are there specific things you do not want to do on your house sitting assignments?
A: We like to avoid isolated areas, farms, do-it-yourself projects, salaried positions like B&B’s or even managing hotels. A maximum combination of five pets is good, say three dogs and two cats, but we avoid menageries where your whole day may be taken up with animal care and control. For us, shopping and other amenities should be no more than a short drive or walk away and we must be connected with Internet, TV and especially wifi as this helps to stay in touch with family and friends and, very importantly, to search for future sits as we go along.
A Clumber Spaniel and a Maine Coon cat, both 11 years old, hosted the Williams in Miesbach, Germany.
What kinds of stipulations or rules do homeowners ask you to honor while you are looking after their homes and pets?
Ulysses the cat in Victoria, B.C..
A: The needs of home owners vary from almost no guidance to pages of detailed instructions which could include the how, what, where and when of pet feeding to which way to close the drapes. We do not always get to meet the owner … sometimes they have already left by the time we arrive. We like to have written guidance on the responsibility of caring for pets and homes, and we always insist on written lists of emergency numbers, contact information for trusted neighbors, and veterinary information. We also want information on how the heating, cooling or alarm systems work, the operation of appliances and the wifi password.
Have you had any bad house sit experiences thus far?
Puzzle and Polly were enthusiastic walking companions during a house sit 30 minutes southwest of Oxford, England.
A: The short answer is “no”. We have had various experiences with different types of sits and pets from a house in the French countryside to an apartment in the city in Germany, from one or two cats to two dogs to a dog and a cat, from no instructions to pages of rules. And some sits have been in places beautifully furnished and maintained while others are in more rustic conditions. You learn quickly to be flexible, always remembering your priority is the well being of the pets and home left in your care.
You have moved from novices to veteran house sitters in very quick time. What assignments would you like to do in 2015 and beyond?
A: We are already booked for assignments in Texas and Florida until the end of March 2015, and are working on two scenarios for the rest of 2015 into 2016. One will be to stay in Victoria to do more house sits locally until the end of the summer, then house sit our way across Canada and down the eastern seaboard of the United States. The other scenario is to string together a number of house sits in Australia. It all depends on available sits and how we can schedule them.
A bonus during a house sit in Tubingen, Germany was a regular beer garden just around the corner.
Do you have some advice for individuals or couples considering house sitting as a budget-friendly way to explore the world?
A Toulouse, France house sit came with a beautiful summer garden.
A: Go for it! But do make sure it’s something you want to do and are willing and able to handle responsibly. If you consider a house sit as a job, it will put you in the right frame of mind to accept the responsibilities involved. For those just starting out, it’s a good idea to look for local house sits not too far from home as an easier way to learn what’s involved, gain experience and help build your profile of homeowner references.
If you are not very comfortable with a cell phone and are not a “techie”, it’s time to learn the basics of new communication. Prospective homeowners will want to talk to you face to face. And staying connected is imperative so familiarize yourself with things like texting, Skype or FaceTime. For us, house sitting has been a very liberating experience as well as a great way to make new friends and visit new places.