Home owners – Having in-house care for your home and animals while you’re away is not just for those with buckets of money to spend. You may not believe this, but you can find someone who gives away their house and pet sitting services away for free. Susan Holtham, editor of house sitting website, MindMyHouse.com, explains how.
Need a house and pet sitter while you’re on the road but think you can’t afford it?
Think again – you can find a house sitter who works for free.
While you’re out in the big world, your most precious possessions need to be cared for: your property and your animals. All sorts of service providers have sprung up to cater for this growing market, however, the services of agency-registered pet and house sitters can cost a great deal of money. Friends and family can step into the fold and agree to house sit for you but someone is doing you a favour can be notoriously unreliable.
But don’t despair – there is a ‘third way’ to engage the services of a house sitter. It is possible to find responsible and well-intentioned people who are keen to mind your house and animals for their own reasons. They don’t expect to be paid for their services. In fact, they’ll pay you for their share of utilities. The secret of this modern miracle lies in the power of the Internet to bring the right house sitter and the right house sitting assignment together at the right moment.
Why do I need a house sitter?
Leaving your property empty for any length of time is asking for trouble. Not only is your vacant house far more likely to be vandalized and burgled but in many cases, your home and contents insurance becomes null and void after your home is empty for 30 (or sometimes 60) consecutive days. In the words of every home security, police authority and insurance advisor: ‘Don’t do it!’
It may seem easier to lock your house up and simply drive away rather than go through the process of finding a house sitter but your home is probably your most valuable asset and as such, deserves protection.
How often does something minor come up in your home that requires attention? The person who is minding your house is on hand to organise repairs to storm damage, prevent your pipes from freezing, keep leaves out of your drains, shovel snow, pay the bills to keep your services connected. The list goes on… And if you have a house sitter keeping your home running smoothly you don’t need to go through the rigmarole of shutting your home down (sealing drains and installing random light switches etc) and then starting it up again upon your return.
Your animals will thank you for engaging a house sitter to provide them with care and companionship in their usual safe environment while you’re away. Without a live-in pet sitter, the cost of outside care for your pets could rival the cost of your vacation! And taking them with you can be simply too stressful for them (and you).
What can I expect of my house sitter?
House sitters are by their very nature flexible and willing to consider your needs in exchange for free accommodation in your home. They will expect to be asked to occupy your property for a given period of time and to be present in your home every night. You can also ask your house sitter to look after any number of animals, to maintain your pool, lawns, indoor plants and gardens, to forward any mail and phone messages, to pay utility bills as required (working out their personal share of bills at the end of the assignment) and to carry out any basic maintenance that your home requires.
How do I find a free house sitter?
There are many thousands of house sitters who are currently advertising their free services in online house sitting directories. If you type a few generic search terms such as “house sitters” or “house sitting” (use double quotes to perform the more accurate phrase search) into a search engine you should be able to find a reputable and relevant website in the top 100 search returns. [Editor's note: also try "housesitter" and "housesitting", especially if you're in the US]
You may need to scrutinise several promising-looking (and high-ranking) websites before you find those that offer the kind of free matching service that you’re looking for. Avoid those websites which are simply adverts for individual house sitter’s commercial services or traditional house sitting agencies.
Free house sitting matching websites generally follow two basic models. In the first fully online model, house sitters pay an annual fee to create their own sitter available advert, which is online and searchable 24 hours per day. Home owners register with the site then login to search its database of sitter available adverts for suitable candidates, contacting their shortlist of house sitters directly. Home owners can also advertise their house sitting assignment on these sites and have house sitters email them through a blank contact form. A good site should strive to protect your anonymity until you’re prepared to reveal your contact details yourself.
In the second model, the website only serves as an advert for the business conducted by the administrators ‘behind the scenes’. House sitters pay a fee (this can range from anything from US $95 to four times that amount) for an annual membership with the website. In return the business owner agrees to include the house sitters’ adverts in either an email or printed mailing list which is sent out to home owners.
Home owners are fortunate in that these house sitting websites are actively courting your custom. As a home owner, you should be able to register with the website for free as well as search the database of sitter available adverts for free (or receive a list of potential house sitters in your letterbox or inbox – again for free). However, one very well established matching service does have the cheek to charge home owners for access to its database. You need to decide whether you think it’s worth the small-ish investment (US $30 to read sitter available adverts and a further US $60 to post your own sitter wanted advert) to use this well-established site. You may want to try your luck with the rest of the free services first as you’ve nothing to lose by casting around on the different sites. However, if a site is very badly made with illogical (or nonexistent) navigation structure and a search function that doesn’t seem to work, avoid it. House sitters will be staying away from such a service in droves as well.
What should I avoid when looking for a house sitter?
Horror house sitting stories do exist. The most spectacular one I’ve read (this could be fact or fiction) is the hapless home owner who unknowingly engaged the services of a crack-addicted workmate to mind his home while he was away. He arrived home to find his safe detonated – the thieves had made off with everything. Short of asking his workmate to take a drugs test, what could he have done to avoid falling into this hole?
Plenty. Conscientious and responsible house sitters will have all the documentation ready to prove to you that they’re trustworthy and reliable and want to mind your home and animals for all the right reasons. This documentation could include written references and the contact details of email and phone referees (these people could be satisfied home owners, landlords or estate agents). They will also have commissioned a recent police check on themselves to show that they’re not wanted in three states. A conscientious house sitter should be happy to work through and sign a house sitting agreement with you as well as give you a security deposit (of not more than the equivalent of a month’s rent for a similar property in your area).
In my work as a website editor and administrator, I come across a great many lonely online classifieds and forlorn requests on bulletin boards from home owners who are looking for a house sitter who will work for free in exchange for accommodation. These types of requests are the Internet equivalent of ‘whistling in the wind’ as the right people never see them. Fortunately, the existence of new online house sitting directories has changed all of that.
In the olden days (before the Internet brought us all together) a home owner who needed someone to mind their home and care for Fluffy while they were out on the road would most likely do the following: Phone a house sitting agency, accept the first willing employee (unseen) and grit their teeth and bear the cost of the service (with most of the substantial daily fees going to the agency). Or they could ask Aunty Dot or a neighbour to mind the fort for them. This kind of piecemeal solution never quite worked out as the power outage defrosted the freezer (unnoticed by Aunty Dot) and their lonely dog howled all day and night (annoying the neighbour but not enough to do anything about it).
The Internet has flipped all of that on its head. Now the ball is firmly in home owners’ courts as they’ve come to realise that they have a substantial asset (free accommodation) that they can barter for house and pet sitting services. The key to success is knowing where to find the right person who is enthusiastic and motivated to mind your house for their own reasons. So the next time you need somebody don’t just give a little whistle – get online – your perfect house sitter is only a quick click (and a detailed email) away.
Susan Holtham is the editor of the fully online house sitting website http://www.mindmyhouse.com Home owners search our database of sitter available adverts and advertise their house sitting assignments for free. (note that costs given are current in June 2005)
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