House Sitting Gigs

A good, cheap way to live, but hard to find
BY: RON TELLESSEN

So you've visited the southern Baja and think it would be a keen place to live.  It's too soon to get at your retirement money but Todos Santos is beckoning right now.  Might there be a way to live down here on the cheap?  What about those people who get a free ride by house sitting or caretaking a property? Why not do that?  Yes, that's the question, why can't I do that?

Such has been the dream of those throngs bedazzled by the sun, sand, and blue waters of this corner of the world. Might there be a way of playing the system so you can have it all without paying for it? In two words: not likely. But in two more words: it's possible.

There are house sitter websites that claim to facilitate linking up home owners and house sitters, but I did not find them real helpful. I used one some years ago without success. I think they are of very little benefit unless you are looking for a short term gig taking care of some one's home when they are away on vacation for a month or so. You have little choice of location and there are many others competing for the same house. You have to pay dearly for the privilege of just getting listed and there is no guarantee of getting a house to sit. And again, you need to be willing to go pretty much anywhere. There are a relative few individuals who use these websites with limited success but I think the real benefit goes to the website owner, and then the home owners, who do not pay to get listed. The dreamers looking for a house to sit are the ones who put the dollars into the website.

If you want something longer term, say for the six months of the low season, you need to find a way to make your own link to the job. Visit the area where you want to house sit, be friendly, spend a lot of time in the coffee shops, make acquaintances, and establish as many connections as possible.

We have been in the same house for over three years and have never had to move out for the homeowner for even one day, but situations that are anything like this really require beating the bushes or knowing somebody and then having references and resume ready.

Now it could be that your Uncle Ted already owns a property down here and could use you to look after the place when he's elsewhere.  That doesn't count.  That's a family arrangement and most hopeful house sitters don't have an Uncle Ted.  But can you, beginning with no experience as a house sitter, find someone who needs your services to care for their Baja home when they aren't using it?  Some have done it, so let's discuss a few things that can increase your odds.

Knowing someone already living down here can help greatly.  They become your eyes and ears attuned for any signal that someone needs a house sitter.  Meanwhile you are still back in the USA or Canada gainfully employed and not burning through resources down here waiting for something to turn up. I say waiting, because house sitting arrangements normally take some time to find.

It's beneficial to have a special resume written that emphasizes your skills as a home caretaker. Can you speak Spanish well enough to deal with propane deliveries, the gardener, or a repairmen? Are you willing and able to do watering and landscape work yourself? Can you maintain a home solar system including a standby electric generator? Do you understand swimming pool water chemistry and can you change out the pool filter?  Not every property will require solar and pool service skills but learning them in advance puts you in good stead to take on any assignment. 

And without doubt all homeowners are going to want to know what attests to your dependability and honesty. How will you convince them?  Just saying you’re a responsible person doesn't cut it, and no one is going to turn over their cherished Baja house to you without having their concerns allayed.   They will likely interview a number of applicants so you've got to stand out.  For every homeowner looking for a house sitter there are probably ten individuals looking for a house to sit.

If you find a house to care for it isn't necessarily going to be all roses.  You may hardly be settled in when the homeowner will phone with the news that his cousin Bill and family have decided on a Baja vacation, so please vacate the property for two weeks so they can stay in the house.  And, oh yes, please pick them up at the airport.  So It is essential to think about these scenarios ahead of time and work with the homeowner in advance for an acceptable solution.  You may have to turn down some house sitting situations because you can't meet the home owner's demands. Most homeowners are reasonable and want the arrangement to work, but occasionally you will find one that thinks that because you are staying on their property, you are their property.  Of course, some homeowners too, have their own stories about the house sitter that would take advantage of them at every turn.

I found my first Baja care taking situation at an online forum while still in the U.S.  That is uncommon.  I just happened to have the experience and skill set that was required for that particular property.  That assignment led to another and then another.  A good reference from your first house sitting assignment will go a long way towards obtaining the second.  My wife and I are in our fourth assignment in eight years and will be looking for another house soon, since the present house we are sitting has sold.  We sometimes find a beach property and often a luxurious house, but we have learned that the disposition of the home owner is more important than the house you are going to live in.

So, yes, it's possible to live in the Southern Baja rent free, but it can be a job in itself to find the right situation.