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House-sitting Guide from an Experienced Hand

House-Sitting Cardinal Rules

This is my House-Sitting Guide – I like to say that I have three Cardinal rules as a house-sitter :

1- Cherish the animals

2- Care for the property like it is your own

3- Clean and protect the car if you are given access to the vehicle.

housesit, housesitting, housesitter, housesit match, housesitting network

Best practice House-Sitting Rules

Of course I also go by several other rules which include:

1 — If I break it, I fix it or replace it

2 — If I can help, I say yes

3 — However I find the property, I always leave it cleaner than before

4 — If I use it, I replace it (though some owners specify that you “eat” or “use up” items)

5 — I communicate clearly and regularly with the house-owner.

The Currency of House-Sitting is Trust

Any House-sitting Guide will tell you that the House-sitting community works on the currency of trust, and without that key ingredient none of it would be possible. And trust is more easily exchanged in smaller communities, at least that’s our perception, so the growth spurt of house-sitting in the past few years has put that circle of trust to the test.

More people = more diversity = more potentially unchartered waters = potentially more problems.

Making arrangements between house-sitting partners is more formalised, more competitive, and much larger in scale these days. And perhaps it needs to be because some house-sitting sites have thousands of listings, and tens of thousands of potential sitters searching on them. Other house-sitting sites are smaller and more carefully managed. Regardless, with all the options available getting a new housesit nowadays can feel like applying for a job – you need references of course, experience and the right collaborative approach. Advertising a housesit  can also feel like a long screening process to vet candidates.

We enter into our house-sitting agreements, with or without a house-sitter’s guide, with the friendliest of intentions, but these are essentially business agreements that have to do with one-party caring for the property of another, and the caretaker being given accommodation, and to be protected from harm in return.

In the excitement of the acceptance of a new housesit, too often we make the mistake of asking for nothing in writing for our short-term and even long-term house sits thinking that we can resolve any outstanding issues through virtual communications as we go.

  • It is important to remember that if the owners are away or out of the country they may not be easily contactable.

Agreements and House-sitting Challenges

Agree house-sitting details and formalise your agreement

Agree house-sitting details and formalise your agreement

We don’t like to think of house-sitting in adversarial terms, and very rarely do circumstances arise to pit house owner against house-sitter.

Not all house owners are the same  ****   Not all house-sitters are the same

  • What happens if the house-sitter is injured while doing work requested by the owner?
  • What happens if costs to be covered by the house-sitter, skyrocket into something outside the original scope of the agreement?
  • What happens if there is dishonesty or negligence by one of the parties involved?

If things go unexpectedly awry, it is best to have discussed likely eventualities then both parties are prepared for how to handle the situation.

A house-sitter I know, recently had to quit a housesit when they realised that the property owners had misrepresented in photos the glamour of the property—it was neglected, sparsely furnished and with few working appliances”. It was not at all like the advertisement on the house-sitting site that showed old photographs with manicured spaces in an idyllic setting. When they discovered live electric cables strewn about on the rooftop in puddles of water, the “greatest view in the world” began to lose its’ charm. They decided to approach the house-sitting company to report the situation.

  • Authentic photography of the house-sitting property

    – TOP TIP – It is important that the housesit is advertised with authentic and recent photographs to manage expectations, and also to bring the real property and pets to life ahead of the housesit.

A second experience came in the form of a property owner, who didn’t offer expense payments for the pet food. The pet family comprised a dog, several cats, and chickens, with the food costs totaling over a hundred Euros a month. The house-sitters bought the food with their own money. But the understanding had been that the property owner would reimburse them. However, no refunds were given and the sitters had to write it off as a contribution to the property.  They took that personal decision to care for and feed the animals out of their own pocket.

  • Pet foods provision and costs for the housesit duration

    – TOP TIP – Pet foods should be bought ahead of time if possible by the owners, to ensure a consistent quality of food is available, and that sufficient food is provided so the pets don’t go hungry. If the housesit is a long term assignment then funds should be provided to ensure the pets are adequately provided for.

A third reported experience came in the form of a mysterious utility bill. The circumstances were that the house-sitter had agreed to cover the utilities for the house during a long term sit, so that the pipes wouldn’t freeze and the house could stay minimally habitable.  Any House-sitting Guide or experienced sitter would advise the same. The sitter was absent for a period with the owners permission. The utility bill at the end of the peroid showed a huge hike in the price of energy – for the dates he was absent it skyrocketed to over five times the normal rate when the house-sitter was actually living there. The neighbour was in charge while the house-sitter was away, and the weather was always blamed. Yet the house-sitter struggled, because he wanted to be grateful to the neighbour, who was kind enough to check on the house while he was away but was also facing an unexpectedly huge energy bill to pay.

He reasoned, on the one hand, it’s understandable that in a very poor country undergoing a bitterly cold winter with subzero temperatures, the thought of a warm, empty house might be too tempting to resist. Nothing could be proven and there was a bill to pay.

How did the property owner and the house-sitter work it out? Fortunately, they were reasonable and agreed to amicably split the bill in half.

  • Understand seasonal impact and agree about payment of utility bills

TOP TIP – Prepare a house-sitting agreement it is the best way to build trust and understanding. There are times when the house-sitter must think ahead and be prepared. And the best preparation would be clear documentation such as a house-sitting agreement prepared together with the owner before they depart, outlining the agreed responsibilities of each party, anticipating any potential difficulties that might arise. Discuss and plan for the ‘what ifs’.

Being a house-sitter is a very rewarding experience, but it’s important to cover ourselves, and avoid a “my word against their word” scenario. If we accept the responsibility of a house-sit, so too, we should think about the necessary written agreement, so that everyone is in the clear. If the property owner doesn’t have one, then be prepared to write it yourself.

Of course, it’s impossible to anticipate all the circumstances that can happen in a house-sit, so trust and communication are still the key ingredients of a successful house-sit, but it’s also good to manage expectations, and accept our house-sitting assignments with an appropriate degree of caution. We want to walk in with our eyes open, and have a much smoother experience.

House-sitting Guide Top Tip

The HouseSitMatch house-sitting network provides all registered members with House-Sitting Agreements to help you prepare as well as possible for your house-sitting arrangement. The agreements are especially prepared by lawyers sensitive to each partner’s role, to protect both house-sitter and home owner.  When you register you can access these agreements from the MEMBERS ONLY page.

To Register as a Home owner – Follow this link

To Register as a House-sitter – Follow this link

Edward Graham
After working in corporate America as a marketing analyst I decided to travel. I’m Edward, a Brompton cyclist who likes to house-sit in unusual places and more especially the challenge of communicating in different languages. I’ve biked across the Americas, Europe, the Middle East and Asia Minor. I keep going, because stopping isn’t an option. I also work as a language coach, find me on HouseSitMatch: Foldupbiker.

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