You love your pets, but you don’t want them to suffer miserably in a kennel while you enjoy your vacation. So you’ve decided to take a look at the idea of using a house sitter for the first time.
But of course you have concerns. You’ll be letting strangers into your house. How will your beloved pets cope with new people looking after them? What about the security of your home and possessions?
As both home owners (previously) and house sitters (currently) Vanessa and I are familiar with the worries and concerns that arise on both sides of the house sitting equation. We hope our experiences can help you, the home and pet owner, to arrange your first house sit assignment in an efficient and professional manner, making it as stress-free as possible for you, the sitters, and most importantly, your pets.
We have house sat several times for home owners using sitters for the first time, and in every case the owners have enjoyed a positive experience, returning home to happy and well-cared-for pets and a clean and tidy home. Each of our first-time home owners has said that they will be confident to use house sitters again in the future.
First, be assured that most house sit exchanges are smooth and trouble-free. Yes, you may hear the occasional horror story of a house sit gone wrong, but these are few and far between, and in almost all cases could have been avoided by better communication between the home owners and the house sitters.
In a nutshell, communication is the key to a successful and rewarding experience.
There are several steps in the process of securing the right sitter for your property, possessions and pets, and at every one of these steps good communication will help avert any unwanted surprises.
Your first step will be to list your assignment with one of the many house sitting websites. We suggest listing in just one place, as you’re practically guaranteed to get a flood of interest. Listing on multiple sites will only take more time, create more enquiries, and need a good understanding of the different messaging systems each site uses.
If you want to advertise to the biggest international market of house sitters then TrustedHouseSitters.com is definitely the place to list your assignment. You will receive many expressions of interest from all over the world from a wide diversity of people. A lot of these will be highly regarded and very trustworthy sitters who have been helping home owners for a long time.
Trusted House Sitters are international and one disadvantage of this is that in many cases there will be no opportunity to meet the sitters in advance of the assignment. If this is important you’ll need to select house sitters currently house sitting in or close to your local area.
A smaller international house sitting site we have used often with success is HouseCarers.com. The website is nicely laid out and easy to navigate and has an easy-to-use messaging system.
If your property could be classified as “luxury” the LuxuryHouseSitting.com offers a decent high-end service.
For more info on some of the best house sit websites take a look at this article:
Which house sitting website is best?
For the rest of this post we’ll assume you’re using TrustedHouseSitters.com, but the same advice applies to all house sitting websites.
Do a little advance preparation before settling down to create your assignment listing. Gather several photos of your pets and your property. If you’re happy to do so, include a photo of yourselves too. Spend a little time deciding on exactly what you require from your house sitters. Look at several other more comprehensive listings to see what others ask for from their potential sitters.
When outlining your requirements be as thorough and specific as possible. Describe your pets honestly, making sure you detail any possible challenges a sitter might have. Do your pets need special attention? Is administering medication necessary? Are there any behavioural issues? Are your pets shy and timid, or can they be stubborn or aggressive occasionally? Be completely honest and transparent to make sure you get the people best suited to care for you pets.
Show your home in your listing too. After all, this is where the sitters will be living for a period of time. While the pets are probably the most important aspect of the sit for all concerned, the property is important too. Again, be open and honest to avoid misunderstandings.
Many house sit disasters occur when the sitter turns up to find the house is nothing like they imagined, or as the owner described it. Or the pets have all sorts of issues that were never mentioned when the assignment was arranged.
Full and honest disclosure in your listing will prevent misunderstandings and possible disputes or issues later on down the line. As the familiar saying goes, “A picture paints a thousand words.” The more photos you can add to your listing the better.
Also be very clear in your listing about what you expect from the sitters. If your pets can’t be left alone for long periods or overnight, then make this clear. Most professional sitters make a very clear distinction between travelling and house sitting, taking their responsibilities very seriously.
Give plenty of information about the surrounding area and the facilities nearby. If it is a long way to the nearest supermarket make sure you mention this, suggesting that any potential sitter will need their own transport.
Again, you don’t want any surprises. A sitter who turns up at a property without transport, only to find the closest shops are 20km away, has a right to be a little surprised and upset. Make sure you pre-warn your sitters if they need a vehicle or if you live in a remote location.
Your listing is your responsibility, and by being thorough, honest and open, you are already well on the way to a very successful experience.
If you use TrustedHouseSitters.com or any of the other bigger sites don’t be surprised when the applications come rolling in quickly. If you have a desirable offering you will start receiving expressions of interest literally within minutes of posting your advert.
So here is our suggestion. Assign a few hours to dealing with the first influx of enquiries, and keep on top of them as they come in. Don’t post your listing then wait for a couple of days before checking for responses. There is a good chance you will be inundated.
You should quickly be able to select three or four candidates who meet most or all of your requirements. At this point it’s probably a good idea to change your listing to “Reviewing Applicants” to stem the incoming flood. You can always re-open your listing if you don’t find the right sitter from the first batch you select.
First of all weed out all of those who don’t fit your ideal sitter profile. Think of yourself as an employer and the house sitter profiles as resumés or CVs. Keep only those who you wish to consider further. You might be a little spoiled for choice, as there will probably be many people who appear ideal.
Weigh up all the information provided and check out any links given to websites, profiles on other house sit websites, or to social media pages.
Narrow down your applications and make a shortlist of 3 or 4 candidates. At this point you should write to these selected applicants and ask for clarification on any points that arise. Remember again, you are the “employer” and should make sure the sitters you are considering fit your needs as closely as possible.
In most cases we would suggest a face-to-face chat via Skype to get a real feel for anyone you are seriously considering. If the potential sitter happens to be in your local area it might be possible to meet up, but don’t rely on this as an option.
Go with your instincts. Pick someone who you feel good about, and whose profile gives you confidence. Check references, but don’t be put off if people don’t have references on that particular website. Many sitters use several house sitting websites, so references may be available elsewhere. Ask for references if they aren’t readily available.
From your shortlist you should be able to select your preferred sitter pretty quickly. Make your decision, inform the sitter you have chosen, and confirm that you are all happy to go ahead.
In our experience as home owners and house sitters we have generally agreed verbally via Skype or telephone and then confirmed by email. Our email confirmation details all the “terms” of the house sit, dates and any special requirements. We believe it is important that both parties confirm back to each other in writing, so again there is no possibility of a misunderstanding.
We suggest you make your decision as quickly as you can, as sitters often apply for multiple assignments at one time, as they have no guarantees that they will secure a particular assignment. It would be disappointing to deliberate for days, only to find that when you make your short list or final decision that your sitter has accepted an assignment elsewhere.
The best sitters with great profiles and extensive experience do tend to get snapped up quickly.
Once you have a house sitter confirmed then you should notify the unsuccessful applicants. So many home owners avoid this step, as they hate to send bad news to hopeful, and probably very suitable applicants. Don’t shirk this responsibility.
Applying for house sits is a time-consuming task, and those who have expressed interest in helping you out at least deserve the respect of a timely response. There is nothing worse, as a sitter, to wait days, hoping for a positive reply, but hearing nothing. Even a simple copy/paste quick “sorry, but…” message is better than nothing at all.
If you wish you can send the occasional email to your sitters just to check all is still on track. In our initial agreement with any owners we always promise to keep in touch in the run-up to the sit. We also offer a personal guarantee that once we agree to a sit, barring any major catastrophe, we will never EVER let our home owners down. As the home owner you should have the same degree of integrity. Don’t ditch the sitters just because a neighbour or friend offers to do the job instead.
It isn’t unreasonable to ask for proof of travel arrangements from your sitters if they are travelling internationally to look after your pets. We are always happy as sitters to forward copies of flight bookings to confirm our commitment to our promise.
At the time of advertising your profile you should have already considered how long you will need for the handover, and what information you’ll need to pass on to them before you depart.
In the case of a remote property with complicated off-grid systems this might be a day or so. For standard modern homes a couple of hours for handover might suffice.
If your pets suffer from separation anxiety or need complicated medication you might want an extra day so that they become familiar with your house sitters, while you are still there.
Again, this is entirely up to you and what you feel comfortable with. A good sitter will understand your worries and concerns, particularly if this is your first experience with house sitters. They will be happy to accommodate your needs, and will be attentive to your instructions.
All arrangements should be open to discussion between owner and sitter. Do you want them to drive you to the airport? What about pick-up when you return? Can they use the car? If yes, do they need insurance? How long can they be away from the house and pets? Which parts of the house can they use? Are any areas off-limits? Decide all of this in advance and make sure there are no last minute changes to surprise or upset the sitters.
One of the biggest issues that seems to arise on Facebook over and over, is the question of food. Is it OK for them to eat any food left in the fridge? Do you want them to replace what they use? Is the freezer food off limits? Get clear at the outset and you’ll avoid any difficult situations on your return.
It is a very good idea to write or type out a list of all the important info. Where is the water stop-cock and the electrical circuit breaker? Phone numbers for neighbours? The location of the vet? Emergency contact numbers? Your own contact details.
If the sitters have any problems they have an handy-to-refer-to guide on the fridge door, with all the relevant numbers quickly to hand. Again, professional house sitters will often ask you for this information on arrival, but don’t rely on it.
Do you want regular updates? Daily? Weekly? Or just occasionally? Good sitters might send you a photo every now-and-then to assure you that your pets are happy and well cared for. Again, this is up to you. Make sure you are clear about your needs, and that the sitter understands.
While you are away Rule Number One is “Don’t worry!” If you have followed this guide you will have done everything possible to ensure all goes well. And if there is an unforeseen issue while you are away you can be confident in the knowledge that you have responsible and reliable people caring for your pets, who will do their best to solve any problems that arise.
Once again, if you have followed this guide your return home should be happy and easy. Your sitters will have made sure your house is at least as clean and tidy as when you left. In many cases home owners express their delight at the way their home has been looked after. After all, the sitter wants to secure a glowing reference from you, so will do their utmost to ensure you are satisfied with the service they have provided.
If you have received great service from a sitter please be prompt about leaving a review. Not only do you help the sitters, you also provide valuable feedback for future house owners considering the same sitter.
Many home owners and house sitters become good friends, and if mutually agreeable often agree to repeat sits too. Stay in touch. You never know when you or a friend or neighbour will need a great house sitter.
So that’s it. Common sense, good communication and mutual respect will in 99.9% of cases result in a great experience all round.
To find out more about Ian and Vanessa as potential house sitters, and to see a calendar of current availability, please take a look at this page.
Let us know if you are considering a first house sit assignment for your pets.
Or if you have any first sit stories let us know in the comments section below.