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House sitting

What are the advantages of having a house sitter rather than a paying tenant in my home?

If you don't need income from the sale of your property to fund your adventures it often makes more sense to choose a house sitter to mind your house while you're away rather than let your house to a paying tenant. The benefits of having a house sitter to care  for your animals in your absence are obvious. But even if you've only the welfare of a few pot plants to consider, the advantages of having a house sitter over a tenant are many.

Your pets will thank you for it
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.

Your house sitter is working for you
Where the landlord-tenant relationship is based on a tenancy agreement and the exchange of money and nothing more, a 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 as well as care for any number of pets to maintain their good health and happiness. And in the event of a minor or major emergency your house sitter is always on hand to organise repairs in your absence. (Trying getting an estate agent on the phone at 3am).

Saving money
Although it may sound illogical, it can actually make good financial sense to choose a house sitter over a paying tenant. If you're leaving one or more pets behind then the cost of outside care for your animals will most likely far outweigh any rental income you can expect from your property. And with a house sitter you don't have to put your furniture and lifetime's possessions into storage (this can be very expensive!)  You also won't need to pay to have your vehicles stored in a secure parking facility. You'll also most likely save on the costs of redecorating and making minor repairs that needs to be done every time your tenants move out. As a general rule, a house sitter will take much better care of your home than a tenant as they are keenly aware that the responsibility for its upkeep resides squarely with them.

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.

Increased security
Everyone agrees that an occupied home is far more secure than an empty one. A house sitter will provide far better security for your home than a tenant. This is because a house sitter will have signed a document stating that they will be in your home most nights (or every night if they have your animals in their care). A tenant, however, is not obliged to be 'at home' at all. Indeed, your home could be left empty for months on end if your tenants choose to go on an extended holiday. There's also a risk that your home could remain empty for some time between tenancies or due to a slack rental market.

Your home remains in your control
When you engage the services of a house sitter, your property effectively remains in your control, however, with a tenant you've temporarily sold the right to call your house a home to someone else. The nature of the contract between house sitter and home owner means that your home is there for you when you need it. Should you need to return early or sporadically during your travels, your house sitter should be flexible enough to allow this to happen.

Your house sitter can be bound by all the usual safeguards
And finally, your house sitter can be subject to all the usual legal precautionary requirements that a tenant is bound by. In fact, a responsible house sitter is usually prepared to offer home owners many more reassurances that they are trustworthy than is required of a tenant. These can include a recent police record check, references, a security deposit (of no more than the equivalent of a month's rent for a similar property in the same area) as well as a signed legally binding agreement. We recommend that home owners interview house sitters before choosing someone for the assignment. Once you've made an offer to a house sitter and it's been accepted you both need to go through our house sitting agreement together to negotiate the terms of the deal.

Can I have a house sitter stay in my rented accommodation?

If you are living in rented accommodation and wish to engage a house sitter to mind your property and animals in your absence there should be no reason why you can't do so. Check your written lease agreement for any sub-clauses that may prevent you from having a house sitter in the property. Usually, anyone is allowed to stay in a rental property with the lease holder's permission. However, if you want to charge your house sitter a fee to cover rental payments you are effectively subletting the property and are on much murkier legal ground. If your property is not covered by a rental agreement then it would be courteous to seek your landlord's permission before leaving your home in the care of a house sitter. It is widely agreed that an occupied property is far more secure than an empty one, so your landlord should be happy to consent to the arrangement.

Will having a house sitter affect the cost of my home and contents insurance?

Before you leave your property in the care of a house sitter check with your insurance company if there will be any changes to your premium for cover provided in the period that you're away. It is widely agreed that an occupied property is far more secure than an empty one, so your insurance provider should charge no penalty for the arrangement. In fact, the converse is often the case: many insurance providers say you cannot make a claim on your home and contents policy if the problem occurred after your property had been empty for more than 30-60 consecutive days. (The actual number of days varies between policies.)

Do I have to provide a security deposit to the home owner before the house sitting assignment begins?

The home owner may require a security deposit to insure against damages to their property. This is a reasonable request that should present no problems to the conscientious house sitter. The amount of deposit required and how it is paid should be negotiated between the home owner and the house sitter. As a general guide, it should be relative to the length of the house sitting assignment and be no more than the equivalent of one month's rent for a similar property in the area. Please note that you should never agree to send anyone a security deposit! To avoid the possibility of being defrauded, money should only change hands between house sitters and home owners when all parties are together at the property just before the home owners are about to leave. You can download our security deposit lodgement form to use in your arrangements. You'll find it near the end of the house sitting agreement in our Advice Centre.

 

Who pays the bills while a house sitter is on assignment?

This is generally negotiable between home owner and house sitter. As a general rule however, those bills that are paid annually such as rates or council tax should remain with the home owner, while all ongoing costs such as gas, electricity, phone, internet access and water could be paid by the house sitter. It's a good idea to take meter readings of all the utilities on the day that the house sitter moves in so that their exact liability can be worked out upon the home owner's return. All of the costs incurred by the house sitter while looking after resident pets and maintaining the property should be met by the home owner. If the sitting assignment is for an extended period such as a year, the house sitter could agree to meet all of the bills. Be particularly careful about negotiating the paying of bills for a house sitting assignment in a cold winter or a very hot summer. In these cases it is wise to establish approximate heating (or cooling) costs and sign off on these before the assignment begins.

How do your security deposit lodgement and security deposit refund forms work?

Finances can be a tricky thing that needs to be spelt out and recorded to avoid misunderstandings. These two forms (see Appendix A of your house sitting agreement) are meant as a basic template to help create a formal record of the exchange of a security deposit between the house sitter and the home owner at the beginning and end of the house sitting assignment. The templates contain all the fields you should need to list all the parties' names and signatures.

Part of the security deposit lodgement form contains a template for the provision of a third party to hold the deposit and mediate its return at the end of the assignment. If you can find a neutral person to perform this service for you, all well and good. Solictors will perform this service for a fee (that may, however, be close to the amount involved). Usually, the deposit is paid to the home owner by the house sitter in the spirit of trust and good will that needs to be the foundation of every house sitting agreement of this type.

In the security deposit refund form there's space for the house sitter's expenses (for house maintenance and pet care costs etc) and liabilities (for payment for damages and any outstanding amounts owing for utilities etc) to be tallied up against the original deposit paid. There are another two forms to record these expenses in more detail.

Should I insure my personal possessions when on a house sitting assignment?

Your possessions are probably as safe in your host's home as they are in your own. However, your precious items will probably not be included in  the home owner's home and contents insurance so consider taking out your own insurance policy to cover your personal possessions  when you're on the move.

Can I ask my house sitter for rental payments?

There are hundreds of other websites, magazines, classifieds and online directories where home owners can advertise their properties for rent. Here at MindMyHouse.com we're trying to do something different by providing a forum for home owners and house sitters to meet for the free exchange of goods (accommodation) with services (house and pet sitting). Our home owner members should be aware that every house sitter they may contact through our site will be expecting free accommodation in exchange for their house and pet sitting services. However, home owners and house sitters are free to negotiate the exchange of money as suits their particular house sitting assignments. If you expect rental payments from your house sitter please state this clearly in your listing and in your first contact with house sitters.

How does house sitting work? Are there any fees involved either way?

House sitting can be a mutually beneficial and free exchange of goods (accommodation) for services (house and pet sitting). The house sitter agrees to occupy the home owner's property for a given period of time. Generally the house sitter is required to be in the property most of the time (although, like everything, this may be negotiable), giving the property its usual occupied appearance to deter burglars, squatters and vandals. Often, there will be one or more animals to care for (these can be fish, rabbits, cats and dogs, hamsters, goats and horses!) House sitters may find themselves in a converted barn in Tuscany, a mews flat in London's Notting Hill, a pick-your-own kiwifruit farm in New Zealand's Bay of Plenty in the off season or just –keeping an eye on things' in a log cabin in an isolated forest park in Utah. While the home owner is away everything continues in the property as usual (that's where the house sitter come in!). Bills need to be paid, plants need watering, gardens, lawns and trees need to be maintained, mail and phone messages may need to be forwarded, and pets remain as demanding of love, care and companionship as ever. This kind of house sitting shouldn't involve either the payment of rent to the home owner or the payment of fees to the house sitter for services rendered. However, both parties need to sit down and negotiate a house sitting agreement between them to spell out who is responsible for which bills (for example, any vet bills should remain with the owner, while the sitter takes care of their share of utility bills). A security deposit may also be required by the home owner to insure against any damages. This is negotiable but shouldn't be more than the cost of a month's rent for a similar property in the area.

Can I charge for my house and pet sitting services?

There are hundreds of other websites, magazines, classifieds and online directories where house and pet sitters can advertise their commercial services. Here at MindMyHouse.com we're trying to do something different by providing a forum for home owners and house sitters to meet for the free exchange of goods (accommodation) with services (house and pet sitting). Our house sitter members should be aware that every home owner they may contact through our site will be expecting their house and pet sitting services for free. However, home owners and house sitters are free to negotiate the exchange of money as suits their particular house sitting assignments. If you require fees for your house sitting services please state this clearly in your listing and in your first contact with the home owner.

What happens if something is broken or damaged during the house sitting assignment?

It's best that house sitters are totally upfront and honest with the home owner or their nominated contact person when they're on a house sitting assignment. Everyone understands that accidents do happen. If the house sitter reports any breakages or damages to the home owner in an honest and open kind of way then reparations can usually be cheerfully negotiated. There is a section near the end of the house sitting agreement that can be used to tally up and sort out any monies owing to either party at the end of the assignment. The house sitter can list any damages they've caused to the property in that section.

Home owners are advised to put all valuables and precious items out of harm's way while they're away from their property. For a comprehensive list of what home owners may need to do before they go see the Checklist for home owners and Checklist for pet owners in our Advice Centre.

Is there a standard house sitting agreement I can use?

Here at MindMyHouse.com we've crafted a plain-English house sitting agreement for you to refer to and sign prior to the beginning of the assignment. By having the document in front of you during the negotiation process, both the home owner and house sitter can discuss in detail what your expectations are of each other and what each person's responsibilities will be during the assignment. We've tried to cover all the bases but you may be able to think of your own amendments and clauses to add to the document. If there's anything in the agreement that you don't consider relevant simply cross it out (these amendments need to be initialled by all parties to the agreement). Your house sitting agreement can be used by the house sitter as a 'one-stop-shop' while the home owner is away for any information they will need to keep at hand: emergency contact numbers, recycling and rubbish days, security alarm codes, the day of the home owner's expected return!

Simply go to our house sitting agreement page in the Help section and download the house sitting agreement to your computer. It's a PDF file which means that you will need to have a copy of the free Acrobat Reader installed on your computer. If this sounds like too much techno babble, we've also included a Word formatted version and a Rich text format (RTF) version of the agreement which you can download to your desktop and send straight to your printer. Although we recommend using the PDF file as it has been laid out by our web designer and is easier to understand than the Word version.

How do we finalise the details of the house sitting assignment?

It's a good idea for home owners and house sitters to meet before finalizing the details of the assignment. However, due to the constraints of geography this may be a luxury that you do not have. Once a home owner has offered a house sitting assignment to a house sitter and they have accepted the offer it's time to finalise the agreement so that everyone can get organized. A lot of the negotiation of the particular requirements of the house sitting assignment can be done over the phone and by email. Be specific and be very accurate in what you would both like to see happen during the assignment so that the house sitter arrives prepared and ready to assume their responsibilities. If both parties have a copy of the house sitting agreement (located in our Help Centre) in front of them during this process then the agreement need only be signed once the house sitter arrives. It may be a good idea for the house sitter to spend the last night before the home owner leaves at the property so that they can learn about the particular requirements of the property and resident animals. Don't forget to quickly run through the Checklist for home owners and Checklist for pet owners (download and print out copies of these from our Help Centre). They contain reminders of the many things you may need to do before the home owner hands over the care of the property to the house sitter.

Tell me about the 'Before you go! Checklist for home owners' and 'Before you go! Checklist for pet owners' in your Help Centre.

These checklists are intended to be used by busy home owners as they prepare to hand over the care of their property and animals to their house sitter. Who would remember to update their dog's registration  tag contact details, to leave a copy of their shed key for their house sitter or to suspend their organic vegetable delivery without this list of friendly reminders? Home owners should quickly run through these lists with their house sitter so they'll know where everything is and be fully prepared to assume their responsibilities toward the property and animals after the home owner leaves. You can find these checklists in our Advice centre at the following URL: http://www.mindmyhouse.com/help

What are my chances of being offered a house sitting assignment through advertising my house sitting services on MindMyHouse?

House sitting worldwide is undoubtedly a fast-growing phenomenon. Modern life in the new millennium is making more demands on us and offering us more opportunities for adventure - we're more mobile and we're traveling more to work and play. And as birth rates drop in the Western world, pet ownership rises! Hence the growing global demand for house sitters such as yourselves. There is no quantitative data on the numbers of home owners searching for house sitters on this big planet of ours. I wish I knew! But you'll only know what your chances are of being offered a house sitting assignment by advertising on MindMyHouse if you make the effort to do so. Some house sitters will be inundated with offers of assignments and will be able to travel from one assignment to the other with not much time off inbetween. These types of house sitters often find that their services will be booked up for months (or even years) ahead. Unfortunately, other house sitters may be waiting many months (or even years) for that call or email with the offer of a single assignment. There are many factors that influence your chances of being chosen for an assignment. Some of these you can't control (such as your age, marital status and country of residence) others you can (such as providing references, offering home owners a security deposit, a police background check and the chance to interview you for the job before making a decision). The importance of having a well-written listing describing yourself and your experience in adequate detail cannot be overestimated. You only have one impression to make on home owners, so make it a good one! Many owners will only be reading your title and the first 400 characters of your listing (they can read these without having to click on your listing) so pack these two things with information. Think of your sitter available listing as a mini job application. The tone of your listing needs to be upbeat and positive and needs to tell the owner just how willing you are to accommodate their needs. Flexibility is the key to success in this competitive game. If you're prepared to house sit anywhere in your chosen countries at any time of the year and with any number of animals in your care, then you should attract the attention of a number of home owners. Good luck!

How do I apply for house sitting assignments on your site?

Only registered house sitter members can contact home owners in response to their sitter wanted listings on our site. Once you've logged into your house sitter account area, search for and click on the full view of the sitter wanted listing you would like to respond to. Choose the 'contact owner now' button to be taken to the blank contact form. Type or copy and paste your application letter into this form. This could be your one chance to convince a home owner that you're the right house sitter for the job so give it your best shot! (Avoid the common pitfalls of telling the home owner too much - or too little - about yourself.) It's a good idea to write your application letter in a word processing program before pasting it into the contact form. If you type directly into the contact form you run the risk of your session timing out after 20 minutes and you may lose all your hard work! Once you have pressed the 'send' button, the home owner will automatically receive an email at their private email address with your message. If you have your own sitter available listing on MindMyHouse (highly recommended), it will automatically be included in the message along with your contact details, so you don't need to add any extra information to your application letter. Feel free to include a URL link to your online photograph or personal homepage in your application. The onus is on the home owner to make contact with you by any of the ways that you've specified. Good luck!

Why should I find a house sitter through your site when I could ask a friend or family member to house sit for me?

The advantages of having someone you don't know house sit for you rather than asking a friend or family member to help you out are numerous.

Many an informal agreement between friends or family members has led to the damage or destruction of previously good relationships. If you do require a house sitter it makes much more sense to engage the services of a stranger rather than jeopardize a close relationship.

Essentially, with a house sitter, you can conduct the whole arrangement in a very business-like fashion, asking them for all the usual reassurances that they're trustworthy and responsible. Both you and your house sitter will undoubtedly be keen to go through a house sitting agreement together to spell out exactly what your obligations and expectations are of each other. While the relationship is still one based on trust (as with a friend or family member) you should feel no apprehension in asking your house sitter for a security deposit.

With a friend or family member you'll most likely feel that you need to simply 'go on trust' in arranging the terms of the house sitting agreement which often means not discussing the terms of the agreement at all. One home owner's kind-spirited offer to his friend and house sitter to 'help herself' to his wine collection ended in dismay when he returned home to discover she'd helped herself to two dozen of his prized reds. With a house sitter, he could have guiltlessly locked his wine in the cellar, adding a caveat in the house sitting agreement that it was not to be touched.

Crucial to the distinction between engaging a house sitter online and a friend or family member is one of personal motivation. If your friend or family member is, in essence, doing you a favour rather than agreeing to house sit for their own reasons there's every chance they'll let you down. That's human nature. Here at MindMyHouse we're trying to work with human nature in providing a forum for people to meet to satisfy their own needs while meeting another's house sitting requirements at the same time.

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.

Insurance
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.

What information do I need to leave for my house sitter?

Upon arriving in your home your house sitter may feel like a stranger in a strange land (indeed, they may have traveled from another country to house sit for you) and thus the more information you can provide to help them get orientated the better. You could sit down and write a long list of instructions about your quirky appliances and pampered pet's likes and dislikes but you don't need to 'reinvent the wheel' every time you have a house sitter stay in your home.

It's a really good idea to put together an information pack in A4 plastic envelopes in a sturdy folder for your future house sitters' easy access. With a little bit of updating this folder's contents can be used by your house sitters for years to come. Your signed house sitting agreement should form the cornerstone of your information pack. For suggestions as to what this information pack could contain, see the following documents in our Help Centre (these are also downloadable if you'd like to print them out) at the following URL:

Before you go! Checklist for home owners
Before you go! Checklist for pet owners
House sitting agreement

What's the difference between property caretaking and house sitting?

Property caretaking and house sitting share the same principle (free accommodation in exchange for services rendered) but have a different emphasis. Caretaking positions generally carry more responsibility and require more committment than house sitting assignments. Caretakers are often employed and paid a salary to manage a property and most often find themselves working outside of urban areas. Caretaking, like house sitting, is experiencing exponential growth with more positions and more willing caretakers to fill them. Caretaking roles can be found in grounds keeping, land stewardship, farming, organic gardening, forestry, ranching, animal husbandry and fisheries. Employers of caretakers include nature retreats, ecological preserves, camps and national or state forests and parks. Caretakers can be employed as 'winter keepers' at lodges, managers for 'gentlemen' farmers or caretakers of resort properties and caravan parks during the off season. Due to the rise of the ownership of second (or even third) homes among the relatively wealthy, there is a rising demand for house sitters who are willing to do a bit more to earn their free long-term accommodation (such as caretake a property in between the owner's visits). Due to the isolation of most caretaking roles, those wishing to explore this field need to be quite self-contained and able to take their own absorbing interests and hobbies along to the assignment with them. Caretaking can be a great way to escape the hustle of city life but may place more demands on participants than the average house sitting assignment.

Can we house sit with our own pets?

As with every house sitting assignment many things are negotiable with the home owner. You may be able to house sit with your own pets but as your house sitting assignment will probably include caring for resident animals this may not be always possible.

Can we house sit (and join) as a couple (or family)?

As with every house sitting assignment, many things are negotiable with the home owner.

As a couple, you are probably able to bring more to a house sitting assignment than as a single person – that's a bonus for those home owners who are looking for a couple!

As a family, some of our home owner members prefer childless couples to mind their pets and homes in their absence. Having said that, we have many families with children advertise their assignments with us successfully. 

What are my obligations to the home owner?

You should endeavor to spend as much time at your house sitting assignment as possible. If you're going to spend many nights away from the property then you've defeated the purpose of house sitting. The house needs to have its usual occupied appearance in order to deter criminals. This means that you need to be there to make sure that junkmail is collected on a daily basis, that pets are walked and fed regularly so that they're not lonely and bored, that lawns and gardens are watered, that the answerphone is cleared regularly and messages are passed on, that utility bills are paid so that services remain connected. Above all, remain contactable while you're in the property so that the home owner can enjoy peace of mind while they're away. A written update on the pets and the property emailed to the home owner on a regular basis can do wonders to reassure absent home owners that all is well.

Will the home owner pick me up from the airport?

This and other similarly nice gestures have been known to happen when people get together to meet each other's house sitting requirements.

What can I expect of my house sitter?

House sitters are by their very nature flexible and often willing to consider your needs in exchange for the privilege of free accommodation in your home. House sitting candidates will generally expect to be asked to occupy your property for a given period of time and to be present in your home every night. You can also ask your house sitter to look after any number of animals, to maintain your pool, lawns, indoor plants and gardens, to forward any mail and phone messages, to pay utility bills as required (working out their personal share of bills at the end of the assignment), and to carry out any basic maintenance that your home requires (such as unblocking sinks, clearing snow from the driveway or organizing the repair of storm damage).

You may have more specialized and demanding requirements from your house sitter such as the sharing of your property with other people (such as tenants or family members), the showing of the property to potential buyers, the supervision of elderly parents or disabled children, the tending to paying guests in other parts of the property, the provision of onsite security (such as in a car dealership), or carrying out more intensive property maintenance (such as building work, the growing of vegetables or the harvesting of crops). All of these requirements would be beyond the remit of the typical house sitting agreement but a house sitter can generally be found for the most demanding position if you cast around wide enough.

What should I look for in a house sitter?

What kind of person would you be comfortable handing the keys to your home to? Many of our house sitters are prepared to offer varied forms of reassurance that they are responsible people who can be trusted to care for your animals and property. It may give you peace of mind to search for house sitters who have commissioned a police check on themselves, who have references and/or referees, who are willing to provide you with a security deposit and happy to negotiate and sign a written house sitting agreement spelling out both party's expectations of the house sitting assignment

How do I end the house sitting assignment?

The house sitting assignment should end in the same spirit that it began: with an exchange of clearly expressed needs and plenty of good will. Don't surprise your house sitter by arriving home at any time other than the one you've told them about. They may have left a lot of the necessary preparation for your return to the last minute or they may have arranged their transport out of town very soon after your purported return (potentially leaving your animals in the lurch).

If your house sitter has paid you a security deposit they may be keen to finalise the financial aspect of the assignment before they leave. This is a fair enough request, even if all you want to do is lie on your own sofa again and enjoy the quiet peace of returning home (bliss!).

Be prepared to go through some of the details of the assignment with your house sitter to work out who owes who for what. Have the security deposit refund available by cash or checque. Above all, before you get home, tell your house sitter how you'd like to see the assignment end (you may not want them in the house when you return). They're used to being flexible and meeting your needs.

How do I end the house sitting assignment?

The house sitting assignment should end in the same spirit that it began: with an exchange of clearly expressed needs and plenty of good will. You should have the house and garden in as good a condition as when you moved in. It doesn't hurt to have the pot plants manicured, the pets bathed and brushed, the couch covers freshly laundered, the carpets vacuumed and deodorised. You get the picture.

'Be prepared for the owner's return' is your motto!It's a very good idea to have the food basics ready for them, such as fresh milk in the fridge, bread in the cupboard, a quiche in the oven and something tempting for dessert. Why not?

You may have organised with the home owner to have left before they arrive home. Your home owner may not want to enter into extensive negotiations with you about finalising the agreement upon their return. They'll probably just want to flop onto their own couch and enjoy the lovely feeling of returning to their own home. Respect their wishes whatever they are; the details of the assignment (including the return of any security deposit) can be worked out the next day or by other than face-to-face methods of communication.

Don't forget to leave your forwarding contact details!

What if there's a problem with the house or animals during the house sitting assignment?

It is the house sitter's job to deal with any such problems or emergencies as they arise. The written house sitting agreement should contain all the numbers required in the event of a problem or emergency for the house sitter's quick referral. It should include numbers for police, fire, vet and animal hospital services as well as the home owner's or their nominated contact person's emergency contact details. In the event of a problem the house sitter should stay calm and focused and seek advice and help from approved sources.

I'm an academic who will be needing accommodation for a very specific period of time while I'm on sabbatical. What are my chances of getting a house sitting assignment to fit my schedule?

House sitting is a fickle game by its very nature. Finding a house sitting opportunity that approximately matches your requirements may be possible if you advertise for an assignment well in advance. However, you may need to work around the home owner's requirements by arranging some other accommodation at either end of the assignment.

If your need for accommodation is urgent I recommend using the website
http://www.sabbaticalhomes.com, which is very well linked into the global academic community. They describe themselves as '...the leading worldwide internet-based directory for home exchange, rental and tenant listings opportunities devoted to serving the academic community...providing a listing service to academics worldwide who temporarily need to offer or search accommodations for rent, exchange or house-sitting'.

While their emphasis is on home exchange and short-term rentals as well as house sitting you may need to exchange your home or pay for accommodation to find something suitable. Note that you must have an email address that is attached to an academic institution or be able to provide an academic reference to be able to use this service. Creating your own sitter available listing is free but should you find accommodation through the website (even if it's rented accommodation) you are expected to make a success-based contribution to the website of between US$30 and $70 depending on your circumstances.