What is Housesitting?
Housesitting is taking care of someone else’s house – and most likely pets – while the owner is away.
It can range from a night or two through a couple of weeks to a few months and beyond. Some friends of mine did a housesit for friends of theirs for over two years while they were relocated due to work.
While many people considering housesitting are attracted to the promise of living in fabulous homes in fantastic destinations, the reality can be quite different. Housesitting is first and foremost providing a service to your clients rather than them giving you a free or cheap holiday.
If you approach housesitting from this perspective you are much more likely to:
- be given the assignments you apply for
- have housesits that go well
- be invited back to housesit again
What Housesitting Is
Loving and caring for your client’s pets as if they were your own
The vast majority of people looking to use a housesitter are doing so because they want their pets to live in their own home while the owners are away. So if you are considering a life as a housesitter, bear in mind that most assignments involve caring for one or more pets. If you aren’t an animal love, housesitting may not be for you.
Keeping the house clean, tidy and secure
Everyone’s definition of clean and tidy is going to be different. The key here is maintaining ‘clean and tidy’ at at least the level it is at when you arrive at the property. Nobody minds coming home to a cleaner and tidier house (as long as you haven’t been overzealous and starting throwing away their stuff!) but very few clients will be happy returning home to find they have to clean up after you before they can feel at home again.
Keeping the house secure can range from simply having the house looking ‘lived in’ – lights on at night, curtains opening and closing – to battening down the hatches when bad weather is forecast and inspecting for damage afterwards. And of course there are obvious things like making sure doors and windows are locked when you go out.
Taking care of the gardens
Unless you are housesitting in a city centre apartment, there’s a likelihood that you will be required to take care of some sort of outdoor space.
It could be as simple as watering a few pots and pulling out the odd weed, but you could be expected to maintain huge lawns and/or a swimming pool.
It is important when you are applying for a housesit that you be realistic about what time and effort will be needed to maintain the gardens. Just as clients don’t want to return to a dirty house, they also don’t want to return to an overgrown garden and lots of work to get it back in shape.
If you aren’t a keen gardener or have limited capacity for physical work, don’t commit to housesits where there are huge gardens, extensive shrubbery or other items needing lots of effort.
Keeping the client informed
A huge part of your housesitting responsibilities is ensuring the client has complete peace of mind while they are away, and the best way of achieving this is by being a great communicator. Getting the balance right, being a good judge of what and when to inform the client are all important.
What Housesitting Is Not
Getting free or cheap holidays by using someone else’s house like a hotel
Housesitting is a relatively new concept – or rather it has had a rapid proliferation from its informal beginnings where you might ask a friend to stay while you were away.
Unfortunately, in my opinion, there has been too much focus on the lifestyle benefits for housesitters and too little focus on the responsibilities and fact that while it is largely “unpaid”, a housesitter should be offering and providing a professional service.
This has led to misunderstandings and nightmare experiences for clients which have put them off booking a housesitter again -and as bad news always travels faster – could be having a knock on effect to discourage other would-be client from advertising for a housesitter in the first place.
Any new industry goes through a ‘wild west’ phase before inevitably maturing and some sense of law and order being established. While I am against any form of regulation – the whole point of being a housesitter is to step outside the constraints of a conventional lifestyle – I do think the feedback systems in most housesitting sites will start to sort the wheat from the chaff. Those who present themselves in a professional manner in their profiles, supported by glowing references from satisfied clients will naturally be more likely to be selected. I just hope that it doesn’t prevent newcomers who are approaching housesitting with the right attitude from landing their first few assignments.
Using someone’s home as a base for your sightseeing and leaving their pets alone for hours at a time
As I’ve already mentioned, the vast majority of housesitting assignments involve pet care. While you may have applied for a housesit because you are interested in that particular part of the world, it is important to remember that the needs of the pet(s) come before your own desires to sightsee.
While staying at home with a housesitter is preferable to being left in a kennel or cattery, it is still a stressful time for pets. Mum and Dad are away and there’s a stranger or two wandering about the place. The last thing a stressed pet needs is being left alone wondering if even those strangers have abandoned them.
That’s not to say that you can’t leave the house, but it is important to remember you are first and foremost providing a service and only after that having a holiday of sorts.
Living rent-free in a house and making it your home instead of the client’s
While most clients will tell you to ‘make yourself at home’ – this does not mean you have carte blanche to turn their house into your home.
We all live in slightly different ways and depending on the duration of the assignment you might find it easier to move the odd thing about. But no client wants to come home and find you have completely reorganised their home (unless of course they’ve asked you to, which happened to me on a recent assignment!).
That’s not to say you should be permanently living out of a suitcase or walking round on eggshells, but just remember who really lives there!
Being used as unpaid labour
Bad experiences are just on one side of the housesitting equation. There have been several incidents where housesitters arrived to find duties expected of them that were above and beyond what they’d been told, what they were expecting and what they should have been asked to do. Acting as a host for visiting friends and relatives, being expected to look after teenage children staying behind, finding you are expected to run an AirBNB operation.
So while there are housesitters whose attitude is all wrong, there are also homeowners who think that booking a housesitter gets them out of paying for manual labourers, cleaners, housekeepers and the like. Fortunately, they often give themselves away in their adverts and savvy housesitters know which assignments to avoid. Where they manage to slip through the net, the grapevine soon kicks in and housesitters generally share intelligence in various forums and Facebook groups to warn their comrades of the rogue clients.
I hope this article has helped you get a better understanding of housesitting and that if it is a path you are considering, you will be able to step onto it with the right mindset so that your housesitting adventure is an enjoyable one.