House Sitting – Everything You Need to Know

house sitting garden

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For many people, leaving home and pets for a holiday can be traumatic and may even result in them staying home to avoid the hassle. Using a registered house and pet sitter can be the perfect compromise. Your home and furry family are looked after while you have an an adventure safe in the knowledge that everything at home is looked after.
Finding a house and pet sitter doesn’t need to be complicated and this guide will help you find a good match for your home and family.

Why use a house and pet sitter?

As a pet owner, one of the hardest decisions you’ll make when taking a trip away from home, is how to get your pets cared for and loved just as much as you do.

Of course you can take your furry kids off to the kennels or cattery, but don’t you just hate that pang of guilt as you see their confused faces looking out at you as you leave them in a strange new place? Wouldn’t it be so much better if you could leave them at home, following their normal routines, with pet lovers just like you, who will make sure they stay happy at home while you’re away?

This is the perfect scenario for using an experienced house and pet sitter – a single person or a couple who will come and stay in your home and keep your pets exercised, fed and loved for the duration of the house sitting assignment.

It doesn’t matter if you’re away for a short business trip, a long weekend, an annual vacation or for extended overseas travel, house sitters can provide the reassurance you need that your pets and your home will be looked after just as if you were still there.

And that’s the added bonus of using the services of a house sitter. Not only will your pets be cared for and loved, but your home and garden will also benefit from having someone stay. It’s a well documented fact that having someone in your home while you are away will deter theft and break-ins. Systems remain used and maintained, especially important in winter months, so the possibility of frozen pipes, leaks or storm damage are minimised. There’s someone to hand to keep everything running smoothly. This is something many insurance companies are happy to endorse, and in some countries it is now a requirement on your policy for long absences.

And honestly, what’s nicer than returning from a long trip away, to your home, nicely warmed, clean and with your pets waiting eagerly to greet you?

cat sitting in grass in garden

What services do you need?

With all this in mind, it’s important to think about what help you really need. There are many different types of house sitters all with very different levels of experience, so determining your needs from the outset will help you find the best sitter for your circumstances.

Here are some things to think about:

  • How much exercise do your pets need?
  • What are their feeding routines?
  • How much time do you normally spend with them each day?
  • How long can they be left alone?
  • Do they have any special requirements – medications or senior care
  • Are your dogs well socialized with other humans and other dogs
  • Would the house sitters need a car to exercise dogs?
  • How much work is needed around the home and garden?
  • Do you need someone with a green finger for lots of indoor plants?
  • Do you need solar or other off-grid maintenance?
  • Is there a pool to be maintained?
  • Can you provide a clean and comfortable room for sitters to stay in?
  • Can you trust everything will be OK without micro-managing from afar?

Simply put, you are going to be looking for someone who can step into your shoes and keep the home running smoothly, and who the pets are comfortable with.

So much about finding the best house sitters for you, is about finding like-minds – others who would do the same as you when put to the test.

Paid or unpaid sitters – which is best for you?

There are two different types of house sitting service available – paid sitters who charge for their services, or unpaid sitters who work on the basis of a trust and value exchange. In the latter instance, the exchange involves you providing a safe, comfortable accommodation space in return for pet care services.  For international house sitters, who can’t get work visas, this has become the house sitting option of choice.

Why would an owner pick an unpaid sitter?

The dynamic is very different. Your house sitter is likely to be someone just like you, who loves travel and for whatever reason, isn’t able to have their own pets with them anymore. But despite this they still LOVE having pets around to share their experiences.

When money doesn’t pass hands it’s quite different. You are entering into an exchange, a “contract” based on trust, and in many cases you’ll find you will build new and wonderful friendships with the people who come to stay at your home.

But not everyone is comfortable with this arrangement. For others, they would prefer, and are often more reassured by choosing someone who runs a business offering pet care and house sit services for a fee. This is often a much more local arrangement and you’ll find many small businesses offering rates for overnight stays, drop-ins or for hosting pets at their own home.

As a registered business they are also more likely to be able to provide liability insurance. There are some large websites where you can find paid sitters, but often a quick search locally will uncover small businesses. 

Both are valid, safe ways to use house sitters – it really comes down to personal choice.

garden tree for house sit

Finding an experienced sitter

One thing most sitters will agree on is that the best place to find an experienced house sitter, paid or unpaid, is through a reputable website or platform. This may involve an annual subscription, but in many cases it is the sitter who is charged, not the home and pet owner. There are one or two exceptions to this on the much larger, professional sites where both are charged.

The reason this works so well is that members are vetted in terms of an ID check before joining. On some sites you can find sitters who have also been police checked. Most importantly you’ll find people with professional profiles and a series of reviews or testimonials from their past house sit assignments.

One site to try is Trusted House Sitters, they may be more expensive than some of the others, but it is worth paying a little bit more.

Still unsure?

Once you’ve found a verified sitter with great references, there are a few more actions you can take to minimise anything going wrong.

  • Ask for the email or phone number of one or two references for an informal chat
  • If sitters are local, invite them round to meet your pets before deciding
  • At the very least, conduct a Skype, Zoom or other type of video chat to make sure expectations will be met by all parties
  • Trust your gut … if something doesn’t feel right, keep looking
  • If using a paid service ask for a copy of their terms of business

Remember, at the end of the day it really is good honest communication that will ensure a good match.  Don’t tell the sitters your dog is well socialised if he isn’t. Don’t assume everyone can care for horses beyond changing a rug and putting out hay. If you have a property that’s off-grid, quirky, or with an Aga or wood burners, check your sitters have the experience needed to deal with emergencies.

Whenever we hear about a sit gone wrong, it’s usually because the owners have been less than honest about the behaviours of the pets, ease of caring for them and the property, or the cleanliness of the home. For sitters, they might not have acknowledged that they’ve taken on more than they are able to cope with.

What questions should you ask?

If a sitter has a good, well written profile that details their home and pet care experience, a lot of your questions will be answered. And during a video chat, you’ll find much will be dealt with naturally as you chat.

But it’s still a good idea to have a list of the important questions, and take time for a quick review at the end of the “interview” – if you’ve missed anything, now’s the chance to ask.

As well as you being clear about what you expect from your sitters, you’ll find that asking plenty of open questions will ensure you get the best sitters for your needs.

If you are stumped for what to ask, here are some questions you could adapt to your particular circumstances:

  • How did you get into house sitting?
  • What made you want to provide this as a service?
  • Have you owned or maintained a house like ours before?
  • Are you familiar with our country’s culture, climate, extreme weather?
  • Do you speak the local language – could you get by in an emergency?
  • Are you financially secure?
  • What experience do you have with our breed of pet?
  • What’s your own pet ownership experience?
  • Is there anything about house sitting that you don’t enjoy?
  • How much time do you expect to spend providing company for my pets?
  • Do you have a vehicle or have you explored public transport options?
  • Some owners leave an insured vehicle for sitters – ask if they have a licence, any endorsements, and if they are comfortable driving your vehicle (some are not)
  • What would you do if my cat didn’t come home overnight?
  • How clean and tidy do you consider yourselves on a scale of 1 to 10?
  • What are your priorities when house sitting?
  • How can we make this the most enjoyable experience for you?
  • Are you good with indoor / outdoor plants?
  • Do you mind if our cleaner continues to attend during the sit?
  • We have a burglar alarm, door camera, outdoor security cameras – is this a problem?
  • Would you be happy to come the day before for a handover to spend time familiarising yourself with our pet and home routines? (in this instance it’s good to offer a meal ).

How to make this a great experience for everyone

When sitters start applying to your advertisement, keep them updated throughout the selection process. When you feel you have enough applicants, pause the advert, otherwise you’ll never stop looking and potentially lose some of the best sitters available.

Pick your top 3 and get back to them to see if they are still interested. Arrange a mutually convenient video chat or in-person interview. Let other candidates know you are currently reviewing applications. If one of your short-listed sitters doesn’t respond, has already found a sit, or withdraws, select another from your wait list.

Don’t take long at this stage… set up the interviews quickly, whether online or in person. Remember sitters are potentially looking at other options, you might not be the only person to whom they’ve applied.

Once you have had the interviews, checked the references, made your decision, and confirmed all the details, be quick to let everyone else know you’ve selected a sitter and thank them for applying.

Experienced home owners usually have some sort of home book, welcome guide or pet information. Send this out by email so that your sitters can read through before the handover and ask any additional questions in plenty of time. There is a lot of information to take in during a handover, and if you are travelling you’ll likely be busy packing, and it’s easy to forget something.

Most importantly make sure you both keep each other informed of any changes to travel plans, especially now during the Covid pandemic when travel can easily be affected.

Don’t forget to make your house sitter’s accommodation space welcoming and comfortable. Some wardrobe and drawer space, clean pillows and bed linen, and maybe a small treat – a bottle of wine or local foodie treats usually go down well – it’s just a little something to make them feel appreciated, especially if you are choosing the option of value exchange over payment.

If you follow all this advice, your first sit should go smoothly and you’ll find yourself hooked. There’s nothing better than returning home to happy, contented pets who have been loved and cared for during your absence.

About the Authors

Vanessa & her partner Ian are full-time British travellers and house sitters who published the online publication House Sitting Magazine.  They provide numerous resources for the community as they continue their explorations and slow travel adventures across the globe.

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