The Ultimate Guide to House Sitting Jobs: Part 4 | How to Plan & Have a Great House Sitting Experience
After more than 40 house sitting jobs we’ve picked up several tips and tricks on how to make the house sitting experience a great one, for both us and the homeowner. It starts with a great profile, a well written application, good communication, and continues through the actual house sitting job. Read on to see step by step what we do to try and make every house sit a good one!
Our goal is to have this article be the ultimate house sitting guide and in it we’ll share our secrets, including how to house sit for beginners, the not so glamorous side of house sitting jobs, and how to score the best house sitting jobs among high competition! To fit in so much information we’ve made it a multi-part series, so don’t miss any of it!
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How to Have Great House Sitting Experiences
Naturally, you want to have a great house sit, and so does the homeowner. Therefore, we recommend thinking of your relationship with the homeowner as a partnership, as you’re both in it with the same end goal.
Tip: The house sit experience begins the moment you send your initial application and continues until you hand the house keys back to the homeowner.
Throughout each step of a house sitting job there are several proactive things you can do to ensure everything goes well.
All of the effort, time, and precautions you’ve put in ahead of time will begin to pay off. This is where you get to enjoy the home, the pet(s), and the location, but there’s also work to be done.
Beyond the obvious care for the pet(s) and home, be sure to take the following tips into consideration for a great house sit experience.
Strengthen Communication and Build Trust with Homeowners
Good communication is the first and primary step to showing the homeowner that you can be trusted. In our opinion, it’s much more than simply ‘chatting’ with them.
Here are a few pointers for excellent communication that ultimately earns trust:
Timely and Prompt Communication
Timely and prompt communication shows the homeowner that you’ll be available and easy to get a hold of throughout the house sit. For example, in New York City, we had a homeowner choose us instead of another sitter because we always responded to her messages in a reasonable amount of time.
Professional Communication and Tone
Professional communication conveys your level of responsibility and respect. We suggest communicating professionally by avoiding profanity and using proper grammar and sentence structure. What’s the old adage? … ‘Dress for success’!
Consider Your Audience
Using slang and emoticons is a personal preference. However, remember that the impression it leaves with a homeowner will vary depending on their personal biases.
Clear and Concise Communication
By being direct, clear, and thorough, there will be less room for a misunderstanding. More often than not, sticky and uncomfortable situations can be avoided with good communication!
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Ask for a House Sitting Guide / Manual
Once you and the homeowner have agreed that it’s a good match, it’s time to celebrate!
This is also a good time to ask the homeowner key questions that will prepare you for the upcoming house sitting job.
As we’ve mentioned before, we use Trusted House Sitters because among its many features they provide the ability for a homeowner to create a ‘Welcome Guide’.
The Welcome Guide is where a homeowner can provide specifics about their home and pets along with sit calendar reminders (e.g. taking out the trash) and pictures. We love it because it’s located on our Sitter Dashboard on the Trusted House Sitter website or mobile application. It’s also helpful for homeowners because they can re-use it, update it, and share it with future house sitters.
Ask Additional House Sitting Questions as Needed
Unfortunately, even the best Welcome Guides don’t include all of the information we like to have on hand. Therefore, just as we ask questions before committing to a house sitting job, we also have questions we ask before arriving.
Here are a few things to consider putting on your own list of ‘pre-arrival’ questions:
What’s your travel itinerary? This is good to know not only in case of emergencies, but it also helps plan your arrival and departure times from the house sitting job. We prefer having a day or two of overlap for the best hand-off on both departure and arrival.
What’s the best way to contact you, email, text, phone calls, etc?
In case of emergency, whom should we contact, assuming we can’t get a hold of you?
Is there a payment account on file with the veterinarian?
If there’s an emergency and the home needs to be evacuated, what precious items should we attempt to remove from the home? Naturally our personal safety and the safety of your pet(s) are primary.
If you have home or renter’s insurance, what’s your policy number?
In case of emergency or service interruption to a utility (e.g. gas, electricity, water) what’s the corresponding account information?
In case of a major storm, do you have special instructions we should follow to protect ourselves, your pet(s), and your home?
House Sitting Arrival and Departure Schedule
Arriving before the homeowners depart and leaving after they return home is, in our opinion, a best practice when house sitting.
We take this a step further and when possible arrive a day early and stay a day after. On the front end it allows the homeowner plenty of time to pack and prepare for their departure without needing to squeeze in time at the last minute to give us a thorough handover and walk through. It also helps ease the introduction to their pets, since we’ll be together for about a day before the owners depart.
On the back end, it takes off the pressure of the homeowner needing to come home by a certain time to meet us on our last day. Plus, both arriving a day early and departing a day later allows us more flexibility in landing and takeoff times if flying, which can sometimes save hundreds of dollars (or thousands of award miles).
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Walk-Through of the Home and House Sitting Responsibilities
After arriving to a home, meeting the homeowner, family, and pet(s), we always do a walk-through with the homeowner. This includes a tour of the home and also a visual and hands on walk-through of their daily routine.
While the homeowners have given us a Welcome Guide with all the pertinent details of caring for their home and pets, there’s nothing like an in-person, hands-on walk-through. The goal is to fully understand everything about living in and caring for the home, as well as caring for their pet(s). We try to avoid leaving things to chance or having to figure out something the ‘hard way’ if we don’t have to.
Here are some examples of the major points you’ll want to go through with the homeowner:
The pet(s) routine: feeding, walking, restroom, and sleeping.
Cleaning routine: where, when, how, and cleaning supply locations.
Using an alarm and securing their home.
Using appliances, like the stove, oven, washer, dryer, etc.
Bringing in the mail and handling possible packages and deliveries.
Outside maintenance: lawn care, pool care, picking up after pets, watering, etc.
Location of the water main and breaker box in case of emergency.
Trash and recycle routine.
To ensure that all of the details have been covered during the walk-through with the homeowner, we keep a set of questions handy (on our cell phone). Most of these questions are typically covered during the tour of the house and walk through of their daily routines, but to make sure nothing is overlooked we reference our list as needed:
Are there any oddities or unique things about your home? For example, a window or door that is difficult to open/shut, a toilet that sometimes continues to run, light switches that shouldn’t be turned off, etc.
Where are the best places to walk your pet(s)?
Are you expecting mail or package deliveries?
Should we expect any service people to arrive (house cleaning, window cleaning, lawn care, etc.)? If so, what days and times will they arrive and has their payment been prepaid?
Will there be petty cash on hand if we run out of necessities (pet food, liter, treats, or household consumables like cleaning supplies and toilet paper)?
Is there a home telephone and should we answer it?
What should we tell visitors and callers about your whereabouts?
What plants should we water and how often?
Where do you keep the registration and insurance information for your vehicle (if they’re leaving a car for our use)?
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Send Text, Picture, and Video Updates
As house sitters, our goal is to enable the homeowner to have a worry-free time away from home. So, we never want them to be left wondering how their home and pet(s) are doing.
We stay in touch throughout the house sit by sending text, picture, and video updates (we use Signal Messenger). Ultimately, how often depends on your style and the homeowners expressed preferences. However, we do our best to go above and beyond and send frequent updates.
Handling House Sitting Emergencies
No matter how much you plan, unfortunately emergencies will happen, so you need to be prepared!
The key is to communicate promptly with any emergencies that arise. This will allow the homeowner to help by letting you know what actions to take and you can in turn reassure them that you have everything under control.
When you’re facing an emergency or urgent matter, be sure to stay calm and take any immediate action that will relieve or help the situation.
We’re thankful to have only had a couple of emergency situations. We kept calm, immediately contacted the homeowner, and sent pictures and video. In both cases neither cat (Seth in Chicago or G-Funk in Oslo) needed to go to the veterinarian and they improved with care and time.
On the other hand, we’ve had several situations that we just weren’t sure about. Like a dog (Ciara) that threw up several times, a dog (Molly) with several lumps on her torso, and a cat (Laszlo) that sneezed constantly.
These could have been urgent health conditions, so we were sure to contact the owners right away for guidance.
We were able to pin point why Ciara was throwing up (gulping way too much water at a time), the owner settled our worries by letting us know that they knew about Molly’s lumps and that they were benign, and Laszlo simply had really bad allergies.
Handling House Sitting Accidents
Accidents happen and most homeowners will understand if something is broken or damaged on your watch. Remember, don’t try to hide something and instead be upfront. We always do our best to repair or replace anything we break or damage.
For example, we’ve broken a spatula handle, a shower head, a broom, a few dishes, a weather thermometer wire, and probably a few other odds and ends we don’t remember. However, we’ve always let the homeowner know and replaced or repaired it.
House Sitting Day to Day Responsibilities, Duties, and Pet Care
We think it should go without saying that once you’ve committed to a house sit and all expectations, responsibilities, and duties have been agreed upon, it should be your utmost priority to follow through, complete the house sitting job and do everything you’ve agreed to do.
After more then 40 house sits we’ve only ‘canceled’ once* and have always fulfilled our house sitting responsibilities.
This doesn’t mean that we haven’t arrived to less than ideal situations, had schedules change on us, or simply not enjoyed the area or even the pets. But it’s important to us that we fulfill our obligations and still exceed all expectations of the homeowner. Having gratitude for the opportunity and adjusting your perspective can dramatically increase the ease of a house sit that has its rough edges.
*We agreed to a house sit in Eastern Europe nearly six-months in advance and that ended up conflicting with an unexpected and too good to pass up job opportunity for Shannon in New York City. We notified the homeowners as soon as possible (3.5 months prior to the house sit) and offered for Sergio to complete the house sit on his own, so technically we wouldn’t have canceled.
The homeowners agreed to re-list the house sit and thankfully found another sitter to take over for us. If they hadn’t found a replacement sitter, we’d have kept to our word and our commitment and completed the house sitting job.
No matter how great a house sitting opportunity may be, it will still come with responsibility, duties, and care for animals.
Here are a few things to keep in mind when doing a house sitting job:
Playtime and cuddles with pets are incredibly important throughout the sit. In particular you’ll want to keep in mind that the owners’ departure and your arrival amount to a stressful event for their pet(s). We combat this with extra love, calmness, and patience to help even the most anxious pets warm up to us.
Sticking to the pets routine may or may not be an expectation of the homeowner, but it will help the animals adjust more easily to you as their new temporary caregiver.
Every animal is different, so give them time to show you who they are and what they like.
Giving treats is a great way to ‘win-over’ many pets. However, be mindful of dietary restrictions.
If paws get dirty on a walk or during playtime, be sure to wipe them before entering the house.
It’s a good idea to keep the home in a tidy and clean condition throughout the house sit. This way, you prevent any damage due to negligence and it will probably be more likely not to have to do a deep-cleaning before the homeowner returns.
Be kind to neighbors and be aware of the noise you make.
Be extra careful with things in the home, like antiques, dishes, wall hangings, etc.
Often times homeowners welcome you into their home and tell you to help yourself to whatever you need. Of course, do so but be mindful of what you consume (alcohol, food, toiletries) and replace things if needed.
If the homeowner is extending the use of their car, be sure to fill up the tank and possibly wash it for their return.
While it makes sense to move a table, a chair, or another piece of furniture, be sure to put it back where you found it.
Having a good house sitting experience is critical, otherwise why do it?
It’s in our nature to make choices and take actions to ensure that we make the most out of life, including house sitting. We’re not ones to leave it to chance, so we do what we can to try and create a successful house sitting experience every time.
And while we can’t control everything and have run across many unexpected situations, we attribute our preparation and process to be a major part of our enjoying each house sitting experience we have.