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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.