By Lori Melton
If you’re going on vacation or traveling for an extended time, you may need someone to check your mail, watch your pets or make sure your house looks “lived in” for security reasons. A trustworthy house sitter can provide any or all of these invaluable services. But, how do you find someone you can really trust and how much access should you give someone who is watching your house? The following tips may give you some insight into making the right house sitting choice.
Use a Family Member or Close Friend First
When considering who could watch your house or your pets while you’re away, asking a family member or close friend first is the most obvious answer. You know your brother and his habits, after all, or how your reliable your best friend is. In general, anyone who you would easily tell “My house is your house” and genuinely mean it, is probably the best, most obvious candidate. In most of these cases, these people wouldn’t even think of rifling through your drawers or throwing a blowout bash.
Use a Reputable Online House Sitting Website
If your friends and family are already booked or they can’t give you a good recommendation, you may need to find a professional house sitter. There are several reputable online sites that specialize in house sitters who can also pet sit if needed. HousesittersAmerica.com and TrustedHousesitters.com are two options. Both sites have extensive profiles of potential sitters. A Google search for “trustworthy house sitters” can turn up more. The important thing is to do your research on these sites and make sure you understand rules and membership fees, if any, before using them.
Set Boundaries and Expectations
This tip applies to sitters you know well and also complete strangers. Make a house-sitting agreement that details your rate of pay (if any) and a detailed list of everything your sitter needs to take care of in your absence. This can be feeding and walking schedules for pets, mail and newspaper collection, designated trash and recycling pick up dates, laundry, grocery shopping, cleaning or any other household routine that requires a sitter’s attention in your place.
Along with this list, give a detailed description of “off-limits” areas and activities. For instance, if you don’t want a sitter to sleep in your room, open your dresser drawers or closet, go down your basement or use your workout equipment, spell it out in writing. Similarly, if you don’t want them to let friends, family members or significant others into your home, tell them that as well.
Sure, you’re not really going to know if a sitter follows your instructions unless you have remote access security cameras installed throughout your home. Chances are, an experienced house sitter will want to honor your wishes to impress you in hopes of being hired again. And, a friend will remain a friend and respect your home.
Run a Background Check
Unfortunately, house sitting nightmares can and do occur. For instance, US News reports in 2015, a house and pet sitter in Louisville, Kentucky was allegedly arrested for stealing over $14,000 worth of property from a homeowner. As you screen candidates, consider asking them to agree to passing a criminal background check before they are hired. Discovering a clean record on a potential sitter can bring great peace of mind.
Secure Valuable Property, Documents and Records
Lock up, stow or remove valuable items, documents, correspondence and other sensitive, private items before you leave and a house sitter arrives. This can include expensive jewelry, antiques, family keepsakes and documents (including insurance policies, checkbooks, and bank statements) that may contain your social security numbers, account numbers, bank balances and more. Leave the items with a trusted relative, in a bank safety deposit box or some other secure location while you are gone. It may seem like a time intensive task, but well worth the effort to prevent valuables and personal information from falling into the wrong hands.
Do a Test Run
Having a potential sitter stay with you for a test run before you go away is a great way to gage how they handle the responsibilities you will give them and if they seem like a good fit. If a potential sitter hesitates to do a trial stay, cross him off your candidate list.
Keep Lines of Communication Open
Make sure to leave a list of contact numbers, email addresses and names of emergency contacts if a sitter needs to reach you while you are gone. If something goes awry, or a sitter has questions, it’s important for you to be accessible (or designate a family contact in your stead).
Hopefully, following some or all of these tips will make house sitting a smooth experience for you and your sitter.