Writing a Housesitting Agreement

There’s an element of faith in setting up any housesit, despite the vetting that takes place through the use of trusted, paid websites as intermediaries. You’re never sure exactly what a given home will look like when you arrive, no matter how many photos (or Skype tours) you’ve seen of it, for one. Nor can you always be confident of the exact character of the neighborhood, or the ease of access to food markets or public transportation. There’s a sense in which surrendering a bit to serendipity is part of the fun of housesitting, but it can also be stressful.

THE KEY TO ENSURING A MINIMAL-STRESS HOUSESIT

Another potential for tension is between homeowner and housesitter. This can come up if you have different ideas or expectations about what each party is supposed to do or provide. To mitigate this, we advise writing up a housesitting agreement, then having both parties sign it. This ensures that everyone involved can feel a sense of security and mutual satisfaction with the arrangement.

 

HOW TO BEGIN A HOUSESITTING AGREEMENT

Our housesitting agreement begins with this paragraph:

As housesitters, “we” (Heather Demetrios and Zach Fehst) take very seriously our responsibility to “your” (the below-named homeowner) home and/or pets. As long-term world travelers, we appreciate the peace of mind that good home and animal care can provide. We see this agreement as ensuring a fair exchange: we provide the listed services below, and in return the homeowner agrees to certain provisions as a fair recompense. We believe this works to each party’s mutual benefit.

So it’s not Shakespeare, and it’s a bit heavy on the “legalese,” but it’s serviceable. It’s not a legally binding contract, but we want to be clear that the stakes are considerable. You are, after all, going to be responsible for someone’s property and beloved pets; it’s kind of a big deal.

WHAT TO INCLUDE IN A HOUSESITTING AGREEMENT

After the opener, our agreement includes a few different sections, with all of our provisions bullet-pointed below each one. It’s important to list everything you can think of! Better to spell it out in advance then to wish you’d been clearer later, after a disagreement with a homeowner. Our agreement runs about four-and-a-half pages long.

What Housesitters Will Provide

Here we list basics like “care of and residence in the home” (duh) and “we agree to be considerate, quiet neighbors,” as well as things like “we will be present for any scheduled deliveries and/or maintenance.” This is decision time for you! What exactly are you willing to agree to here? For example, we also say that we are okay with “watering the plants and doing moderate gardening.” If you’re not okay with that, better decide it now!

What Homeowners Will Provide

This section is really vital to get right to make sure that you’re happy in your sit. Ours begins: “The homeowner agrees to leave the home in a reasonably clean state.” Who wants to stay in a pig sty? We then add things that would be deal-breakers for us, like the fact that homeowner agrees “to provide all food and sundry items necessary for the care of the animals,” and “cleaning supplies for maintenance and upkeep of the space (i.e. gardening gloves, mops, trash bags),” and that the homeowner agrees to pay all utilities. What you’re trying to avoid is being on the hook for lots of expenses that you really shouldn’t need to pay. Remember, you’re not just getting a free place to stay out of the deal: the homeowner is saving a fortune by not having to pay someone to care for their pets!

Additional Stipulations

In this section we put things that don’t quite fit in the other sections, like the fact that one of us may have to leave on a business trip or something during the sit (so there would only be a single person in the home instead of a couple). You’ll likely have your own unique stipulations.

Specific Details of This Housesit

This is the nuts and bolts section. We ask the homeowner to provide their full address, specific dates of occupancy, policies about the use of their car (if available) and about overnight guests. We ask for detailed information about their pets, including medications, feeding procedures, and daily routines. Crucially, we ask the homeowner to provide as much contact information as they can for many different types of possible emergencies or contingencies (gas service, plumber, electrician, mechanic, etc.) as well as nearby hospitals and veterinary clinics. When things go wrong (and they haven’t yet for us, but knock wood!), this will be important. We also ask homeowners to designate a specific in-country support person whom we can contact for any random questions or situations that may pop up. Usually this is a family member nearby. At the end of this section, each party signs and dates.

Okay, now you know how to safeguard your housesitting harmony with a handy agreement. Happy sitting!

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Paying the Bills: Teaching Online

Let’s start with some great news about long-term housesitting: aside from the new places you’ll see and the people you’ll meet, you get the added bonus of significantly reduced monthly bills! Our mind-bogglingly steep New York City rent? Gone. That high speed internet bill? Also gone. Ditto gas, electricity, and even our cell phone bills (replaced by much cheaper top-up SIM cards, the ins and outs of which we’ll cover in another post).

Now, the reality: bills still exist, albeit in a more limited form. For us, there’s travelers’ insurance, student loans, and the storage bill from the Brooklyn U-Haul, of course. Then there are the transportation costs of getting around town, and from one city or country to another. And that doesn’t count food and drink and other incidentals. So, yeah, you’re still going to need to make money. Lucky for all of us, the Internet opens up a lot of doors in that department.

TEACHING ENGLISH ONLINE WITH VIPKID

Hi, it’s “Teacher Zach”! One way that I make steady money to support our housesitting adventure is by teaching for a China-based company called VIPKID. It’s a totally legit enterprise, not a fly-by-night scam of some sort. I’ve worked with them for four months now and taught hundreds of lessons. They pay well, and they pay on time.

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The newer classroom format

HOW VIPKID WORKS

The company uses their own proprietary software to enable you to teach one-on-one lessons with young learners, primarily in China. The students typically range in age from 4 to 14 years old, with most students (in my experience at least) being about 10 or 11. You do not need to speak Chinese; however, you do often need to speak very…slow…exaggerated…English (with accompanying BIG, BROAD GESTURES!). The teacher is responsible for leading a 25-minute lesson in a virtual classroom, where both teacher and student are visible on camera. The lessons are composed of slides that you and the student can write on (an increasing number of the lessons are now more interactive, with drag-and-drop functionality, for example). There is zero planning on your part, but you are required to fill out a quick post-class assessment after each session (which takes me two minutes, tops).

WHAT VIPKID PAYS

Let’s dispense with formalities and talk money. That’s why you’re reading, isn’t it? Depending on your experience and education, and based also on your performance during the application process (i.e.your demo lessons), you can make between $7 and $11 per class. Since classes are 25-minutes long, this makes the hourly starting rate between $14 and $22. Note that these rates are possible only if you teach more than 45 classes in a month (that is, 22.5 hours). This functions as a participation incentive. If you teach fewer classes than that, you’ll have to knock fifty cents to a buck off your hourly rate. I have a Masters and many years of experience, so I make the full $22. Because I teach around 25 hours per week, I take home $2,000 a month, give or take (before taxes). There are various other ways to make additional money (small rewards and other incentives, as well as referrals) which I won’t go into here.

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The older version of the classroom

THE UPSIDE

  • No commute.
  • No planning, no grading.
  • Work from anywhere in your sweatpants (with a nice shirt on top, naturally. I call this hideous combination “the mullet of outfits”: business on top, party on the bottom—and no I’m not posting pics).
  • The kids are usually adorable, precocious, or both.
  • It’s fun! You get to be a playful goofball to your heart’s content. At least until an eight-year-old girl rolls her eyes at you, then you tone it down a notch.
  • The pay isn’t excellent, but if you keep your bills down, it’s decent.
  • (Not to be underestimated when engaged in long-term, foreign housesits) It gives you the opportunity for real connection with others. It’s not mature, adult conversation, perhaps, but it’s something.

THE DOWNSIDE

  • No benefits.
  • It can be exhausting. Trying to hold the attention of a youngster when you’re only a tiny face on their computer screen is a unique skill you kind of have to learn on the job. A bad class is the longest 25-minutes of your life.
  • There are technical issues that emerge on a semi-regular basis—either my internet acts up, or the student’s does, or (rarely) the system is experiencing some weirdness. These glitches can be frustrating.
  • Sounding like a goofy ass to your partner who’s trying to concentrate in the next room.

HOW TO APPLY

If you have at least a Bachelor’s degree, are eligible to work in the USA or Canada, and have one year of teaching experience of any kind (including tutoring, coaching, or mentoring), you can apply to teach for VIPKID. In addition, you’ll need a computer and headset, and high-speed internet. The application process (at least when I went through it) involves two mock lessons which are also interviews, with your interviewers playing the part of the student. They are awkward, because it is strange to talk to an adult like a small child who doesn’t speak English, but lean into the weird and you’ll be fine! Feel free to contact me with more questions about the job or the process, and click the link below to get started.

*Please use my referral code so I can make a bit of money to keep the travels and the helpful blog posts going! My code is: ZACHA0032, and you can go here to get started.*

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How to Arrange a Housesit

If you’re just starting out as a housesitter, one thing you’re probably wondering about is how to find and arrange your first housesit. It takes a bit of legwork to secure your first one, but don’t worry, once you’ve finished jumping through a few hoops, you’ll be booking sits in no time!

STEP 1: SETTING UP A PROFILE

The first thing you’ll need to do is set up a profile on a housesitting site. Actually, you’ll probably want to set up multiple profiles on different sites so you have access to the largest variety of available sits. Unfortunately these sites all have totally different interfaces, and they don’t tend to be terribly user friendly, so creating a number of profiles is kind of a time-consuming and frustrating process. Also kind of unfortunate? Each site requires you to pay for an annual membership. But this cuts both ways: because there’s a (small) barrier to entry, it means you’re competing with a smaller pool of people for desirable places to sit. So that’s good!

Below are the three sites that we’ve used to arrange our own housesits (there’s a fourth reputable site that we haven’t explored much since it’s U.S.-based and we’ve been looking for international sits — you can find this one, and more, under the resources tab).

Trusted Housesitters screenshot

The biggest and best housesitting site, with the most comprehensive international reach, is called Trusted Housesitters. As you can see, it has a clean look, and is also the easiest of the bunch to navigate. An annual membership will set you back $120.

Nomador 3

Nomador is another good one that we’ve used. An annual membership here is $90, but with that reduced cost comes a reduced number of available sits, with most of them on the European continent (and the majority of those in France).

Housecarers screenshot

Housecarers is the third site we’ve used. At only $50 for an annual membership, it’s the cheapest date of the bunch. As before, less money means fewer options. Also, the interface is kind of an ugly, confusing nightmare.

For your profile(s), remember that homeowners are looking for someone to stay in their homes, sleep in their beds, and care for their beloved pets. In other words, they want sober-minded, tidy, and responsible people (or couples) who love animals. Make sure you present yourself as such. Definitely include information about any animal experience you have. You also have the ability to upload images (of yourself playing with dogs or cats, for example) and an introductory video. In our experience, it’s worth the investment of time to do both.

Maybe don’t use a pic like this in your profile?

For reference here’s the profile video we made before we’d secured our first sit:

STEP 2: SEARCHING FOR HOUSESITS

Once you’ve set up your profile(s) you can start searching for sits by date, country, length of stay, or all of the above. Note that the search functionality of these sites is not always stellar, and things can fall through the cracks, so you might need to play around with various search fields to make sure you’re seeing everything that’s on offer.

STEP 3: CONTACTING THE HOMEOWNER

When you find a sit you want to apply for, it’s time to contact the homeowner. Basically, you’re going to be sending the person who listed the housesit a direct message. Our advice? Make your message as personalized as possible. Use the names of their pets (usually listed in the ad) and talk about how excited you are to meet them. List the reasons why you’ve always wanted to visit (insert name of place here). You’re not lying — you really do want to visit that place and play with those cute animals, don’t you? So let the homeowner know how much you’d appreciate the opportunity!

After you send your message, that’s it. You just wait and see if you’re a match! Usually you’ll hear back from an interested homeowner within a few days. If they decide to go with someone else, however, you may not hear back at all. Keep at it!

Photo Jun 20, 21 17 32

FINAL NOTE: THINK GLOBALLY, SIT LOCALLY

A final note: as much as you may want to jump in and stay in that awesome French chateau for three months as your first sit, it’s probably not going to happen. You’re untested, with no experience or positive reviews to your name (yes, housesitters are reviewed just like guests are on Airbnb). The best thing is to start small. Find short-term sits in your own city and take yourself a few little mini-vacations! It’s fun, and it’s a way to build up your confidence, see if you even like staying in other people’s homes, and get some good reviews. Trusted Housesitters recommends this approach, too. We did this in New York City before we left for Europe, and we loved it.

Happy housesit hunting!

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