House-sitting agencies

We look at the costs, the risks and the how-to of house-minding.

Sitting pretty

Need someone to mind your home while you're away on holidays? Or fancy the idea of rent-free accommodation? House-sitting can be a win-win situation all round.

Professional house-sitting agencies connect owners and sitters through their websites – in fact, the whole process is a lot like online dating! CHOICE looks at what's involved, how much it costs and how to minimise the risks for both parties.

How house-sitting agencies work

Homeowners and house-sitters can check out each other's profiles (with descriptions, references and photos), post notices or sign up to be alerted when the agency finds them a match.

They can make contact with each other through the site then swap details and arrange to talk on the phone or meet up in person to inspect the house, meet any pets and get to know each other.

We told you it was a lot like dating!

I want a house-sitter

House-sitting agencies have hundreds of potential dog sitters, kitten-nannies, fish-feeders and plant-waterers on their books, ready to look after your place while you're away.

The idea of having a complete stranger living in your home can be a little daunting, though, so follow this checklist to avoid coming home to missing furniture or traumatised pets:

  • Try to leave a reasonable amount of lead time – say six to eight weeks – in order to find and engage a house-sitter.
  • Once you've found a potential candidate, try meeting them first in a neutral place, such as a café, to protect your privacy. It's advisable to meet several times so you and your sitter are completely clear on what you're expecting from them.
  • Ask for references, such as from previous housesits or employers.
  • If you have any concerns, it's reasonable to ask the sitter to provide a police check.
  • Once you've chosen a sitter, meet them again at your home. Show them around to familiarise them with what needs to be done.
  • Provide a list of written instructions and emergency contact numbers.
  • Provide a contact email or phone number and ask the sitter to contact you regularly or if there are problems.
  • Prepare a house-sitting agreement in writing. Many agencies have draft agreements that home owners can customise, complete and sign off together with the sitter. If you want to be doubly sure, get your solicitor to check it over or draw it up for you.
  • Consider asking your house-sitter to pay a bond, refundable at the end of their stay. Make sure this is covered in the written agreement.
  • Check with your insurer whether you're still covered with a house-sitter in your home – and whether they're covered.
  • Arrange for a friend or a neighbour to drop in occasionally to check on the house.

I want to be a house-sitter

A rent-free lifestyle or a clever way to take a holiday on the cheap, house-sitting can save you thousands of dollars in rent or hotel fees.

House-sitters can come from all walks of life - from students on a budget to couples saving for their first home, or retirees travelling the country. As long as you're responsible enough to keep a plant or pet alive, you're a potential house-sitting candidate.

If you're thinking of becoming a house-sitter, here's what you should know:

  • Put some effort into creating a good profile with a friendly picture and a detailed description of yourself. Remember, you're a stranger and you'll need to establish trust in order to get a house-sitting gig.
  • Gather some personal references from employers, friends or previous house-sits.
  • It's worth getting a police check, as many homeowners will ask for this.
  • You won't get to choose the exact dates or locations of your house-sits, so you'll need to be flexible.
  • If you're hoping to live the rent-free dream long-term, remember there will be gaps in your calendar. Make sure you have somewhere to stay when you don't have a house-sit.
  • You may be asked to contribute towards household bills, and you may be asked to pay a bond. You should nut these details out beforehand and put them down in writing.

How much does it cost?

  • For homeowners: It's usually free to create a profile and place an ad.
  • For house-sitters: Membership fees can vary from $65 to over $500 per year. Some agencies charge an Australia-wide fee, while others charge per zone – for example, if you're looking for house-sits in Sydney you'll pay more than somebody looking for house-sits in rural Queensland.

House-sitting agencies

These are just some of the house-sitting agencies available online. To find others try an internet search for 'house-sitting' or 'house-minding'.