There's so much to see and do throughout the country, and we've yet to do them all. We've soaked in as much as we can for the 10 months we've lived here. Alas, it's time to move on.
We could stay in Guatemala. It would be easy. The town of Panajachel has everything we need to live long term, and there's a good number of expats that are doing just that. The cost of living is ideal. We've also developed some strong friendships. We felt part of a community, but staying in Pana is not the best path for us. Mickelle and I have the travel bug and we want to share that with our kids. We want to explore some new places in Central America...but where?
I began researching options in May. Our options were wide open so long as it was on or near a beach.
One of the things I researched was house sitting. House sitting is exactly what it sounds like. You stay at someone's house rent free. Several travel bloggers I follow have done this for years. It seemed like a long shot but with our time winding down in Guatemala I decided to give it a try.
I should explain a little more about what is typically involved in house sitting before jumping into how we landed a 3 month gig in Costa Rica:
- Most house sitting opportunities involve one or more pets to care for. Often homeowners view these pets as family. If you are not a pet lover willing to care for and give affection to pets, your opportunities will be limited.
- Some house sitting opportunities require yard work or other duties around the house or property. At the very least you are there to look after the house, and will likely play some role in getting things fixed or maintained as needed.
- You are staying at someone else's house and using their things. You are not staying at a hotel where someone else will pick up after you. You need to keep the house picked up and treat it with respect. There may even be some house rules that the owners will ask you to follow.
So if you are a pet lover and a responsible, respectful person or family...read on.
Looking for House Sitting Opportunities
Believe it or not, house sitting is a pretty big thing online. Although, there are a lot of house sitting sites, there are only 3-5 main players. Each site pretty much works the same. They allow you to browse their listings for free. It's the hook to getting you to move towards their paid or premium model.
The free models are great. You can get a taste as to what's available, where, and when. Here are the sites I looked at:
- TrustedHouseSitters - www.trustedhousesitters.com
- HouseCarers - www.housecarers.com
- MindMyHouse - www.mindmyhouse.com
- Nomador - www.nomador.com
My recommendation is that you use the free or anonymous options to explore their inventories of homes and locations. Each site has different listings and some put more focus on particular countries.
Becoming a Paid Member
If the listings or features on one site appealed to you, you should consider becoming a paid member of that site. The paid models can seem steep (read on for a discount to one site), but doing so gives you valuable info and tools. Each site varies a bit by what they offer members so you'll want to explore this. In general members get:
- To see the full inventory of homes as soon as they become available. Some sites only show new listings to paid members for the first 24 hours. Seeing the new listing immediately is important because the sites claim most opportunities are filled within 24-48 hours. Essentially your membership gives you a jump on other hopeful house sitters. I can't stress how important this is.
- Daily and/or real time email alerts for new listings. This saves you from having to go to their websites everyday.
- The ability to apply for unlimited house sitting opportunities. Some sites limit the number of gigs you can apply for unless you become a paid member.
- The use of their secure messaging platform which can be a hassle but it is important for privacy and initial vetting.
Being a paid member also sends a signal to a potential home owner that you are invested and serious about house sitting. I recommend becoming a paid member when you find the platform that is right for you.
Who We Chose and Why
After looking at the inventories on the various sites and reading some online reviews we chose to become a paid member of TrustedHouseSitters for two reasons:
- They had the best inventory across the countries that interested us, and they have more homes available worldwide than any other site. Yesterday I received an email from them that had 61 new listing across 10 countries. Quantity does not always mean quality but for us it had more of what we wanted than anyone else.
- TrustedHouseSitters has an important feature that no other site has (or had at the time). It has a filtering criteria for assignments flagged by home owners as "suitable for families". This was a great time saver for me. I no longer had to read the full listing to find out that they only have one bed or are adverse to kids because their pet is aggressive. This feature is huge for us. Hopefully the other sites will add it as time goes on.
Membership DISCOUNT Available
As a paid member I can offer you a code that will save you 20% off your annual membership to TrustedHouseSitters.
Disclosure: We are not being paid for this endorsement. We are happy customers and are only sharing a discount code. If you use this discount code you will receive 20% off a new membership. We will receive 2 free months added to our existing membership just like any other paying member would receive.
If you are interested in this discount just click this link or the logo below.
Make Yourself Standout
TrustedHouseSitters is a little like AirBnB or Couchsurfing in that it's beneficial to input a lot of info about yourself. You need to build your credibility. You are asking a stranger to trust you with their house and pets. Here's what I did as soon as I joined:
- Completed every piece of my online profile. I even had Mickelle proof what I had written to make sure we were putting our best foot forward.
- Ensured the profile highlighted our kids anticipation and excitement to care for pets. Since we are on the road we don't have any, and our kids love animals.
- I quickly built up a catalog of 20+ references. TrustedHouseSitters has a really good and easy to use system for collecting references. I hit up friends, former co-workers, former tenants at our rental house in Seattle, and a friend we previously house and pet sat for. They all came through with great references. Thanks again to all of you!
- Some home owners request or require criminal background checks for perspective house sitters. For various reasons Mickelle and I previously had background checks performed. We readied the proper proof of these checks.
I recommend you perform at least the first three steps prior to applying for a house sitting gig as it will make you more attractive to home owners. If you have not had a personal background check performed in the past I would recommend it. TrustedHouseSitters has a good article with links on how to get this done.
Along Came Costa Rica
Just days after I did all of the above I received an email with a 3 month house and dog sitting opportunity on the coast of Costa Rica. I clicked on the link, it was marked "Suitable for Families". Then i checked on the dates...they needed someone to be in Costa Rica about a week before we were planning to leave Guatemala. I thought, this might be doable (and maybe the owners could be flexible on the dates).
I carefully read the listing multiple times to make sure it sounded as good as the title of the listing...it sounded even better. Here's an excerpt:
Could this be real? It sounded too good to be true. We wanted to spend time in Costa Rica but we knew it was crazy expensive compared to the rest of Central America. If our rent was covered, we could do this! Also, both kids were ecstatic about the prospect of taking care of a dog and we have a 4x4 car.
That night we decided we would somehow make the dates work if the owners were unable to be flexible. We applied for the gig. Prior to clicking Submit on the application we did the following:
- We tweaked our profile (just like you would a resume) to be a little more targeted to this opportunity
- Mick, Ela and I (Tag was asleep) created a short 90 second youtube video introducing ourselves so they could see and hear us. It's a personal touch that TrustedHouseSitters recommends.
We clicked submit and went to bed curious if we had a chance at landing the opportunity.
The next evening we received an email from the owners with a few questions. We answered them immediately and the next day had a Skype call with them. This call was very important for all of us. They used it to vet us, and we used it to vet them and the gig. They came across as straight shooters. They were unable to move the start date and explained why. They also answered all of our questions about the gig and everything seemed as advertised. By the end of the call all parties were mutually interested. They asked that we send them some additional info they could validate. We did.
A few hours later I received a message asking us to commit....they officially offered us the gig!
We were going to live rent free for 3 months in what appeared to be a tropical beach paradise. Holy Crap! Somehow we needed to be down there in less than two weeks! We were instantly excited and stressed.
Closing Tips for Landing a House Sitting Gig
In retrospect we were lucky. A little over a week after joining TrustedHouseSitters a fantastic opportunity popped up for us. There were several factors that made the gig nearly perfect for all parties:
- Perfect for them - The owners needed someone credible that could stay at their house and take care of their dog for 3 months. The sitters would have to have a four wheel drive vehicle (trust me you can not get up their mountain in a Camry) and they needed to be in Costa Rica in less than two weeks.
- Almost Perfect for Us - We wanted to live near a beach somewhere in Central America. Unfortunately there are not a lot of sitting opportunities in Central America and even fewer are marked suitable for families. Our lease in Guatemala was up in 3.5 weeks. The only glitch for us to manage was how to get there faster than planned.
As I said, we feel we got lucky but you might too. Doing the prep work listed above certainly helped us move quickly and look credible fast. Additionally you should consider the following:
- Make sure you read any perspective listing carefully. Some sound great in the headlines but in the fine print you'll find that you have to clean pig pens and brush horses all day everyday or mow a 4 acre lawn with a push mower every two weeks. Seriously, I've seen these.
- You need to think of this process just like you would a job search. Check the listings everyday. Be flexible and patient. Consider applying for multiple listings. If the listing is good there will be others applying for it, I guarantee it.
- When you talk to property owners remember, you need to be interviewing them. Make sure everything is as advertised. Ask them questions about things that are important to you...is it a smoke-free house? tell us about your pets? do you have specific or set house rules? etc. This is super important in order to establish expectations up front.
I hope you found this information helpful (or at least interesting).
In upcoming posts we'll tell you more about our trips from Guatemala to Costa Rica as well as our initial impressions of our new host country.
And if you want that discount to TrustedHouseSitters just click on this link.
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