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MindMyHouse News 30 June 2008

by Susan Holtham, 13th July 2008

Tune into edition 24 of MindMyHouse News for all of the following:
when anywhere in Europe is good, our new ‘all of Europe’ search return and alerts; what do you take with you? Clare our intrepid blogger and full-time house sitter from Queensland, Australia has a handy penchant for writing lists; more great advice on how to have big adventures on tiny budgets (we like this one!) from the UK’s Guardian; and finally, how to succeed through our service versus ‘whistling in the wind’.

Dear MindMyHousies,

hello to all of our dear remaining members during this exciting time of change. We successfully switched to becoming a fee-based service on 24 March, a full three years after launching our little community website. As predicted, by charging house sitters a small annual fee (US$20 or its equivalent) we have halted what was something of a landslide of new aspiring house sitters into our database. Phew! It is good (we think) to be able now to sort the wheat from the chaff (so the saying goes) and really focus on those of our members who are serious about house sitting. While it is sad to say goodbye to a number of our registered members every day, we are heartened by the knowledge that some of you are keen to stay and are renewing your memberships with gusto.

Thank you to our renewing members for saying ‘I do’ and choosing to spend another year in our online community. Without your dedication to the fine art of house sitting worldwide, we are nothing!

We must apologise for the delay in getting this out to our dear subscribers. We know that the three-month wait for edition 24 of this e-newsletter must have been hard to bear! Can we say by way of excuse that we have moved house again (our sixth big move in three countries over the last decade) but we plan on stopping at this one! We are now 20km north of Wellington city (New Zealand) in what we affectionately describe as ‘our triangle house’. It’s a fabulous but rather unloved gem, circa 1974, built over four creaking levels, which finishes at a very fine point at the top. Yes it’s one of those lovely old A-frames which were built by enthusiasts the world over back in the 70s. We are having fun searching for precious collectibles from the period to fill our new house. Your suggestions are welcome!

Our recent move has also interrupted our planned marketing program to bring more of the world’s home owners to our service and to you. We are on to it we promise!

Tune into edition 24 of MindMyHouse News for all of the following:
when anywhere in Europe is good, our new ‘all of Europe’ search return and alerts; what do you take with you? Clare our intrepid blogger and full-time house sitter from Queensland, Australia has a handy penchant for writing lists; more great advice on how to have big adventures on tiny budgets (we like this one!) from the UK’s Guardian; and finally, how to succeed through our service versus ‘whistling in the wind’.

When anywhere in Europe is good – our new ‘all of Europe’ search return and alerts

We are the biggest Europhiles going and we can tell by your enthusiastic responses to our many sitter wanted listings for assignments in the UK, France and Spain (among other European countries) that you are too! To make it easier to search our database for all of those juicy assignments across (and beyond) the fabulous Continent we have created an ‘all of Europe’ search category. So the next time you feel like braving the Tower Bridge, scaling the Eiffel Tower or staggering past Gaudi’s towering architectural legacy in Barcelona, just choose ‘all of Europe’ when searching our listings. It’s nice to dream a little!

You can also now create an ‘all of Europe’ email alert. This nifty little innovation by your very own web master should save you some time and hassle! It may also mean you actually receive an alert for that assignment in the city pad in Budapest or the out-of-season ski resort in Slovenia. Time out in obscure European destinations anyone?

What do you take with you? Clare our intrepid blogger and full-time house sitter from Queensland, Australia has a handy penchant for writing lists

You know that old adage about how you can’t take it with you? Well, the great thing about house sitting is that you can! Our resident blogger on assignment, Clare from Brisbane, Australia has written a nifty list of all the things she routinely takes with her when house sitting the more salubrious homes of Queensland. Her house sitting kit includes such unexpected items as dog bowls (‘one house had such miniscule plastic bowls which kept sliding everywhere and slopping the food over the sides that I invested in two proper dog bowls to make my life easier’) and kitty litter (I set up a kitty litter at night on the front verandah so the cat didn’t have to go out and be beaten up by the toms next door). Clare demonstrates yet again, just what a careful house sitter she is: she takes her own chopping board to her assignments to keep the owners’ boards pristine. Nice one! Can we issue a challenge to all of those list-makers out there: tell us about your very own house sitting kit and we will publish it in the next edition of MindMyHouse News (anonymously if you prefer).

http://www.mindmyhouse.com/community/blog/?cat=3

More great advice on how to have big adventures on tiny budgets (we like this one!) from the UK’s Guardian

I received an email from a British house sitter member last year (2007) who was mightily unimpressed with the latest turn of events in her life and wrote for some advice from us. She was holding two return tickets to New Zealand and had just had her house sitting assignment here in New Zealand cancelled by the home owner. Ouch! However, what she saw as disaster I saw as a fabulous opportunity to make lemonade from the lemons that she had been given. I wrote her a lengthy email describing all of her options for adventure and cheap or free accommodation in this beautiful country of ours. Oh to be footloose and travelling New Zealand during the southern summer! It did occur to me then, that house sitting assignments are just one way to travel on a tiny budget.

As an example of how good life can be here without spending much at all, let me tell you about a wonderful adventure we had last summer. Our destination was a hot air balloon fiesta north of where we are now in a region known as the Wairarapa. Before watching the fleet of tethered balloons blow their gassy, firey jets off to music, we set up our tent at a gorgeous Department of Conservation campsite nearby the festival. That night we found ourselves completely alone and utterly at peace under the blackest sky with the brightest stars, a rushing river in the bush behind us, clean flush toilets a short walk away and a fireplace with a stack of wood beside it at our bidding. The next morning we left and popped our little envelope in the honesty box with the suggested donation of $8. ‘Imagine living like this for a month’ I thought to myself. How glorious!

We are also keen Couchsurfing hosts and have had no less than six German-speaking guests visit us here in Wellington this summer just gone. So between the free accommodation with friendly Couchsurfing hosts the country over, the odd night in a DOC campsite and the many work-for-your-board situations up and down the country, our house sitting damsel in distress could have cobbled together a wonderful, adventurous and very memorable holiday for herself. Hand me a straw to get sipping some of that lemonade!

The Guardian has very kindly published an article expressing just this same philosophy called ‘Summer for the seriously skint’. Here you will find every trick in the book on how to take the UK and Continental Europe by storm. Luckily it seems that is it possible to make up for your lack of funds with nothing less than abundant enthusiasm. I’m not sure about the UK’s ‘bothies’ (mountain huts) mentioned in the article but I do like the sound of the communal refuges on the famous Camino de Santiago walk across northern Spain.

http://www.mindmyhouse.com/community/blog/?p=139

How to succeed through our service versus ‘whistling in the wind’

The following top ten tips hot from your erstwhile editor’s desk have been recently published on our Registration page. However, I thought I would reproduce them here as well as they really do sum it all up. Good luck with it!

There are a few simple things you can do to maximise your chance of success through our service. See the following as instructions rather than guidelines. If you don’t follow these instructions you will be wasting your membership!

  • Create your own sitter available listing. Seventy percent of home owners contact our house sitters directly. If you don’t advertise your services with us they can’t find you!
  • Opt in to our Local Sitter Search database. Home owners in your area can then find your listing on a Google map and contact your directly.
  • Create an ‘all countries’ email alert. However, if you only want to sit in France, then an alert for ‘France’ only will do. This way, you receive an email every time a relevant sitter wanted listing is posted to our site.
  • Check your email inbox daily for your alerts and for messages from home owners.
  • Keep your contact details current in our database.
  • Respond to home owner’s messages and to sitter wanted listings as soon as you can.
  • Write a fabulous 200-word ‘standard response’ to use as the basis of your (personalised!) applications to home owners.
  • Tell home owners how you can meet their needs and why you want to house sit for them.
  • Be prepared to meet your own travel expenses and your costs while on assignment.
  • Become an animal lover.

But most of all: Have fun with it!

Blocking attempts at fraud

I was browsing at www.caretaker.org the other day and found this rather alarming claim on their homepage:

  • Other websites allow fraudulent ads for housesitting and property caretaking jobs that do not exist – WE DON’T.
  • The Caretaker Gazette ads are legitimate and paid for by the advertisers. Compare this to other websites which allow anyone to post anything.

While we are sure that the good folks at Caretaker.org weren’t referring to us personally, can we reassure you, our members, that we are working very hard behind the scenes to ensure that would-be fraudsters aren’t able to access our service, and most importantly, your contact details!

Here at MindMyHouse we decided to allow home owner members to use our site for free to bring the largest number of sitter wanted listings to you, our dear house sitter members. While we do agree that the Caretaker.org’s business model of requiring a payment of US$65 to post a 100-word listing is a good deterrent to wannabe fraudsters, we have a whole raft of anti-fraud measures in place. However, we can’t tell you about them as then the stupid fraudsters might read all about it!

Can we just say that only a single fraudulent sitter wanted listing made it through our screening processes – and that was in our first year of business. We can also report that in 2008 we have had only one lonely fraudster register with us – and then only for 24 hours – during which time he was able to send out a highly dubious message to a number of our house sitter members. We contacted all of these members personally to undo any damage he may have done. He has since been blocked from using our service and shall remain so.

So there you have it – your contact details remain hidden (as ever) behind our very hardy firewall, which can only be unlocked by our registered home owner members. All of whom, bless them, have made it through our screening process. But if you are paying to have your contact details printed in a hardcopy magazine, erm, aren’t they available to be harvested and used by just about‚Ķanyone?

Happy house sitting (or best of luck with your sitters!)

Susan Holtham, Wellington 2007.

Susan Holtham

aka the team at MindMyHouse 

About the author: Susan Holtham

Susan Holtham

The editor at MindMyHouse is a fun gal, intrepid traveller (in a former life), holder of three passports and enthusiastic house sitter. A book editor by trade, she did a three-year stint with Lonely Planet Publications at the start of her career. During her time at LP she shepherded many titles through the production process. Baaaa-aaaa-aaaaaa! Now that two gorgeous little girls call her mummy she's a very busy woman tending to their needs and to the occasional cries for help from among our 5000+ membership. No really, she's always keen to help!