House-sitting can be a source of affordable accommodation for some travellers on a budget. Usually house-sits are for a period of at least a week, and sometimes may extend for several months.
Although it isn’t possible to ensure a trouble-free house-sit, there are some basic preparations and precautions that can assist both parties in having peace-of-mind during the term of a house-sit. Whether or not it’s the first time that the house owner has had a house-sitter, I always ask a series of questions during the lead-up to my arrival, and then I ask several more on handover day.
Firstly, I ask homeowners to write down any regular responsibilities they expect to be fulfilled while they’re away. This can range from pet and plant care, to monthly collection days for organic waste. On the same list, I ask for any important numbers for services that may be required in their absence. This may include the vet, plumber, electrician or next door neighbour. It should also include their contact details – just in case!
During a handover, I like to walk around the entire property (inside and out) with the owner and ask any questions that come to mind. This may include advice on any plants that may easily drown or wilt if the watering isn’t right, and knowledge of what doors and gates require keys. One of the handiest tips is to ask about a hidden key (every house has one); this can be a life-saver in the event of getting locked out. Test each key while the owner is still there; it’s surprising how many locks have a special trick (“just hold the handle up and jiggle the key like this, then it should work”).
The most important responsibility in most house-sits is pet care. On day one it’s essential to engage with the pet while the owner is present; this introduction can reassure everyone with the opportunity to raise any concerns immediately (so it’s normal for the dog to eat on demand?). A demonstration of how much food to give, and at what times, is helpful. It’s also useful to know any commands that may come in handy (for dogs) and any common hiding places in case the pet isn’t seen in a while.
One device that can be problematic in different households, is the remote control/s for the TV and other entertainment gadgets. I have sometimes been given a page of instructions for all the eventualities between watching DVDs, then switching to free-to-air and subscription channels. Again, an owner’s demonstration of what buttons to press for the most common needs, may avoid potential frustration. Likewise, knowing where the broadband internet signal comes from and writing down the code for Wi-Fi access, can prove to be worthwhile.
There are other instructions that some owners will think to give, such as whether to answer the phone if it rings and what to do with any mail that arrives. After they leave, you’ll realise that you don’t know when to put the wheelie bins out (answer – when the neighbours put theirs out) and you may not find certain things in the places you expected them to be….
And on that point – the final piece of advice from an experienced house-sitter: take note of where you find things and put them back in the same place before the owners return. The highest compliment a house-sitter can be paid by a returning homeowner, is “everything is just the same as when we left!”