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What are the advantages of having a house sitter rather than leaving my house empty?

Leaving your property empty for any length of time is tantamount to asking for trouble. Not only is your vacant house far more likely to be vandalized and burgled but your home and contents insurance becomes null and void after your home is empty for 30 (or sometimes 60) consecutive days. In the words of every home security, police authority and insurance advisor: 'Don't do it!'

It may seem easier to lock your house up and simply walk (or drive) away rather than go through the process of finding a house sitter but your home is probably your most valuable asset and as such, deserves the protection that a house sitter can offer.

Your house sitter is working for you
Even though the relationship between home owner and house sitter is not based on money but on trust and the free exchange of services (house and pet sitting) for goods (accommodation), your house sitter is, in essence, working for you. It is a house sitter's job to ensure that the needs of your animals and property are met in all the ways that you specify. The relationship between home owner and house sitter is most often a mutually agreeable and productive one with good lines of communication established early on. Your house sitter will expect to be asked to perform a whole range of tasks to maintain your land and house in the same condition as when you left it. When negotiating the terms of the house sitting assignment, your house sitter will also agree to care for your pets to maintain their good health and happiness.

Your pets will thank you for it
The single most compelling reason for engaging the services of a live-in house sitter rather than letting your house fend for itself (and your pets pine for you from their cages) is the enormous cost of outside care for your animals. Animal psychologists and vets agree that boarding your animals for any length of time can place a huge strain on their physical and emotional health. Even taking your pets on holiday with you can be a far less pleasant experience for them than it is for you (think of cargo holds, vaccinations and sedatives, time spent in quarantine, time spent in a travel container, motion sickness, unfamiliar surroundings, hostile strange animals, unfamiliar food, heatstroke, having to sleep outside - the list goes on). A house sitter can go a long way toward meeting your pet's needs, providing companionship and love as well as keeping them fed, exercised, safe and healthy. If your animals are used to sleeping with you, you can even ask your house sitter if they would mind letting Fluffy in bed for a cuddle.

Keeping your life 'connected' while you're away
One of the less obvious benefits of having a house sitter is that they can keep your life back home 'connected' while you're away. By answering your phone and door to any visitors and forwarding your mail and messages to you, your house sitter provides the link between your old (usual) life and the life you're living while away. You can ask your house sitter to stay in regular contact with you to keep to you informed of any issues that may affect your animals or property. Of course, if you'd rather not know what's going on back home you can nominate someone else to be a contact person for your house sitter.

Don't think that your insurance company will take up the slack and provide a safety net for your poor neglected home and its contents while you're away. It won't. Every home and contents policy contains a 'vacancy clause' which kicks in after your home has been empty for 30 (or sometimes 60) days and nullifies all of your cover. It is possible to buy cover for an empty house but the cost of the premium rapidly rises the longer your house is empty and quickly becomes sky-high.

Repairs and maintenance
Your house sitter is always on hand to organise repairs in the event of a minor or major emergency in your home during your absence. If there's a power outage you won't be smelling the contents of your freezer two blocks before you arrive home. A house sitter can keep the frog spawn and algae out of your pool and arrange to have a broken roof tile replaced before the situation deteriorates so far that you've got a damp wall and soggy ceiling to replace upon your return. One broken window can make your house enormously attractive to those who would take pleasure from breaking the rest, but not if your house sitter is on the job and quickly arranges for a replacement.

You won't have to prepare your house for vacancy
The amount of work required to prepare your home for your absence can be a daunting prospect. Concerns about how high you should set your heating to prevent the pipes from freezing, how to find your sump pump and exterior hose bibs, how to properly seal drains and keep the ants out of your dishwasher while you're away are voiced on bulletin boards by anxious home owners the world over. If you don't want to have to drain or seal anything or install random-light-switch machines into your living spaces then consider engaging the services of a nice human being to keep your property humming along in its usual smooth way while you're away.

'Keeping an eye out' is never enough
Many home owners rely on neighbours, friends or relatives to 'keep an eye out' for them or 'pop in' to their empty property. Unfortunately this kind of piecemeal solution never quite works out as the power outage defrosts your freezer (unnoticed by Aunty Dot) and your lonely dog howls all day and night (annoying the neighbour but not enough to do anything about it). And without a resident house sitter happily going about their business in your house, the un-mown lawn and collection of rain-soaked junk mail is only going to encourage the wrong kind of visitor to your home. You have been warned.