Wondering how to be a great house sitter? Here are useful tips, pros and cons of house sitting which you should find helpful in deciding if it’s right for you. And even if you’re already doing house sitting, you never know, you may just discover something new or come across a useful reminder in this article.
At House and Home Sitters most of our sitters across the UK are either retired folk or they work from home so their location is irrelevant as long as they have Wi-Fi. Some are writers, others school teachers who only do house sitting during their school holidays. We only operate in the UK, so cannot help you if you’re seeking house sits abroad, but these pointers are still relevant whatever your travel dreams.
Speaking of travel, we all have the itch to break away again, hopefully soon, once we have weathered the silent storm, the COVID-19 pandemic and its accompanying lockdowns.
House sitting is an excellent way to travel on a budget. It is much easier on the pocket to get free accommodation in exchange for some easy services than as a guest in a B&B or hotel. Some house sitters say they have saved thousands through house sitting.
There are so many beautiful places to visit in the UK and house sitting allows you to fully savour and absorb the local culture, language and customs, while also enjoying the sights. You know, live like a local and be among the people. Certainly different from the usual tourist experience while staying in a hotel. Get that local “feel”.
For pet lovers, many of our sitters simply love being able to engage with pets on their house sits, whether they be cats on their laps, dogs excitedly waiting to be walked, or just reflecting on the slow movement of a bearded dragon or a pond of lazy Koi.
More and more, particularly in larger cities in the UK, homeowners are concerned about their home security when away, and quite a few assignments involve no pets at all. Ideally, as a sitter in this case, you need to be a “homebody” who is happy to spend the majority of each day at home.
Most homes requiring your care are upmarket and have all the mod-cons one might expect, such as Netflix, Amazon Prime, microwave ovens, and so forth. But of course, house sitting is not necessarily about luxury travel and sometimes the experience of a small apartment or plain farmhouse cottage can be just as much fun – especially if there are some chickens providing fresh free-range eggs – and less stressful too.
The best way to find out if house sitting is really your cup of tea is to take the plunge and start out with a couple of short assignments of say three or four days each. If your spouse or partner can accompany you, even better. After that, you can decide on tackling some longer-term house sitting assignments.
You undertake as the main priority that you will lovingly care for the home (and any pets as arranged beforehand) of the owner as if they were your own. If you are or have been a homeowner yourself, what is expected of you will come naturally. See our recent article 12 Top Tips for House Sitters for some more pointers.
You may be surprised to find yourself looking after some chickens and guinea pigs, even though you last did so as a young child; or despite always classifying yourself as a doggy person, you are amused by the antics of a cat.
Getting to know the homeowners and their families can also mean making new friends and being invited back again. Some are happy to pick you up from the train station or drop you off when they return from their holidays.
Of course, just as there are many pros, there are also a few cons. Your first house sitting experience should tell you if this for you or not.
Your commitment is contractual and legally you have to carry out your side of the deal. The travel dates are usually fixed, not flexible, leaving no wiggle room on dates. Some homeowners prefer you to arrive the day before they leave so you can get to know their pets and homes, but if not, you need to ensure you arrive punctually on time on the starting date time of your assignment.
Another potential con is the assignment gets cancelled, usually with good reason such as government travel restrictions preventing the trip, or a family member passing away. You need to know where you stand if say, you’ve already booked your travel tickets. Usually, an arrangement is agreed that suits both parties, and in our experience at least 99.9% of house sitting assignments end with everyone happy. But it is always wise to be prepared for these contingencies, which may include your booking into an Airbnb if you’re already there. Have some money saved as an emergency fund. Ensure beforehand that you’re able to make alternative arrangements if needed.
The next con is to keep in mind you have certain responsibilities when it comes to taking care of the pets. This may limit the time you have for shopping or sightseeing to only 3 or 4 hours a day, or mean you’re woken up much earlier than usual. Check beforehand about rules and treats (or meds) for the pets. Are they allowed on furniture, to sleep in the bedrooms, in the bed and so on? Make certain you stick to the homeowner client’s routine and follow all instructions.
At House and Home Sitters, the strict guideline to our sitters is not to leave the home for more than 4 hours before, or 2 hours after, sunset. That allows 6 hours a day to go sightseeing, shopping and on other excursions. You need to plan any trips carefully before leaving and take into account things like the weather or traffic conditions. Nowadays this is easy to do simply using your mobile phone.
Mention when you first meet the homeowner, and again when they get back, that you’re looking forward to their feedback on your services after their return. This definitely paves the way to getting good reviews. This helps future homeowner clients feel you’re legit and that they’re in your safe hands.
In the UK a third-party background check such as a DBS certificate is good to have, even if not a legal requirement for house sitting as there are no “vulnerable persons” involved in house sitting.
Most homeowners require a daily update from you. WhatsApp is a good way to handle this and also really easy for sending pics and short video clips. When pets are involved, these pics and reports are helpful in keeping the clients at ease that all is good back home. The updates also set the foundation for your positive review when they get back home.
Occasionally, you don’t get the house or facilities you expected. The ideal is a pre-assignment visit to the homeowner, which enables you to check everything beforehand (just as the homeowner will be doing with you). We always encourage our sitters to have a video chat with the homeowner before the assignment, and that enables both the sitter and the homeowner get a feel for each other and how they live.
If you undertake the care of pets, you cannot do so lightly. You have to be a genuine pet lover and fulfil your promise to care for the homeowner’s pet(s) with same loving care as they themselves would.
At House and Home Sitters, we have a 50-point checklist completed by the homeowner, with lots of detail on their pets, including any medical conditions which may need you to administer medications. If you do not feel comfortable doing this, you need to be upfront.
More especially so if this is your first assignment. As you know, you are taking care of their pets, you are taking care of their home while they’re away, so you must understand this is for you as well, and you should feel comfortable and confident about what you’re undertaking.
A quick tip on getting a dog or cat to take a tablet: put a dab of Marmite on this first, and they will gobble it like a treat.
Tell the homeowner during your pre-assignment initial chat, “You know, I can send you an update and pics every day, I will collect your mail, water the plants, and do whatever you need from me; I have experience with pets like yours”, and so forth. Be reassuring. And mean it. If you are not able to handle any aspect of the assignment, tell the homeowner before they go away. The last thing the homeowners need is to hear this while relaxing on their Caribbean cruise.
At House and Home Sitters, we have no signup fee for a sitter applicant. In contrast with most other house sitting agencies, we pay our sitters a small daily stipend as a (tax-free) subsistence allowance, plus any dog walking fees and travel cost contributions by the homeowner client in full. That said, we vet our sitters very carefully. This includes an in-depth personal interview, contacting your referees, confirming your ID and address, and so forth. Our company is only as good as the people in it, and we have rejected applicants, even some with good reviews on other house sitting sites, if we do not feel they are suitably service-oriented, reliable, good communicators, and similar factors.
Be patient and wait until an assignment comes up which really appeals to you, and to which you’re willing to make a firm commitment. There are lots of fun adventures in your future, just waiting for you…