Everyone spends some time away from home, when their house is locked up and empty. A short weekend trip, a week spent with family or friends: there are plenty of situations where it’s necessary to leave your house unattended to. This usually isn’t a problem when it’s just a matter of a few days. However, longer trips of a week or more can be problematic.Expats in particular often need to spend a substantial amount of time away from their houses, since most of them visit their home countries at least once every couple of years. These are usually long trips that last for a minimum of a week, and sometimes for several months. Leaving your house locked up and unoccupied for such a long time isn’t ideal, and it often isn’t very practical to have a neighbor or friend drop in every few days to check on things. If you’re going to be away for more than a week or two, it might be a good idea to have a house sitter who will live in your house and take care of it just the way you normally do.
Why you may need a house sitter
Of course not everyone needs a house sitter. If you’ve got an extremely minimal setup, with no plants and pets, and if you’re really confident about security, you may be able to simply lock up your house and leave. However, most people will need to take several things into consideration.
Security: You could of course be burgled over a weekend, but when you’re away for several weeks or months, the risks are significantly higher. The signs of an empty house are unmistakable to anyone, especially to criminals on the lookout for an opportunity: a locked door or gate, a growing pile of mail, and lights that never come on (or a single light that remains perpetually on). The more isolated your house is, the easier it is for a break-in to take place, but even busy apartment blocks can suffer break-ins. Even if you think you have nothing much worth stealing, you might want to consider hiring a house sitter, especially since it’s possible to get one at little to no cost today.
Maintenance: Things can and do go wrong in any house – pipes can burst, windows can break, roofs can leak, pests and weather can wreak havoc. One of the worst things that can happen at the end of a long trip is to return home to a mess that takes you days to clean up and fix, and that costs a lot of money. It’s better to have someone on hand to spot problems as they occur, and fix them immediately. Even if nothing goes wrong, you might need someone to pay bills and make sure that services such as your water, electricity, and internet aren’t disconnected.
Plants and pets: One major reason why people get a house sitter is to take care of their pets. International travel is complicated, expensive, and quite risky for pets, so they must often be left behind while you’re travelling. Again, you could have someone drop in a few times a week or even daily, but this isn’t ideal. Dogs and cats in particular need company, and in addition, you never know when there could be an emergency. Plants don’t usually need as much attention and care as pets, but depending on the season and the size of your garden, they might require more than the occasional check.
Convenience and peace of mind: As we mentioned, it’s possible to have a neighbor or a friend drop in a couple of times a week to make sure everything’s in order. However, this might often be inconvenient for both them and you, and things don’t always go smoothly. You might suddenly and urgently need something checked on in your house while you’re away; things could go wrong between visits; the neighbor or friend could fall sick or simply forget to keep their commitment. If any of the above points – security, maintenance, and plant or pet care – are concerns for you, it might be too much to ask someone else to take on, and it will probably be better for your peace of mind to have a dedicated person in charge of your house while you’re away.
One reason why people choose to ask friends and neighbors to check on their houses is cost. Traditional house-sitting services can be quite expensive, and most people are reluctant to spend any more than they already need to on an international trip. However, today there are a variety of independent individuals who house sit for a variety of reasons, and some are as cheap as $10 or $15 a day, while others charge nothing; the accommodation works as a fee, and the house sitter may even pay their share of utility bills. Of course, the other major reason why people are reluctant to hire a house sitter is reliability. Especially when a house sitter charges little or nothing, it’s difficult to believe that they’ll truly take care of your house. However, it is possible to find a reliable house sitter, and here’s how you can do so.
Getting started: word of mouth, professional services, and online listings
The best way to find a reliable house sitter is of course through personal recommendations by people whose opinions you trust. The next option is to consult a professional house sitting service. However, if neither option is available or appeals to you, there are now a lot of house sitting sites online, which essentially work as a marketplace for house owners and house sitters to meet. Some of these sites are more involved with the actual house sitting than others, with their own guidelines and contracts. Some are free, while others are paid, offering a variety of fee packages, and sometimes a registration fee. Simply sign up, explore what’s on offer – including of course house sitter profiles – and pick a few that you think are promising. First consider your personal preferences: single people or families, students or retirees, and so on. Then consider how much experience they have, any additional information they have provided, and how forthright they are in their profiles. When posting your own listing, provide as much detail as possible about the responsibilities that the house sitter will have, and about your house itself, including the size, set-up, location, connectivity, and amenities.
References and police verification
Always pick a house sitter who has references, and follow up with them. Some house sitters have few or no house sitting references, and in such cases, references from landlords and estate agents can be quite useful. Work experience can also give you an idea of the person’s background and reliability.
You should also make sure that there’s some way to conduct a criminal records check, to confirm the house sitter’s identity and to confirm the fact that you’re not hiring someone with a criminal record. Many house sitters will have gotten this done themselves, and will state as much on their profile or in their response to your listing.
Checking on pet-friendliness
Having someone to take care of their pets is probably the biggest reason why people hire house sitters. Naturally then, if this is why you want a house sitter, the most important factor that you’re looking for, after general reliability, is pet-friendliness. The potential house sitter needs to love dogs or cats (or mice or snakes, or whatever pets you own), needs to have experience at least caring for if not owning the same kind of animal themselves, and needs to hit it off with your pets. Hitting it off is of course more important with some animals than others – most fish owners will agree that their fish don’t care too much who feeds them, but dog owners know that a connection is important. You don’t want your dog to bite your house sitter, refuse to eat, or worst of all, to run away. Have the candidate over to meet both you and your pets, and observe how they get along.
Contract and deposit
Once you’ve picked a suitable house sitter, you should also have a contract made out. The contract may not always be legally enforceable, but it’s a good way to clearly state the expectations and obligations of both parties. Put as much detail as you can into the contract, and get the house sitter to provide their inputs too. Specify cleaning duties, pet care duties, bill paying duties, the amount of time the house sitter is allowed to be away from the house, appliances that they are allowed to use as well as those they are expected to maintain, areas that are off-limits, what is to be done in case of an emergency, whether and when you are to be contacted, and anything else you can think of.
You should also discuss a security deposit, and include this in the contract. After all, you’re leaving your house and belongings in the care of a stranger. The deposit amount is usually the current rent for a similar house in the same locality. Discuss how the deposit will work: when and how you will receive it, when and how you will return it, and how deductions will be calculated. This is one additional way to weed out potential house sitters who aren’t serious or responsible.
Giving your house sitter everything they need
Make sure that you give your house sitter everything they need to do the job you want them to do. They need to know your house well: where supplies are kept, where the various appliances are located, any switches or taps they need to turn on and off. A checklist can be very helpful, especially if there are daily chores that need to be done, such as cleaning, putting out the garbage, feeding and walking the pets, picking up mail, and locking up at night.
They should of course also have your contact information as well as the contact information of local people they might need to get in touch with in an emergency, including family, friends, utility helplines, plumbers, cleaners, and anyone else you can think of. You could also introduce the house sitter to neighbors, family, and friends they may run into or need to contact, or at least inform these people of the house sitter’s presence. Non-essential information will also be appreciated, such as recommendations on where to eat, where to shop, and things to do for recreation in your neighborhood.
You should also provide some space for the house sitter to unpack. Consider how long the assignment is for, and provide an adequate amount of space – the house sitter shouldn’t have to live out of a suitcase for the entire period.
Lastly, ensure that your house is clean and neat when you hand it over. It’s not that your house needs to be perfect, but remember that you’re not hiring the house sitter to clean up after you, and that the better condition you leave your house in, the better condition you’ll find it in when you return.
Do a test run
There’s no way to be 100% sure that your house sitter is reliable until you’ve actually tried them out. The best way to do this is to hire them for a short duration, such as when you’re off on a short, local trip. Even if you need to pay for the service and you don’t really need it for just a weekend, it’s a minimal price to pay for being able to trial your potential house sitter. If you’ve made the wrong choice, you’ll find out almost immediately, rather than several weeks or months later, when things have built up to a disastrous level.
Do you have any tips for finding a house sitter? Let us know in the comments!