So what now? Here are our tips for best practice and a successful housesitting assignment.
Once you have received the go ahead from the homeowner that you have been selected, apart from thanking them of course, make sure you have all the information you need to know to prepare for the assignment. If the housesit isn't for some time, it's nice to send them an email every now and then to assure them you are still coming and to establish a relationship and get to know each other.
Know what your responsibilities are and ensure that any major aspects of the housesit are clarified. For example, longer term housesits may not include the cost of utilities. For most sitters this isn't an issue as most would consider being able to live rent-free a pretty great deal already. But it's better to discuss these things beforehand if you are unsure so that you don't get any unexpected surprises.
Clarify the dates. While dates are generally included in the listing, be sure to clarify the exact arrangements for taking over and handing back the house. Depending on what time the homeowner will be leaving, they may want you to come over the night before the official start date. Other times, you may in fact be using their bedroom for the duration of your stay and hence they may not be able to accommodate you until the day they leave. In any case, it's good to schedule a little time with the homeowner before they depart so that you can meet, they can show you where things are and you have the opportunity to ask questions.
Of course, you'll also need to get their address and work out how to get to their home. The homeowner should be able to give you advice as to the best or most cost-effective way to get to their place. If you need to fly to the destination or to take transportation that requires a reservation, be sure to get on this early so you are not left without options and either having to spend unnecessarily to make it there on time or, worse still, not being able to be there on the arranged date. Before even applying for an assignment, it's a good idea to have a quick look at the types of costs you are looking at to get to the destination so there aren't any crazy shocks after you've been selected or have already accepted.
While it's important to know the general responsibilities of an assignment before you start such as how often the dog is walked, as this will impact on whether you are confident you can commit to the assignment, smaller details are often better left to the handover when the homeowner can show you around in person.
Before the homeowner leaves, be sure you know the location of all the necessities – the pet food, kitty litter, brushes, cleaning products and so on. In addition to knowing where the pet supplies are, you'll also be wanting to know about the whereabouts of things like the washing machine and how to use it. Many things are quite self-explanatory but as we all know from our own home experiences, there may be some specific things related to your house or particular items that need to be explained. There may also be confusion as to how some things work in a foreign country, especially if all the buttons are in an unfamiliar language! The homeowner will likely give you a tour and point out anything you need to know, but if you aren't sure, just ask.
In addition to the physical whereabouts of things, it's important to ask lots of questions about the pets' routines. For example, when and where they are fed, how long they are walked and at what time of day, where they sleep and whether there are particular parts of the house that are usually off limits to them. This is important because it maintains consistency. For some pets, having their owners away is disruption enough to their usual routine. Doing things the way their owners usually do won't give them any surprises and they are likely to feel more at ease. Secondly, you don't want to be starting habits that the owner will then have to deal with when they get back. So if the dogs are not usually allowed on the sofa, then be sure to continue this house rule while on assignment.
Be sure to also talk about the pets' characters. If you are a pet owner yourself, you'll know that pets have their own personalities just like humans, and it's important to understand their usual demeanour and what they do and do not like. Some pets are really energetic, some might sleep a lot, some like a lot of attention, while others prefer to be left to do their own thing. Some may have particular mannerisms or the homeowner may alert you to certain habits you should keep an eye on – like that place near the fence they like to dig under or their tendency to get into something they shouldn't. This also helps you to note things that may be completely out of character and a sign of an issue you may need to discuss with the homeowner.
In addition, you may be looking after a rescue animal that has unfortunately not always been looked after as well as they are now. Because of past ill treatment or having to fend for themselves or even just one negative experience (rescue animal or not), they may have particular fears that are not always the case for other pets. Things like interacting with other animals, being left alone for certain lengths of time, loud noises, the dark or water may be compounded in a pet that has had a bad experience in the past. Knowing this, you can avoid these situations and make your time with them stress-free and enjoyable. And if you know they love a belly rub before bed each night, you'll have a friend for life!
On some occasions, you may be looking after a pet that is ill or requires medication, in which case you should go through these added responsibilities with the homeowner. In most cases, homeowners will have already mentioned this in the assignment listing or during your private discussions to ensure you are comfortable with it. After all, they want someone who can be there for the pet as they would while they are away.
Always get the contact details of the homeowner in case you need to get in touch with them. The homeowner may also offer alternative contact details for a family member or friend living locally or that of a neighbour who can assist you in case of something urgent and/or when you are not able to reach the homeowner.
While you hope you never need it, if they have pets, always get the details of their local vet or animal hospital should any medical issues arise during your stay. If the pet is unwell, it is usually advisable to contact the homeowner first regarding medical attention. However, it is always best to have the details on hand in case of emergency and/or the homeowner wishes you to pursue with medical attention.
In addition to pet care, you may have an assignment that requires some extra duties such as watering plants, gardening or home maintenance. Be sure as to exactly what they want you to attend to. You don't know what special significance something may have to the homeowner so it is advisable not to change anything in and around the house they haven't instructed you to. You may have a particular skill or recognize a certain need that you can assist with and that the homeowner may indeed welcome, just don't overstep by doing so without consulting the homeowner first. Also be sure to check about other general housesitting responsibilities such as garbage and recycling (this can vary widely from country to country) as well as postal collection (some homeowners may want you to advise them when they receive particular bills or important correspondence).
While the homeowner is away, give them peace of mind by sending them a regular update to let them know everything is OK. How often you decide to do this depends on the nature of the assignment, its length and the homeowner. There are no hard and fast rules but use your judgement and don't make the homeowner have to constantly seek information from you. In our experience, we find homeowners really appreciate an email after the first day or two when they are arriving at their destination to let them know all is well and their pets are doing fine. For medium to long term assignments, I tell the homeowner I'll send them an email once a week unless something specific comes up (unless of course they would like more frequent updates). Whatever arrangement you come to, keep to the agreed schedule so the homeowner doesn't worry unnecessarily. The homeowner will most likely be missing their pets, especially if they are away for a considerable length of time. In these cases, the homeowner may wish to Skype from time to time to be able to see their pets and interact with them.
Finishing an assignment
Always ensure that the house is left in the same tidy state you received it in. Additionally, don't leave the fridge and cupboards bare. The last thing you want to do after travel is to have to worry about going straight to the supermarket. The homeowner will definitely appreciate it if you leave some basics. A nice gesture is to also cook your hosts a meal. They probably won't feel like cooking and it's a great way to say thank you for letting you stay. By this time, you're probably great friends too so catching up over a meal and a glass of wine is the perfect note to end the assignment on. If you won't be crossing paths in handing back the house or only briefly so, you can always leave something in the fridge with a note.
If the homeowner doesn't write a review after completion of the assignment (and it's easy to forget after just getting back from a trip!), touch base with them and ask them if they wouldn't mind kindly helping you out. If you follow these tips, I'm sure they will be more than happy to! There is a function to send a request for a review to the homeowner on the TrustedHousesitters site, but I always like to send them an email first.
Keep in touch with the homeowners. Firstly, it's great to have new friends. Secondly, we know of a number of homeowners who have been so happy with their sitters that they have invited them back to sit for them again for future holidays. Six weeks in Tuscany? Don't mind if I do!
So that's it, nomads! Do you have any extra tips to add to the list?
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