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If you’re going on holiday soon and don’t know what to do about pet care and garden maintenance, using a house sitter can be a brilliant all-in-one solution. To read about my house sitting experience, check out this post on how I house sat around Australia. For further information on what exactly house sitting involves, read my answers to house-sitting FAQs.
For those of you who’ve never used a house sitter before, you’re probably wondering how to go about finding someone you can trust. I’ve been in the house-sitting business for a while now, so here’s my ten-step process for finding a reliable and trustworthy house sitter.
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1. Start Planning Early
Don’t leave it until two days before your holiday starts to find a house sitter – people genuinely do this! Give yourself at least a month, if possible, to source someone you really feel comfortable entrusting your treasured home and pets to.
The most popular time to place an ad is usually about one to two months in advance, though many people start looking well before that. Note that experienced house sitters may have a lot of bookings already (I now have people booking me over a year in advance and planning their holiday dates around when I’m free), but if you feel it’s too early to advertise now, put a note on your calendar to remind yourself at a later date.
2. Decide What You Need From a House Sitter
Think about what qualities your house sitter needs to have and what sort of person would best suit your situation. For example, if you have two large dogs that tug the lead a lot on walks, a young couple or someone who’s strong may be a good option. If your animals are scared of children or you only have one bedroom, a family of four will be a no-go.
Keep an open mind though and don’t make too many assumptions on what certain people will be like; you may find a teetotal student who spends Saturday nights reading or an energetic retired couple who’d love to take your dog on hour-long walks. Remember that lots of people work from home these days – the world is full of digital nomads – so if you need someone who can be home during the day don’t assume that retirees are your only option. Younger people can also be just as responsible and capable of looking after a garden!
3. Use a Reputable House-Sitting Website
Use a search engine to find a reputable house-sitting website for the country or area you live in; these are usually full of capable and experienced sitters. In Australia I’ve used Happy House Sitters, Aussie House Sitters, Mad Paws and Pet Cloud which are very popular and easy to use. Trusted House Sitters also seems to be very popular with travellers who house sit worldwide, although note that they run an affiliate scheme where bloggers get paid a commission if new people sign up through their link, so you will find almost every blog post you read on house sitting recommends them. I haven’t used them personally so I can’t give you an opinion!
Each house sitter on these websites has their own profile telling you a bit about themselves and their house-sitting experience, the dates they are available, the areas they are willing to live in and what sort of animals they are comfortable looking after. You can filter your search based on your criteria. It’s usually free for house owners to advertise on house-sitting websites, so you can post ads on multiple sites if you wish to widen your search. Alternatively, some house sitters may have their own Facebook page, website like this one, or advertise in local vet clinics or pet shops.
4. Create a Great Advert
If you’re using a house-sitting website that lets you place an advert for a house sitter then get writing! I’ve written a whole blog post on how to write an advert for a house sitter here. Note that some sites require you to contact house sitters directly rather than place an ad, but on sites like Aussie House Sitters and Happy House Sitters you can either:
- place an advert for free and wait for sitters to apply
- place an advert for free, wait for sitters to apply, and also contact house sitters you like directly
- contact house sitters you like without placing an advert
5. Read Through Applications & Reviews
If you’ve placed an advert, hopefully you will have some applicants to choose from within a few days. The interested house sitters will send you a message via whichever website you’ve chosen to use, and the website should provide a link to each applicant’s profile and any reviews that previous house owners have left.
Have a good read through them all and make a shortlist of the house sitters you are most interested in. If you have a lot of applicants and want to spend a while looking through them all, consider sending out a message to let them know you’re currently looking through applications and will be in touch soon (Happy House Sitters has a pre-written template for this). A lot of house owners don’t respond at all so if you leave it more than a couple of days the applicants will probably assume you’re not going to reply and you may lose them to another house owner!
6. Police & Reference Check
Do feel free to ask the house sitters to send you their police check; most house sitters have these and state so on their profile, but shockingly few house owners ask to see them. Although house sitters’ references are shown on their profiles, don’t be afraid to ask the sitters for a contact number if you wish to speak to one of the referees in person. Most house owners are happy to be contacted, and this can also put your mind at rest if it’s your first time using a house sitter and you want to chat about the process with someone who’s done it before.
If the applicant is new to house sitting, remember that everyone has to start somewhere; you could ask for a character reference instead. I do know a few people who’ve had bad experiences with house sitters but this has usually been when they haven’t checked references or they’ve accepted someone last minute who they weren’t entirely sure about.
7. Meet & Greet Potential House Sitters
The next step is to meet up with any potential sitters in person. I have accepted sits before where we just talked over the phone first or Skyped because I was travelling, but meeting in person is always preferable. This isn’t a formal interview, but you can see how you feel about the person and introduce them to your pets. Any genuine animal-lover should be confidently approaching your pets, talking to them and stroking them, and just generally looking excited to see them. If they’re standing back ignoring them or looking uncomfortable it’s probably not a good sign – unless your animal is a python or tarantula, of course!
It’s also nice for the house sitter to view your home, pet and suburb before they agree to stay there. It’s usual for the sitter to come to your house for the meet-and-greet but you can always arrange to meet in a public place like a dog park or cafe first; you are total strangers after all! Do let the sitter know if you’re going to be meeting other house sitters too, and tell them when you’ll give them a decision by.
Also, be honest about the sleeping arrangements, preferably in your advert. I’ve had house sits where I’ve hardly slept because the pets share the bedroom and wake me up all night snoring, walking over me, licking my face or jumping up and down off the bed every few hours, and I’ve ended up quite ill. Pets generally go nuts if a house sitter shuts them out of their bedroom if they’re used to sharing with the owner, and not everyone’s a heavy sleeper!
8. Choose a House Sitter & Finalise Details
Decision time! Once you’ve chosen your house sitter, let them know the good news as soon as possible so they don’t accept anything else. Make sure you have each other’s numbers and arrange a time and date for them to arrive, how they will pick up the keys if you won’t be home, and exactly when you’ll be coming back from the holiday. You may prefer them to arrive the day before you leave so they can observe your routines.
If you have the space and feel comfortable with the idea, do offer your house sitter a bed for the night a day or two either side of the sit if they don’t have anything else lined up. House sitters usually have gaps between sits so it’s incredibly helpful when owners offer this, though not at all expected. It’s also lovely for your pets to get familiar with the sitter before you leave as it reduces their anxiety. I have had a couple of occasions where I’ve had to let myself in because the owners have left very early, and the dogs have spent the first half an hour backing away from me or barking SOS in the garden!
9. Notify the Unsuccessful Applicants
Yes, this may feel a bit like dumping someone, but it needs to be done so that the unsuccessful applicants can stop waiting for your response and focus on finding an alternative house sit. I can’t tell you how many house owners have left me hanging. Just send a polite message thanking the sitter for applying but telling them that you’ve chosen someone else in this instance; house sitters are used to this and won’t take it personally. If you genuinely liked them and it was a tough call, do tell them to apply for any future ads you may put up.
10. Take Your House Sitting Advert Down
Please do this! If you leave your advert up after you’ve found a sitter you are just going to get pestered with applications when you no longer require them. It’s annoying for you, and it’s very annoying for the house sitters who are spending time reading your advert, getting their hopes up and taking the time to apply.
I can honestly say from experience that about 90% of the adverts on the house-sitting websites I’ve used are for house sits that are no longer available as the owners have already chosen someone. From the websites’ point of view this is great: it makes it look like there are ten times more house sits available than there actually are, and it lures in sitters who pay them subscription fees. But from the house sitters’ point of view it makes the whole process such hard work!
When I started out I wasted so much time trawling through adverts and sending out applications only to get no response or hear that they’d already found someone. Now I don’t apply for anything that’s been advertised for longer than two days. If you don’t want to take your advert down for some reason then at least edit it and put a note at the top saying that you’ve found someone and aren’t taking any more applications.
Ok, time to get going and begin your search for the ideal house sitter! Once you’ve found someone suitable, read my guide on how to prepare for your house sitter to ensure things go as smoothly as possible. And once the house sit’s over don’t forget to write a good review on the website if you were pleased with the sitter!