House Sitting – How It Works

tightly closed rhododendron bud

Photo Theme here is Buds to Blossoms

We field many questions about house sitting; what it’s like, what’s involved, do you like it, how do you find house sits? Here, though distilled, are tidbits we think are relevant and important to share.

Others have been at this longer and might say more or say it better. All respect. We’re new enough to remember the crucial first lessons learned and, having completed over 70 house sits, (updated 8/11/17) experienced enough to have something worth sharing. 

tightly closed rhododendron bud

These are all rhododendrons

A Short Intro to House Sitting

You’re probably familiar with informal house sitting: we’ve all done it one way or the other. Your friend is going out-of-town and asks if you would stay a week and care for her pets and home.

Or, you’re planning a trip, and somehow you convince a nephew to skip the Coachella Festival this year and help you out. It can work well for someone who wants to house sit occasionally or for a homeowner who travels sporadically and has friends who like to house sit.

rhododendron bud starting to open

There are so many variations

However, if house sitting full-time is the goal, as it is for us, you can’t wait around for your friends or Aunt Edna to call: no one has that many friends or that much family. 

Those requests don’t come around often, and when they do, schedules and locations often don’t align. Expanding access to house sits beyond those of friends and family is crucial for full-time house sitters.

All these photos were taken in Oregon and Washington

Amateur to Professional

Homeowners that often travel might have difficulty finding friends willing and able to care for their home and pets. Access to a broad pool of available and qualified house sitters is very beneficial for homeowners.

As we took our first steps into the house-sitting world, we found there’s a busy marketplace out there hooking up interested homeowners and house sitters! Like so much these days it’s all done on the internet via house sitting websites.

rhododendrons getting color

This one is massive and not enlarged

House Sitting Around the World

In the past decade or so, these sites cropped up to fill a need that many of us didn’t know existed. It is an organized procedure with some similarities to job posting/application websites, and it is highly successful in its little niche. 

If one wants to travel the world, spend a good amount of time in a place living like a local, and save a bundle of money on hotels, then signing up with a few house-sitting websites could be the answer for house sitters. (Read our post on the websites by clicking here.)

rhododendrons getting color

Just beginning to open

Homeowners who don’t want to board their pets and prefer to have someone present in their home during their absence can also benefit from using these websites. Neighbors appreciate this and insurance companies often require it. Also, house plants and gardens will get the attention they might need.

rhododendrons getting color

More and more color

There Must be a Catch!

Aunt Edna might leave a couple of twenty dollar bills on the table for a nephew who watches her cats, but that’s not how it works on these websites. They describe the relationship between homeowner and house sitter as mutually beneficial, with no money exchanged.

There is no employer/employee relationship or commercial contract as there would be if this were a business arrangement. There are a few homeowners who want a refundable deposit or ask that the house sitter pays some part of the utilities for longer house sits; all of that is negotiable but not common practice.

rhododendrons starting to open

With a lot of rain and a little sun

Becoming a House Sitter – Step 1 and 2

1. Choose which house-sitting websites to join – there are many sites, and depending on where you want to go, some are better than others. A few of them concentrate in only one country, others in Europe or Australia and some have listings all over the world.

2. Pay the membership fee – it ranges from about $20 US to $200 annually. Some sites offer discounts for referrals. Check each site individually for this.

rhododendrons starting to open

Things start happening

Steps 3 and 4

3. Write a personal profile – it should include all relevant experience and the personality traits that make you a good pet and house sitter. Your profile is the perfect place to express your love for animals, your responsible nature, and your maturity in handling difficult issues that may arise in the homeowners’ absence.

It is a serious responsibility taking care of someone’s home and their beloved pets: make it clear you understand this. (Not that it’s perfect, but here’s a link to ours

rhododendrons starting to open

A little patience is all it takes

Becoming a House Sitter – Steps 4 and 5

4. Add some great photographs of yourself, maybe some with animals, if you have them. Each website has limits on the number and size of photos that you can upload, so be sure to check. You can also add a video to help potential homeowners get a better sense of who you are. We can’t help here as we haven’t done a video.

5. Add house sitting references – If you haven’t had a house sit, how do you add references from homeowners? Well, ask friends, co-workers, etc., for character references. 

rhododendrons opening

A beautiful sight

The Last Two Steps

6. Get background checks – This seems paramount on paper but not so much in reality. However, will do a full background check on you for about $100. There are probably other companies, but that’s the one we used. (No endorsement here, just a fact.)

7. Start scouring the websites for new listings and apply to the ones that match your particular situation. If you are flexible with travel dates, you will find more opportunities. We’ve found that house sits can last anywhere from one day to two years: there is something for everyone!

Often homeowners get many responses, and it can take a while for them to consider all the applications and decide which ones meet their needs or at least which house sitters to respond to for further communication. Patience is key!

rhododendrons opening

We have our first flower

For Homeowners

The process is similar for homeowners who want to find someone to stay in their home during their absence. They choose which sites to join and sign up (most are free for owners.) 

Instead of writing a profile about themselves they write a description of their home, animals, and their travel dates. Many homeowners add photographs of their house and pets, which is helpful to potential house sitters. 

House sitters reply quickly to postings they think are a match for them. Then it is for the homeowner to respond to all the applicants they think might be a match.

At that point, the real dialogue takes place. Both parties need to ask many questions to decide if it is the right fit. (You can find our post on working together here.) If a visit is possible, that is even better, but at least a phone or Skype conversation usually occurs.

rhododendrons fully open

Then it starts in earnest

House Sitting Agreements

Once there’s an agreement, it’s time to shift to the details involved. All the websites have sample ‘House Sitting Agreements’ or ‘Contracts’ that you can download and use as is or alter.

It seems that some homeowners love the contract, and others wouldn’t dream of putting a contract into the mix. A lot of this depends on the length of the sit. In any case, get familiar with the standard contracts as they bring up important issues. 

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Stunning, right!

House Sitting Instructions

In our experience, most homeowners have written instructions about the house and the pets. It can be anything from a few emergency phone numbers to binders with the warranties and repair records of all major appliances.

The instructions need to cover pet care, routines, feeding, medications, and vet information. Also, the house care: trash day, cleaning supplies, mailbox key, etc. You’ll need to understand everything from house keys to alarm codes, Wi-Fi to watering schedules. 

rhododendrons fully open

I love these flowers

The House Sit Begins

Before the homeowners leave, confirm when and how best to stay in touch. That’s a critical element: make sure it’s in place. 

House sitting is a bit strange: you meet someone for the first time, spend a few minutes together, then off they go, and you’re moving into their house. You are to stand in for them with everything that’s needed for or can happen to a home and pets. Things usually go well. But it’s quickly apparent how much of house sitting depends on trust. Do whatever you can to build that trust. 

After all those preliminaries, it’s time for the fun part, the house sitting, or, for owners, the travel. House sitting lets you go to new places, take care of great animals and settle into lovely homes. It can be a kick, and why not? Good luck!

What’s Next – Our first house sit!

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