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Ten homes a year

by Frances Turney, 27th August 2005

‘Frequently, my desire for quiet times reminded me I needed a home of my own. So I borrowed ten.’ So begins retiree Frances Turney’s tale of how she discovered ‘the friendly trade’ of house sitting for people in her community. With her career behind her and no home of her own it all worked out swimmingly…

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Last year changes in my life left me living with relatives. I found it hard to adapt. Frequently, my desire for quiet times reminded me I needed a home of my own. So I borrowed ten.

This adventure began when a friend asked me to house-sit. While I watered her Blooming Idiots and comforted her confused kitten, I decided I liked the situation, and the idea of becoming a ‘professional’ house sitter was born.

I ran this brief ad in my local newspaper: ‘House sitter: Sensible grandma will care for your home, pets, and plants.’ The result was prompt and gratifying. Within three weeks I had a full six-month schedule-perhaps a natural result of living where snow birds are abundant! By the end of the year I had lived in ten homes and made nearly a hundred new friends-many of them people, but more of them pets.

The advantages of employing a house sitter, for the homeowner, are many. Most obvious is security. A home is less vulnerable to thieves while it is occupied. There’s a car in the drive or garage. A house sitter ensures the continuance of routine home care. Garden and house plants are watered, the paper brought in and the garbage put out. The furnace is kept at a level appropriate for the winter, or shades and open windows set to cool the home in summer.

Equally important in the households I cared for were the animal friends who didn’t have to stay in a doggie motel or any other home away from home. As a country mother of four children with eclectic interests, I have cared for most kinds of critters at one time or another, from turtles to orphaned piglets. As a house sitter, I have become friends with 15 marvelous mutts, several reclusive cats, three white rats, a miniature goat, and two pregnant hamsters.

My reward (besides wet kisses and a warm lap) was a place to read, write, and muse in a quiet time that these borrowed homes provided. Time in residence became my own mini-vacation: a time to experience new vistas from fresh windows and explore the unique offerings of new neighborhoods-although in the rural north where I live, the neighborhood is likely to have more moose than museums.

Length of residency varied from ten days to three months. Beyond the budget benefit of rent-free shelter, house sitting with pet care provided a small income based on an amount slightly less than the cost of boarding animals away from home.

House sitting can be a reasonable answer to a variety of temporary situations: a stretch from cramped quarters, a place to stay while remodeling or while waiting for escrow to close, or while attending a college too far from your home for a daily drive.

A house sitter is a boon for any home owner. It’s a friendly trade.

When preparing to move on, I clean and place furniture, books, and knickknacks just as I found them. A plate of fresh cookies or small bouquet may greet the travelers. The best welcome is a light on and a calico cat happily curled on the couch. Providing, of course, they had a calico cat when they left.

Guidelines for House Sitters

1. Meet owners and pets in their home at least two weeks prior to your stay.

2. Provide written references.

3. Say ‘no’ if you feel uncomfortable or unsafe with the location, home, pets, or owners.

4. Obtain emergency numbers of vacationing owners or available family members or friends.

5. Tour the residence completely; learn the operation of essential appliances, and emergency shut-off locations for alarm systems and utilities.

6. Take time to build trust in your pet charges before the owners leave, and learn their daily routines and feeding schedule.

7. Bring your own ‘kitchen,’ i.e., the staples you prefer, like honey or low-salt spices. Purchase other food as needed, as you would at home.

8. Keep a list of emergency phone numbers for police, fire, medics, and family veterinarian near phone. Know the exact address and phone number of the residence.

9. Never disclose personal information about the residents to friends or family, or in response to phone calls. You are entrusted with more than property when you care for another’s home.

About the author: Frances Turney

Frances Turney has retired from police communications to pursue freelance writing. She used house sitting as a temporary measure during a transitional move. She lives in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, and is a member of the Idaho Writers' League.