ABC Everyday / By Meg Watson

Home » Blog » Being a House & Pet Sitter | Happy House Sitters » Questions to ask yourself before house-sitting

Have you ever done the maths on how much money you pay in rent?

I don’t mean by the week or month. What have you paid in rent over the past year? What have you paid over the past five years?

Most people don’t have a reason to do those equations. It’s best not to think about it too hard. You need to have a roof over your head, right?

But for house-sitters, it can be kind of energising. Those figures aren’t burdens or obligations — they’re potential savings.

“I didn’t fully appreciate what percentage of my money was going to rent until I stopped paying it,” says Tom Clift, a 29-year-old from Melbourne’s inner suburbs.

“The amount of money I was saving was crazy.”

House-sitting for family and friends

Tom was paying about $800 a month (plus bills and utilities) for a “dilapidated room in a crummy share house” in Melbourne’s Brunswick East before he started house-sitting.

He was thinking of moving out anyway when his aunt offered up her place for a month. She was travelling and needed someone to look after a pet. He figured he would house-sit for a little while before finding a new place.

But then another family member went away. And another. Then a parent’s friend and a friend’s parent and someone else’s colleague…

Suddenly 18 months had gone by and Tom had an extra $20,000 in the bank. He’s since put the money towards a deposit on an apartment of his own.

“It just kept lining up,” he says. “It definitely helped having a big family who are all of a certain age. And that they were wealthy enough that they didn’t sublet their places.”

But using your personal network isn’t the only way to make it work.

Finding temporary places to live online

Kate Smith, 34, got her first house-sitting gig in February this year by creating a profile and responding to an ad on an online platform.

She’d previously been renting a room in Redfern, in inner-city Sydney, for $250 a week. But she spent the majority of 2020 in Cairns to be with family during the pandemic.

Her share house split up while she was on the wrong side of the border, and she had nowhere to stay when she came back to NSW.

“I’d never considered [house-sitting] before,” she says. “But it seemed like a cheap way to have temporary accommodation while I looked for a flat.”

Again, what started as a temporary fix suddenly looked like a feasible living situation.

Her share house split up while she was on the wrong side of the border, and she had nowhere to stay when she came back to NSW.

“I’d never considered [house-sitting] before,” she says. “But it seemed like a cheap way to have temporary accommodation while I looked for a flat.”

And again, what started as a temporary fix suddenly looked like a feasible living situation.

“Sydney is one of the worst places to rent in terms of costs. And I thought … how can I not have that massive cost again?”

She has stayed in eight places over the past three months — one of which was in Launceston, offsetting the cost of a cheeky Easter holiday. She’s meeting new people and trying out different locations all over Sydney. And, most importantly, she hasn’t paid a cent in rent.

“Suddenly being uprooted makes you think, ‘Well, you know what? I can deal with being uprooted every week.'”

Four things to consider before house-sitting

But this itinerant life isn’t for everyone. Here are a few important questions you should ask yourself before you tear up your lease.

Can you live without your things?


“You have to be cool with not having a lot of stuff,” Tom says. “I was living out of a backpack.”

This wasn’t too hard for him because he didn’t have much to start with. His share houses always had loads of furniture and he’s always been a bit of a minimalist.

“If you want every place to feel really homely, it’s probably not for you.”

Kate agrees: “You should only do it if you’re the kind of person who can cull your stuff — or you’re OK with most of your stuff being somewhere else for a long time.”

After giving most of her things away, Kate embraces alternative solutions like renting clothes for special occasions.

“I rent what I need to look the way I need to look, and then I can send it back when I don’t need it anymore.”

Do you like animals?


Nearly all house-sitting jobs exist because of pets. Though some house-sitters get paid, the gig usually involves free rent in exchange for general pet care: feeding, walking, brushing and administering any medications.

In his time house-sitting, Tom looked after dogs, cats and some very old chickens.

“One chicken died on me,” he says.

“I had to bury the chicken in the backyard, and I was like, ‘Oh God, please let the owner get home before the second chicken dies.’

Nearly all house-sitting jobs exist because of pets. Though some house-sitters get paid, the gig usually involves free rent in exchange for general pet care: feeding, walking, brushing and administering any medications.

In his time house-sitting, Tom looked after dogs, cats and some very old chickens.

“I had one chicken die on me,” he says.

“I had to bury the chicken in the backyard, and I was like, ‘Oh God, please let the owner get home before the second chicken dies.’

What’s your backup plan?

Even the most successful house-sitters find themselves without accommodation from time to time.

Knowing where you might stay when you’re between homes — for days or even weeks — can help.

Do you have friends or family nearby? Could they realistically take you in for a few nights?

Do you have any extra money on hand for last-minute accommodation? Where would you go?

If Kate can’t find a place, she usually opts for a cheap and clean hostel in the city. And she’s prepared for any COVID-based complications too.

“When there was a positive [COVID] case in Sydney, I stayed in my own room rather than staying with other people. I didn’t want that added exposure.”

“If there were massive border closures [and tight restrictions] I’d probably rent somewhere fully-furnished for a consistent period of time.”

Does this work with the rest of your life?


Of course not everyone can move house three times a month and check into a hostel at a moment’s notice.

The situation is going to be a lot more complicated if you have kids. Or if you have mobility issues. Or if your work situation is particularly rigid.

Kate is determined to keep going for “however long it doesn’t compromise the life I want to live”.

Tom is very happy with his life after house-sitting, but says it was a “shock to the system” to pay for housing again. He now lives with his partner. He has a whole apartment full of furniture. Tom has a pet of his own (note: not a chicken).

“I don’t think I’d do it again, but that’s just a reflection of where I am in my life right now.