It’s been two years since my first experience with housesitting as a house and pet owner.
I joined TrustedHouseSitters in September 2017 to find a sitter for my cat Gelsomino. We were going to Australia in December for 1 month, and did not want let our elderly cat alone for such a long time. Gelsomino has to take medications too and having a person staying with him all the time seemed to us the best solution.
My experience about house sitting
That first sit went very well, and since then, whenever we leave for vacation, we continue to benefit with satisfaction from house sitters thanks to TrustedHousesitters.
And our Gelsomino-the-King, who is almost 17 years old now, continues to meet new human friends coming to take care of him. He has heard speaking Korean, Portuguese, Spanish and English! 🙂
After our first experience with Roberta, who sat for us during our 1-month trip to Australia, we hosted 4 more sitters: Juan and Andrea, a young couple from Colombia, for two of our trips, the first to Mexico in December 2018 (we were away for 18 days ) and the second to Normandy (10 days) in April. In July 2019, when we traveled to Norway, Trisha and Gavin, a couple from London, came to take care of our cat. And finally, for our most recent trip to Mauritius (December 2019) it was the turn of a canadian young lady.
But whenever in the past I searched on the web for articles telling stories about house sitting experiences, I never found one written by an owner. Writers are usually sitters who run a blog and tell their own experience.
So I decided to write this article to highligh the pros and cons of housesitting, from the perspective of an owner, and suggest some advice on how to use it with satisfaction, both for Sitters and Owners.
Some advice for Sitters, especially for beginners
Just in case you are wondering if you can save a bit’ on your travels thanks to this “House Sitting system”, let me tell you one thing:
First of all Housestitting is not just a clever way to find accomodation for free, it’s a big responsibility you take against an owner who trusts you
Believe me, especially the first times it’s very strange for owners, I was always thinking: am I really going to trust a complete stranger giving him the keys of our home and the responsabilityof of the care of my elderly cat? It’s crazy!
As a sitter you have to truly love animals, respect them and have experience in take care of them, because it’s not simply a matter of feeding a cat or walking a dog. It is a matter of having empathy with animals and understand their needs – not everyone is able.
So that said, here are some tips for you based on my experience of two years with persons who apply to come to my home in Italy.
YOUR SITTER’s PROFILE
Your profile on the site on which you have decided to apply as a sitter should be well organized. I suggest you to talk about:
- who you are and what’s your occupation (I mean, if you travel as a digital nomad or are retired, for example);
- why you want to housesit;
- what specific experience do you have with pet care (not only dogs and cats, but for example with farm or exotic animals too) and/or house care (for example if you are available to do gardening or you know how to clean a swimming pool);
- insert some nice pictures of yourself along with some pets you took care, pictures of your travels only could not be that much interesting for owners, it’s important to give a first impression of relationship with pets;
- clearly specify whether you travel alone or with a companion. I remember once a candidate in her application told us that perhaps she will be “coming with a friend,” and another one told us she sometimes traveled with her daughter. I rejected both. “Maybes” do not sound well, you need to tell exactly who is coming.
FOUND AN INTERESTING AD? PERFECT!
I suggest you to take your time to read it through very well and then contact the owner to make your application, making sure that he understands that you have well-read his ad! how many times I got only generic and hurried greetings, a person even once told me she loves much more dogs then cats .. I mean, I was searching for a CAT sitter!! Don’t put yourself in a strange light from the first step.
BEFORE MAKING A DECISION…
- even if you think you’ve found your dream sit, never make a decision without a detailed explanation of your responsabilities towards animals and the house, don’t be afraid to ask in case the owner has not previously explained it in the ad. You must be sure that you are able to take on the responsibilities that are asked. For example, my cat has a medication timetable to follow.
- be sure your papers (Passport, Visa) are valid to to get into that particular country, or that you still have enough time to produce them or renew if necessary. Otherwise it can turn into a nightmare.. it happened to a couple who applied to us but unfortunately cancelled when they realized they “forgot” about the expiration of their Visa. 🙁
- consider that House sitting should be accomodation in exchange of care of pets and home. It is not accomodation in exchange of work, but it depends on you accepting or not particular conditions in which you are asked for example to work in a farm, run an Airbnb in place of the owner, or keep the garden.
DURING THE HOUSESIT…
- respect: don’t invite strangers into the house while the owners are absent, unless you have asked for and received permission.
- carefully follow the instructions given to you, especially for what concerns the pet’s health care if necessary. A couple of my sitter even came with a small notebook where they took note of all the specific instructions while I was doing the first home tour with them. I always take the time to do this calmly. Don’t give food or treats other than that one granted by the owner.
- communications during the absence of the owner: if you are asked to send a short message every day, please DO IT. Although maybe it’s annoying, but come on, what’s it to be? You were asked to do it, DO IT. Avoid unnecessarily worries to those who are far away.
- do not let the animals alone more than they should be. This does not mean you should stay at home 24 hours a day, follow the owner’s instructions. But remember that if you were asked to administer medicaments three times a day your presence will be required. A dog has to be walked a minimum of twice a day. So think carefully before you agree.
- keep an eye on the pets, check that they are comfortable, often if their behavior suddenly changes it could be an emergengy. A cat that suddenly stops eating is not ok, for example. Don’t wait to go to the vet if you suspect that something is going wrong, always communicate with the owner situations like this one.
- leave the home clean and tidy before you leave. This is a basic netiquette rule of housesitting:
turn back the home to the owner in the same or even better conditions in which you found it
- I hope it will never happen to you as a sitter to have to enter a not cleaned and tidy home, it’s a matter of respect towards to you. But equally, I recommend you to take note of everything when you arrive, so you can leave everything in the same condition. It happened to me with the last sitter that I found the house was absolutely not cleaned, the bathroom dirty and not even the bed was made. I was very disappointed with this.
Tips for home and pet owners about house sitting
Sometimes it can happen that owners behave like they are doing you – the sitter – a favor hosting you at their home. This is really not nice. Personally, I feel as if I was receiving a big favor, because I realize what kind of big responsibility it is to take care of someone else’s pet.
It is important to understand, especially for owners, that the favors are given each other, between sitter and owner, it must be a win-win situation for both. In any case, the general rule for owner is:
do everything possible to best accommodate the sitter and give him a warm welcome!
Before choosing a person and make a decision, however, I recommend:
- begin the search for a new sitter with a large notice, take your time to look for someone, so you will have not to deal with last-minute anxiety. I suggest at least 1 and a half month in advance, it depends on how long your trip will last too.
- write a complete announcement to publish on the website, with some nice pictures of the pet and of the house, so applicants can understand what kind of experience they could have standing at your place;
- read through all of the reviews of the candidates carefully;
- always ask to have a conversation via Skype or similar, this is very important to knew each other, how can you trust a person without even talk to him/her in person? I could not;
- never ignore “red flags”, follow your instinct. The same advice is good for sitters too: if you feel not comfortable, believe me: do not choose that person (or sit), you will find another one. As I wrote above, during our most recent sit experience, we chose a couple despite they did not persuade me in full (my husband was convinced, I was not). In fact, during our Skype conversation I noticed that the lady looked a little absent and not very interested in our pet. What happened next? a couple of weeks after the mutual sit-agreement, they suddenly announced they had to resign because the lady forgot about her Visa expiration and they had to return to their country. More distracted than this… my first impression that there was a “red flag” was correct, I should not have ignored it.
After you have made your agreement, waiting for your sitter:
- communication: always notify of any significant changes in time. In addition to the cancellation of our distracted Sitters – in fact – it unfortunately happened that the airline – a month before our trip – canceled our departure flight moving it to the next day. We immediately communicated this change to our new sitter.
- cleaning: as I wrote above, you need to prepare your home the most comfortable possible, clean and tidy for your sitter arriving.
- food and medicine for your pet: stock up on time for everything your pet will need, medicaments and food, you should not leave this task to the sitter, it is your responsability.
- transparency: if your home has surveillance cameras, you must clearly notify your sitter.
- inform your veterinarian about the presence of the pet sitter during your absence.
- prepare a detailed written guide about home and pet instructions, especially regarding nutrition and administering drugs to the animal. If you use TrustedHouseSitters as house sitting platform, you will be asked to fill in time the Welcome Guide, with detailed guidelines for the sitter, it’s a bit ‘long job to do the first time, take your time to do this.
- if your sitter arrives the day before you leave, and has to stay in hotel the night before departure, offer to pay for the room (if you can not host them at home of course).
House sitting potential risks for owners
Cancellations: it is a rare event, but it can happen. And it unfortunately happened to us last October, when the couple who had agreed to stay with Gelsomino during our holiday in Mauritius, resigned a month and a half before our departure.
What should one do in this situation? first of all we contacted TrustedHouseSitters assistance service, they pushed our ad immediately online again and sent it to potential candidates. Fortunately, another sitter was available to come, we were quite lucky having had plenty of time to find someone else, but it was not nice anyway.
TIP: it is better to have an emergency plan in case of last second cancellation. A relative, a friend, someone who can help.
Theft and damage: I always take my few valuables out of the homebefore leaving. Plus as I said before, starting from 2019 in TrustedHousesitters subscription an insurance that protects you against theft is included in the annual premium membership fee, property damage and accidents that may occur to the sitter while you are in your home are covered. An additional guarantee to leave woth peace of mind.
TIP: if you have a lockable room for storing objects or personal effects, use it, it will be one less worry for you, but also for the sitter that will have less to worry about.
House sitting potential risks for sitters
Cancellations: for sitters too cancellation is a risk to be taken into consideration. If you are a sitter traveling for long periods, I suggested you to plan well your trip to the country in which you intend to sit, providing possibly other house-sittings agreements in the same area or country. This way at least you will not buy a plane ticket for nothing.
Sick animals and assignements that not match to the description: this is a big risk and is one of the reasons why I do not know if I would do but the sitter. I read a story online about a sitter who ended up with a sick cat, with no care from the owner who left to her all the pet’s health issues. This careful sitter brought the cat to the vet, who ended up not only having fleas but had infested the entire house. Even the sitter herself had to seek for medical attention. A pure madness situation.
I can only advise you as a sitter: don’t be afraid to expose your doubts to an owner and always ask for a Skype conversation, before accepting any sit.
Conclusions and general advice for both sitters and owners
House Sitting should be an experience from which both of you – owner and sitter – should be able to get the most. It is fine to try to meet other expectations but without sacrificing your own needs.
Therefore, since people are different and have different expectations, it is mandatory to clarify all doubts before accepting an assignement or a sitter. To do this the basic rule is to establish good communication, during the selection phase, before the arrival of the sitter, and during the absence of the owner.
After you have chosen each other, even if it will still take months before the dates of the trip, open a chat on WhatsApp and Telegram, send a greeting or an update every now and then. If there are changes in programs, disclose it as soon as possible.
Agree to meet one or more days before sit begins, to know each other and introduce the sitter to home and pet. We always ask the sitter to arrive a day earlier, or depending on the time we leave, I plan to have enough time to spend together, at least a few hours, to have dinner / lunch together at home.
Agree on what can be used or not by the sitter at home, usually a few things can be used and replaced before owner returns (for example, toilet paper), other may not (for example food), but this depends only on how you decide to arrange among you. The home cleaning products should be provided by the owner.
And finally: enjoy the experience and new pet company (for the Sitter) you will for sure become attached at the pet more than you can imagine, and enjoy your trip and your holiday (for the owners).
If you both follow these few tips everything will be fine, it will be an amazing experience. And you will be grateful for the experience of trust and the opportunity to meet new people with lifestyles maybe completely different from yours.