Tips for Finding a Great House or Pet Sitter
Homeowners with pets, especially large dogs and livestock, know it’s almost impossible to find a house or pet sitter, especially one that can be trusted alone in your home. Most homeowners look for local sitters, the high school kid next door, or the retired couple down the street. But are those really your best or only options?
“Maybe,” say Betsy and Pete Wuebker, “It depends on the homeowner.” For those with more expensive homes, assets, and precious pets, a better option is a professional sitter.
The Wuebkers have two lifetimes of homeownership themselves, including twenty years in Minnesota and a few years in Hawaii. They stepped into pet sitting slowly, testing the waters before becoming seasoned pros with more than 18 homes on their resume. With one sitting assignment on Kauai, one in Fiji (which they were invited back to two more times), two in Australia, one in the UK, two in Belgium, one in Germany, one in China, five in the US, and one in Panama. With two upcoming sessions in Panama and one in the US lined up for 2018, they’re seeing the world and making a living.
“By 2018, we’ll have done about 20 sits. Most of these have been for terms longer than a month,” Betsy said.
Both have gardening experience, and Pete’s a pretty handy guy with maintenance and other basic plumbing and electrical knowledge. The couple combines photography and a travel blog with their house and pet sitting. Many of their tips for becoming a house sitter also provide insights on what you, the homeowner should do to attract the best sitters as well.
“First off,” Betsy said, “homeowners should be aware that there are two types of house sitters: those who accept pay, and those who provide the service in exchange for accommodations. The arrangements have different considerations, much like those you would consider for a household employee or independent contractor, as opposed to a friend or acquaintance who is helping you out. If the sitter is coming from abroad, there are visa and immigration issues pertaining to work performed in whatever country you reside, as well.”
Decide if you want to swap out sitting in exchange for accommodations, or pay someone to take care of specific work before you start looking. Not all sitters are willing to do both, and new sitters may not even know much more than the homeowners. In those cases, the couple urges homeowners to go to the experts.
“Go to established house sitting platforms,” Betsy said. “Those sites will allow sitters and homeowners alike to post profiles and availability, and provide a means to check references and even provide security clearances at varying levels for greater peace of mind. There are regional-specific platforms, and platforms which advertise available sitters in many different countries.”
If you’re looking to offer your home in exchange for accommodations, rest assured that a couple of cots or a sagging bed in a crowded guestroom or an aging, musty RV on your property might not be the great deal you think they are for guests.
- Honestly assess your circumstances: is there a clean, comfortable place for the sitter to stay with necessities such as speedy Wi-Fi (many sitters work online), proximity and transportation to shopping and restaurants?
- Have photos of your property, including accommodations, your pets and other pertinent info available for potential sitters. Ask for photos of the sitter or sitters as well.
- Ask yourself: Are the household systems typical or might there be special amenities requiring experience and certain skills (pool maintenance, off-grid power, remote location, extreme weather events) your sitter will need to be aware of?
- Be honest about your pets if you’re looking for a pet sitter. What are the needs and routines of the pet(s)? Sometimes homeowners, who are used to routines – particularly those involving multiple animals – underestimate the amount of work it takes to keep things running well. Pets get used to a routine and expect it. They can’t tell you what they want, so it’s up to the homeowner to write it all down and to be available when and where possible for questions your sitter might have. Email, text, or Skype are good.
- How realistic are your expectations? Discuss things like special duties, such as Airbnb guest management, heavy garden or farm work, deferred maintenance on the home, etc, which are not technically within the scope of a house sitter per se, before your sitter agrees to the arrangement.
- Homeowner and auto insurance comes into play when you have someone staying at your property. At the very least you want to see some sort of proof of identification, particularly if you are allowing the sitter to use your vehicle.
- Check references. References are very important. Check them out. Don’t just take them for granted because they were provided. You want to be able to follow up on a sitter’s references either within the online platform as part of the vetting process or using personal contact. Good sits and sitters can also come recommended by a previous sitter via referral. The longer a good house sitter does this, the greater chance that most of their sits are coming via repeat or referral.
“Good house sitters take their responsibilities seriously. It’s not a vacation,” Betsy said. “The very first day of our international house-sitting career found us fighting a bushfire which threatened the property. On a repeat sit at the same location, we were on site during a category 5 cyclone. We know other sitters who have dealt with major pest infestations, destructive storm damage, and injuries from aggressive pets.”
Take time to check with friends and neighbors for references as well. That high school kid, retired couple, or friend from another community you know may be the perfect fit. Don’t assume. Take the time to check references, and to get to know the person or sitter before inviting them into your home. While there are great independent sitters out there, finding a trusted, well-respected service can offer the relief of knowing your home and pet(s) are taken care of.