When you’re new to housesitting, it can be difficult to know all the questions you should ask, the things you should consider, etc. Since we’ve been housesitting for a while, and have had some rather interesting experiences, I wanted to give people some ideas of what they need to know before getting to yes.
It’s really important that you and the owner(s) feel good about your choice. They need to know they can relax with you in their home, and you want to feel like it’s a good fit for you as well. Once you confirm a sit, you’re committed.
One of the biggest compliments we get from owners is how they didn’t feel like they had anything to worry about with their home and pets in our care. That shouldn’t be one-sided, though. If you have doubts, concerns, etc., you want those ironed out before you both say yes.
First things first
What are your deal breakers? You want to take some time to sit down and write the things that are the most important to you, the things you just can’t accept if you’re going to take a sit. For instance, is it important to you that they have cable/satellite TV with English language channels?
It may sound silly, but for some people that’s a big deal. We couldn’t care less if they don’t have TV; however, if there is no WiFi, we probably cannot take the sit. I do a lot of my income earning online, it’s how I stay connected, my son does his education online, and he keeps in touch with his friends via the Internet.
Next, write down the things that are of importance to you. Will your child be able to have their own room (one of my son’s deal breakers)? Do you not want to take dogs on a walk fives times a day in every kind of weather?
If a car is required/recommended, will you be able to use theirs or will you need to rent/own one yourself?
This list comes in handy when assessing potential sits as well. Neither one of us wants to muck stables, so if a sit lists that they have horses I will either not apply or will ask what would our responsibilities be for the horses. We had a sit that included five horses, but they had someone else who did 100% of their care so it wasn’t an issue.
- What are you expected to pay yourself? For instance, do they want the sitters to pay for their utilities? If one of the animals has to have vet services, will you have to pay for this out of pocket initially? (Almost every sit we’ve done has either left behind emergency money and/or had an account with the vet.) If your budget is pretty tight, you’ll want to know what contingencies to be prepared for.
- If they haven’t sent you any photos of the home, you might want to ask for these. We discovered one of our potential sits only had a one-burner camping stove as a cooking surface when they sent us some photos. It had never even occurred to me to ask “Do you have a stove?” This was in Thailand, though, and I already knew that homes commonly didn’t have a kitchen. Plus, I can work with that so no big deal. Of course, photos aren’t always 100% reliable, but at least you can get a general idea about the place.
- How will you do your food shopping? Are the shops only a 10-minute walk away, or will you need a car or something? For the oasis, shopping was at least a half-day process that required 2-3 trips into town a week because of our tiny refrigerator. For our sit in Mexico, they picked us up the day before so we could get groceries to last for a while. They also left behind money to be used for paying for a couple of trips back and forth by taxi and for the delivery charge if we wanted to order delivery a couple of times. As they were quite remote, this was a huge help.
- If the bus is your only method of available transportation, make sure you either find out from the owner or you have researched the cost. A friend of ours was shocked to learn that her bus trip into town for shopping was going to cost her 11 EUR (about $12.50 USD). If you’re using their vehicle and can only drive an automatic, make sure to find about this as well. Many cars outside the US are manuals.
- Along with the above, make sure you’ve researched how to get there from the airport, etc. We had a very attractive potential sit, but after doing some research and confirming with the owners, I discovered it was going to be an additional $300 in transportation costs. This isn’t something you want to find out after you’ve already committed to doing the sit!
- Do they have a lot of animals to care for? You may want to ask about their routine so you don’t get any surprises. I know of some sits where the sitters have to cook for the pets. If there are “livestock” animals (chickens, sheep, ducks, horses, etc.), you may want to find out where they are located in relation to the house. When we had 35 chickens and were told the house was “an old farm house,” so I just assumed they would be located in a field on the same property. Nope!
- If you’ll be there during the summer or winter, find out what type of cooling and heating they have. For some places it’s no issue, but if you’re doing a sit in the mountains where it’s 100 degrees below the point where Hell freezes over, you may want to know that there is only a wood stove in the living room that doesn’t quite heat the bedroom. Most homeowners include these nuggets of info, but not always. In Malaysia, we knew we would only have fans for every room but the main bedroom (which had AC). We were used to the tropical heat at that point, so it wasn’t as big of a deal. If that were to be the case now, I’d probably have to pass because I’m pretty sure I would melt.
- Will they want you to arrive early and/or stay later than the dates of the actual sit? Mostly this is just so you can properly plan for flights, etc. Sometimes owners want you there for 2 days before they go to make sure you completely understand the routine. If they’re flying somewhere far away (or to a place that often has rough weather), you might want to plan your departure for the day after their scheduled routine in case they have issues getting back. We had one sit where they weren’t returning until later in the evening, and a friend was coming so we wouldn’t be able to stay in the home afterward. That was helpful to know for planning purposes. However, our homeowners in Florida were kind enough to allow us to stay a couple of nights beyond the sit because airfares were a lot cheaper then.
- What are the opportunities for you to get away and do a little exploring? Some owners don’t want their pets left alone for more than 3-4 hours, while others are perfectly fine being sans human for most of the day. If you can only leave Fifi for 3 hours and the train ride into town takes 1 hour, you won’t get much of a break. Are you OK with that?For long sits (more than a month) in remote locations, you may want to ask about arranging another sitter for 2-3 days or something for a break. I knew that living on an oasis for 2 months was going to be pretty isolated, so we arranged to hire (at our expense) the couple’s handyman to stay at the home for a few days to break up the sit while we went to the “big city” a few hours away. It was a good recharge for us. Later, we were thrilled to be in a small, rural village in the UK for a few weeks, especially after 9 weeks of steady travel. Similarly, we stayed in a rural location on an island near Seattle, and it was like being in a forest getaway. Even though we had a car to use, we were pretty content to mostly stay at home.
- Last, but not least, make sure you’re aware of how long you can stay in the country if it’s a foreign house sit. You don’t want to say yes to a 4-month sit in France only to discover you’ll be staying there illegally after 90 days and could end up being banned from entering most of Europe for the next 2 years. Also, some visas have to be applied for in advance, and some can be an absolute trial by fire to acquire.
What tips do you have for things to find out before getting to yes?