This post covers two topics: what makes a good house sitter and how to go about finding house-sitting gigs.
Qualities of a Good House Sitter
Flexible. A house sitter must be able to roll with the punches. It would be nice if home owners planned ahead, but they usually do not. The majority of house sitting ads are posted just a few weeks prior to when the owners plan to leave, therefore sitters must be able to travel on short notice. Owners may also change the dates of departure and return. My first house-sitting gig was supposed to last three months, but the owner returned after two. I had to scramble to find alternative lodging in the area.
Another aspect of flexibility is housing. It is unlikely that the sitter will find a gig in a house that has made the cover of Architectural Digest. The house may be messy, or dirty, or falling down, or all three. I just completed a house-sitting assignement in Paris in a house that is under construction. The place looks more like a junkyard than a house – one of the kitchen counters is a wooden board on top of a cardboard box. The week before the owner returned, the frig died. A house sitter has to be comfortable in a wide variety of settings and be able to handle whatever comes up while maintaining composure.
Reliable. A good house sitter shows up when they say they will. They do not cancel, especially at the last minute. They stay for the full amount of time that they have promised.
Neat and clean. Homeowners come back to a house which is AT LEAST as clean as when they left it. A good house sitter is likely to leave the place looking better than when she arrived. I always try to go the extra mile for owners. My first house-sitting gig, I cleaned all the kitchen shelves and the refrigerator. When the owners of the gig I just finished in London returned, their kitchen chair and a towel rack in the bathroom had been repaired. When the owners returned in the Paris gig this summer, they had a pot of tea, a plate of cookies and a bowl of flowers waiting for them.
Good with animals. The primary reason that homeowners post ads is that they love their furry babies and do not want to board them. Many owners have rescue animals. Some of these are extremely skittish. Older pets might need medication. The Red Cross offers certification in pet first aid. This certification can make a potential house sitter stand out from the crowd.
Communication. A good house sitter stays in touch with the owners while they are away, even if there are no problems. Regular communication goes a long way in building trust
Computer Savvy. This is a critical skill, especially for longer sits and sits in foreign countries. The sitter must be able to pay bills and handle personal business remotely AND have someone on the ground at their base who can handle matters that must be dealt with in person
Websites. There are three primary house-sitting sites: trustedhousesitters.com, mindmyhouse.com and housecarers.com. The cost to join varies. Trusted Housesitters is the largest site. I belong to all three.
Photos, Endorsements, Profile. The next step is setting up a profile and getting endorsements from people you know. I suggest you read the profiles of other house sitters first. Look for the profiles that stand out and use those as your guides.
Monitoring Ads. House sitters new to the game may want to get their feet wet by looking for short gigs close to home. In any case, it is best to decide ahead the location and duration of house-sitting opportunities. Monitoring websites should be done early in the morning as owners quickly get innundated with applicants. If you haven´t heard from an owner, by all means follow up.
Visa Check (International Destinations). As soon as you have made an owner´s short list, start checking visa requirements. The UK grants six-month tourist visas; the rest of Europe only allows tourists to stay for 90 days. It is important to understand how the Schengen Accord affects you (https://www.schengenvisainfo.com). Never commit to a gig that is longer than the maximum length of the tourist visa, minus any time you would like for traveling in the region.
Skype Interview. Many owners use skype, so you will need to download the program in order to interview. In the next post, we will cover questions to ask and red flags to watch out for.