Long-Term House Sitting: A Nomad Couple’s Savvy Guide

Long Term House Sitting: Stefan and Sandra Saller

For Stefan and Sandra Saller, life has been anything but boring.

In the pursuit of something better, they left Germany for New Zealand in 2009. But several years later in 2017, the couple arrived at another crossroads in life.

As they reached their 50s, they had two choices they could make: stay the course or change it. Most people at this stage in life choose the former. With retirement right around the corner, why risk being unconventional?

The Sallers, though, aren’t a conventional couple. And in their minds, the cost of waiting for some imaginary tomorrow was far too high. They knew that the freedom they sought was available now.

But how?

Enter Long-Term House Sitting

Stefan and Sandra became familiar with the concept of house sitting around 2012. As avid tennis fans, they were volunteering at the Auckland Tennis Tournament. There, they met a Kiwi couple who introduced them to the idea.

“They lived out of their suitcases and lived all over the country – North Island, South Island,” Stefan says. “That’s how we came to house sitting, and we were interested.”

Their first taste of house sitting came thanks to their friends. The Kiwi couple was too busy for a house sit in Alexandra, so they recommended Sandra and Stefan to the owners. For one month, the Sallers experienced life in this South Island town of under 5,000 people.

Completely rent-free.

From that moment on, they were hooked. Over the next several years, they house sat for a handful of friends around New Zealand. House sitting became a means to an end, a way for the Sallers to vacation for cheap.

But as they reached that fork in the road in 2017, the Sallers wondered if house sitting could buy their freedom, too. The year before, they had earned their New Zealand citizenship. This gave them indefinite access to Australia as well.

With visas no longer an issue, a life of long-term house sitting seemed worthy of consideration.

The Next Step

The Sallers made up their minds and went all in.

They gave up their apartment and placed their possessions in storage. Stefan also chose not to renew his work contract with a job that stressed him out anyway. He was confident he could find something else down the line.

The change couldn’t have come at a better time for them both. A few days after turning 51 and only weeks before leaving their apartment, Stefan had a heart attack. Facing his mortality let them know that they had made the right choice.

It’s been a few years since the Sallers turned their lives upside down to long-term house sit. Along the way, they’ve gained plenty of experiences that they’re willing to share. If long-term house sitting is something you want to do, here are some of the lessons they’ve learned.

The Responsibilities of a Long-Term House Sit

House sitting is serious business. After all, homeowners entrust you with some of their most prized possessions. For this reason alone, Sandra and Stefan approach every house sit like they would any other job.

“It’s a different type of living, but we provide a service,” Stefan says.

There are two main responsibilities in long-term house sitting: animal care and home care.

It’s important that you enjoy the company of animals because the majority of opportunities involve watching pets. As a house sitter, you’ll often have to fulfill the following tasks:

  • Feeding the pets
  • Playing with the pets
  • Exercising the pets (like taking the dogs for walks)
  • Handling any pet emergencies

Watching a home also requires household chores that vary from house sit to house sit. So, prepare to handle maintenance and general upkeep of the homes you’re entrusted. Those duties usually are:

  • Security and monitoring for any suspicious activity
  • Gardening (like mowing lawns or watering plants)
  • Cleaning (the Sallers always leave the home cleaner than when they first arrive).

If the homeowners have a car, the Sallers often offer to drive them to and from the airport. Sandra and Stefan have found that little touches like this can go a long way with homeowners.

The Benefits of Long-Term House Sitting

Long Term House Sitting: Sandra at the Australian Open.

House sitting has given the Sallers peace of mind. It’s also put them on the fast track to flexibility, something most people work their whole lives to have. Below are two major reasons why the Sallers don’t see themselves quitting any time soon.

Saving Money

If you want to explore the world for next to nothing, then long-term house sitting is for you. It’s one of the best ways anyone can travel for free.

“The beauty is if you want to go down next to zero, you can do that,” Sandra says. “You’ve got a choice.”

Depending on where they house sit, the Sallers’s expenses can vary. When they’re in big cities, there’s more to do, so their spending often increases. But in smaller towns, they find that they can save a lot.

Buying food at local markets and cooking at home trims most of their expenses. Meanwhile, everything inside the homes they watch is free of charge. In one house sit, Stefan and Sandra arrived to find an entire room stocked with dog food.

In their first two years as long-term house sitters, the Sallers estimate that they’ve saved about $70,000 NZD. The average rent in New Zealand is about $2,500 NZD per month. The other expenses renters pay (like utilities and internet) cost around $500 NZD a month.

But thanks to house sitting, these are bills the Sallers never have to worry about.

Live Like a Local

When most people travel, they crave this unattainable ideal of an authentic experience. Yet, what often happens is the opposite. They find themselves in a bubble as outsiders looking in on the places they visit.

But to Stefan and Sandra, long-term house sitting solves this problem. It’s the closest thing to an authentic experience that you’ll find on the road. As a long-term house sitter, you can integrate into a community. You can also learn much more about a region and the people who live there.

“It feels like home after a few days when you have everything sorted,” Stefan says.

The Challenges of Long-Term House Sitting

Long-term house sitting doesn’t come without difficulty. There are obstacles, many of which are mental, that the Sallers have had to overcome. Here are a few of the challenges that they’ve encountered.

Living With Less

To long-term house sit, it’s important to embrace a minimalist lifestyle. This is a concept that Stefan and Sandra didn’t learn overnight. In fact, downsizing is a process that remains ongoing to this day.

As they’ve gained more experience, they’ve figured out how to live with less. Packing, for example, isn’t a big deal for them since they wear the same clothes often. These days, they each carry one light suitcase only.

Downsizing has also left them without a permanent home. As a result, they live in a perpetual state of uncertainty. Long-term house sitters don’t have the luxury of knowing where they’ll live on a regular basis.

But Stefan and Sandra have found ways to fight this fear of the unknown. First, they only accept house sits that are at least one month in length. Second, they practice gratitude, to remind themselves about the freedom they’ve achieved.

“You give up quite a lot of [certainty],” Sandra says. “But knowing that safety and security is an illusion for most people, it’s not that bad. But it is actually a big step to say ‘OK, I’ve got nowhere to bounce back to.’”

Long Term House Sitting: Stefan with dogs, Django and Luca.

Limited Free Time

Most long-term house sits need petcare, which means spending plenty of time with animals. For Stefan and Sandra, this task is often the top priority. Feeding and giving pets attention is crucial.

Even for animal lovers like the Sallers, this isn’t always easy to do. Like children, pets don’t always want to cooperate, especially when you’re a new face. But if you plan to become a long-term house sitter, it’s important you practice a little bit of patience.

“Your freedom is not as unrestricted as you want it to be,” Sandra says. “But that’s the price you pay for not having to pay any rent.”

How to Find A Long-Term House Sit

With duties, rewards, and obstacles in mind, you’re ready to start your own house sitting hunt. But, where should you begin?

Stefan and Sandra like to attack their search from two alternate angles. Whether new or seasoned house sitters, they recommend these approaches to everyone.

Approach #1: Use the House Sitting Networks

The first place to begin your house sitting search is with the house sitting portals. You can start with some of the big names, like TrustedHousesitters, Nomador, and Mind My House. Homeowners from around the world post opportunities on these networks.

But if you have a specific place in mind, you can turn to local portals, too. For Stefan and Sandra, they rely on networks native to Australia and New Zealand. The Oceania-only house sitting portals that they use are:

Creating Your House Sitting Profile

The Sallers recommend uploading as many pictures as possible of yourself with animals. Actions shots, featuring you playing or feeding them, work best. These will give pet owners some insight on how you deal with animals.

Next, write a thorough profile. Sandra and Stefan stress the importance of being honest. Your profile is a chance to leave an impression about who you are and what you’re about.

Many house sitting portals include the option to upload a video introduction, too. You should record one, yourself.

“This gives people a taste of you and your personality as well,” Stefan says of filming a video.

Include as many references as possible in your profile. If you’re new to long-term house sitting, having friends, family, and colleagues vouch for you is a good place to start. And if you’ve rented before, you should ask former landlords to write references, too.

Links to your social media profiles also help. But another asset worth having is a police background check. Providing one to homeowners gives you added credibility.

With your profiles in place, try to update them once a week. The Sallers have found that they become less relevant in searches when they don’t.

Approach #2: Turn to Your Network

These days, the Sallers find most house sits from their circle of friends. Experience has earned them a positive reputation that’s spread by word of mouth. As a result, homeowners often plan their travels around the Sallers’s schedule.

“A great house sit comes around the corner from out of nothing,” Stefan says.

Their longest house sit ever actually came thanks to a referral. A mutual friend connected them with a young Kiwi couple who wanted to travel through Europe. The arrangement, planned six months in advance, worked out for everyone. The couple managed to visit a dozen or so countries, while the Sallers had a place to call home for three months.

What to Expect When You Begin

If you’re only starting out, tapping into your network could work for you, too. Even if it’s only for a weekend, offer to house sit for friends and family to gain a little experience. Doing so will give you an idea if the job is right for you.

When you’re new to house sitting, Stefan and Sandra note that you can’t be picky. With little to no experience, take what you can get. Even Stefan and Sandra had to accept some so-so house sits when they first started.

But know that this will pay off in the long run. Excelling at less than desirable house sits gives you more experience and references. With patience and diligence, you can earn a reputation like the Sallers, too.

How to Prepare For A Long-Term House Sit

Long Term House Sitting: Sandra with Django the dog.

When it comes to all their long-term house sits, Stefan and Sandra follow a repeatable process. It’s helped them vet the opportunities that are right for them. To prepare for a house sit, these are the two things they recommend you do.

Talk to the Homeowners

Exchanging messages through email or the house sit portals gets your foot in the door. But from there, it’s important to have real conversations, too. Set up a call with the homeowners or opt to meet them in person if you can.

Arm yourself with questions to ask. Here are several that Sandra and Stefan always have on hand:

  • Do the animals have any special needs (dietary or health-related)?
  • What are some of the pets’ unique personality traits or quirks?
  • If you don’t own any animals, why do you need a house sitter?
  • How is the internet speed? (Sandra and Stefan check this in an indirect way. Instead, they ask the owners if they make video calls with friends and family.)
  • What are the house rules, as well as anything else we should know about the property?

If everything checks out, settle on dates and make sure you and the homeowners are both committed.

Arrive Early

Stefan and Sandra always arrange to arrive a day before the homeowners leave. Doing this is beneficial for a few reasons.

First, coming early helps you build trust with the owners. You’re given a face-to-face opportunity to get to know them up close. The in-person time before they leave helps you develop better rapport.

“It’s really about setting up the trust,” Sandra says. “Because the more you connect with them, the more they trust and the easier the whole thing is going to be. And they will not check in every second, [asking if everything’s fine].”

Second, you get a chance to witness how the owners treat their animals. With dogs, for example, coming early allows you to see where they go for walks. You’ll also get a sense for how owners respond to their pets’ habits and behaviors.

Finally, arriving early makes a smooth transition for the animals. Pets undergo a lot of stress when their owners leave for a trip. When they see you with their caretakers, the animals learn to understand that you’re not a stranger. Instead, they’ll consider you as someone worthy of their trust.

“If you come a day earlier, then they see you and accept that you’re part of the family,” Sandra says.

Finding Success With Long-Term House Sitting

Long-Term House Sitting: Avocado the dog enjoying the beach at Tauranga, New Zealand.

Long-term house sitting is a lifestyle that the Sallers have come to embrace. It’s taught them plenty about essentialism, a concept of understanding what matters the most in life. They’ve also learned about what makes a house a home.

It’s also taught them plenty about themselves. They have better insights on what makes them tick. They have greater understanding about their relationship to change.

“From an energetic point of view, it’s challenging, but rewarding,” Sandra says.

If you want to travel like Sandra and Stefan, it’s important to see house sitting as a marathon, not a sprint. There’s no shortcut to the kind of established reputation they’ve made as long-term house sitters.

Patience is necessary.

To become as credible as the Sallers, free accommodation should be the last of your worries. It’s more important, instead, to be honest and serious about the tasks in front of you.

House sitting is a service. If you can wrap your head around that, it’s only a matter of time before homeowners come calling for you.


If you’d like to have Sallers house sit for you, reach them on their Facebook Page – The Digital Housesitters.


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Jon is a freelance writer who authors this site. Learn more about him here. You can also follow Jon on Twitter or Instagram.

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