What is house sitting? How does it work?
Often when people go away on vacation they want someone in their house to look after pets, water plants, and collect the mail. Sometimes they just want their house to be occupied while they’re gone. Someone needs to do all this, so why not you?
Some important points to note about house sitting:
- There may be payment involved, but often the house sitter performs their duties for free.
- House sitting duties can range from simply watering plants right up to full-on gardening, paying bills or acting as accommodation manager if part of the place is rented out
- Homeowners may ask the sitter to pay their share of the utility bills while they occupy the house
- House sitters are expected to provide their own food, although the homeowners may indicate some items in the cupboards or garden that can be eaten
- Occasionally there might be a car supplied for the house sitter to use
- House sitters may be allowed to leave for short periods of time or to have guests
- Many homeowners will fill out a formal house sitting agreement and ask you to sign it. Read it carefully so that you have no surprises.
How to Find a House to Sit:
The most popular way to find house sitting jobs is via websites such as trustedhousesitters.com, housecarers.com, and mindmyhouse.com, though competition for house sits can be fierce on these sites! You can also do a Google search for any local house sitting websites in the country you’re going to. Note that most house sitting websites charge a registration fee to the house sitter.
Be flexible with places and dates, and you’ll have more luck.
Some homeowners never advertise their home, but instead browse house sitter profiles for someone who appeals to them, so you should create a profile. Include key info such as:
- Your age
- Reason for wanting to house sit
- If you’ve owned your own home before
- Any previous house sitting experience
- Relevant skills such as handyman stuff or gardening
- Pets you’ve had and/or want to look after
- Any experience with farm animals (if you want to look after farm animals at a house sit)
- Whether or not you smoke or drink
- General lifestyle and interests
- A link to your blog or website, if relevant. I’ve had a few homeowners tell me that reading this blog gave them a great insight into who I am.
- Be honest!
You should also upload a picture (or several, if the website allows) of yourself. Make it a fairly close up one so they can see your face. Pictures with pets are good too!
Other ways you might find house sits are through community or expat websites or at least a Facebook community page in your chosen city. You could try advertising your services on Craigslist, Gumtree, or whatever the local advertising equivalent might be. Be clear about what you’re looking for and what you’re offering, and you just might get lucky.
Word of mouth can also work. Talk to people, and tell everyone you know that you’re interested in house sitting.
Making contact with the homeowners
When you enter a discussion with a homeowner about a house sitting opportunity, follow these guidelines:
- If you’re contacting them, think about what they need to know about you. From a house sitting website they’ll probably automatically get a link to your profile, but if not, you need to tell them all your relevant info!
- Refer to some details in their ad so they know you’ve read it carefully.
- Always reply promptly. Any delay can result in you losing the job!
- If they contact you and you’re not interested, reply anyway. It’s only polite.
Deciding on a house sit
• Choose your dates carefully. Make sure you can get there in time to spend long enough with the homeowners to go over everything you need to know.
• More time is good if they have pets, especially dogs. It’s a good idea to have enough time to go for a walk with the dog and its owner so you can see the dog’s behaviour and normal routine, and so the dog knows that the homeowner ‘approves’ of you.
• Ask the homeowners if they want you there at all after they come back. Some might want you to leave right away, others will want a full report!
• If you have a question, ask it. Any question. About anything. Just ASK. No question is silly in this situation. I can’t stress this enough. (Sign up for my newsletter to receive a FREE comprehensive list of questions to ask your homeowners,as well as a printable House Sitting Guide!)
• A Skype video call is a good way for both house sitter and homeowners to get a feel for the other person, and to cover a lot of questions quickly.
• Be honest.
• Don’t be afraid to say no. It’s easy to get all excited about a house sit, but you’ll know if the job is not for you. Trust your intuition, and don’t try to make it into something it is not.
• Don’t commit yourself to them and then decide later that you don’t want to do it. That’s just rude.
Before the house sit:
- Be on time. If your arrival time is only an estimate, keep the homeowners updated periodically with your progress while you’re on the way.
- Make sure you get emergency contact info for while they’re gone. An itinerary is good, or at the very least find out the best way to contact them as quickly as possible.
- Ask ALL THE questions. Anything you can think of. Write down the answers if you need to.
When the homeowners leave:
This is your home for the next little while, so make it feel like it! Unpack your things and familiarize yourself with the kitchen and its contents.
- On longer-term house sits you can move stuff around a bit if you want. Consider taking pictures before you do this though, as your memory might not be as good as you think when it comes time to put it all back!
- While it’s ok to move stuff, don’t go messing with any of the homeowner’s personal items and don’t even think about re-organizing their DVD collection or the kitchen cupboards!
- Put away anything that you’re afraid of breaking or spilling on. I also tend to close doors to any rooms I won’t be using.
- If you’re going to be there long term, consider buying any missing household items that you’re used to having and will make your life easier.
- If there are pets (in particular a dog) you might like to stick around for a while so they know you before you go out. Play, cuddle, maybe go for a walk, and if it’s time, feed it so the dog knows that you are the master now. A treat or two never hurts, if the owners are ok with it.
- Be adaptable and be prepared for surprises! There will always be something that comes up that you don’t expect.
During the house sit:
- Develop a daily routine or a daily or weekly checklist of duties, so you don’t forget to water that special plant!
- Don’t just throw out papers and things that look like rubbish. You never know what might be important to the homeowner. If in doubt, keep it.
- ALWAYS lock all the doors and windows when you go out, even if the homeowners don’t normally.
- Don’t bother the homeowners with every little thing that might go wrong. That’s why you’re there: deal with it.
- If there’s anything you really can’t handle, try calling any trusted neighbours or friends for help first.
- Unless it’s an emergency! Then you should definitely let the homeowners know.
- Send an email update every week or so to put their minds at ease that everything is ok.
- If the homeowners are gone for a while, you might want to email pictures of happy pets every so often. The owners are sure to be missing them and they’ll be thrilled to see their pets enjoying themselves!
- Go meet the neighbours! Explore the area! Enjoy yourself!
Before the homeowners come back:
Try to have the house exactly as the homeowners left it. The last thing they want is to come back to a mess or to not be able to find the things they’re looking for! This means:
- Clean, scrub, vaccum and wash, inside and out. Open the doors to rooms you closed off, if the weather’s good open windows to air the place out, and put back anything you moved around.
- Make sure the lawn is freshly mowed and outside areas swept and tidy.
- Replace any items you might have broken, or at least have a plan for addressing it with the homeowner.
- If possible, buy a few staple items to stock the kitchen for when they return. Bread, milk, and eggs are pretty standard items and with these on hand they can make a simple meal easily and quickly.
- Think about making them a meal or a snack that they can have when they return so they don’t have to think about cooking. Something that can be just left in the fridge and put in the oven when needed is good.
- Consider what the homeowners will need when they come back. Will they be jetlagged? What time of day will it be? Will they want to go straight to bed or stay up? Do whatever you can to make their return as easy and seamless as possible.
After the house sit:
Ask the homeowners for a reference! Assuming they are happy with what they’ve returned to, this can really help you get house sits in the future. It can be in written form if they’re willing to give you something you can take with you to show others, but most often they’ll just say that any future house sits can contact them.
Don’t forget to give back your keys!