Planning a vacation is stressful enough without having to worry about your house being empty and vulnerable. And if you have pets or livestock, the stress is compounded. Who will take care of them? Is it worth the expense of boarding a dog or cat when it’ll likely cause them stress to be in a strange place for so long? What about a pet that requires daily medication?
The answer to this dilemma is to find a house sitter who is competent, has experience, is familiar with the care of animals (especially if you have animals such as horses or chickens), and is capable of thinking on their feet in case of an emergency. I know, I know, this is a tall order! But believe me, it CAN BE DONE. Keep reading to learn how you, too, can find the perfect house sitter. You’ll also find a FREE downloadable search toolkit!
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The WORST house sitter ever
We once planned a week-long vacation and needed a house sitter to take care of our pets and chickens. I cheaped out and went with a friend of a friend’s suggestion that we contact yet a third friend who was moving to Vermont with her puppy and would happily trade house sitting in exchange for a having a place to stay while she established housing of her own.
This turned out to be the worst. mistake. ever.
Because we left in the morning and this young woman wouldn’t be arriving in Vermont until late afternoon, we never laid eyes on her. We texted back and forth and I left instructions on the island.
I’m sure she was a perfectly lovely young woman, but guys, oh my god…the condition she left the house in was shocking! Filth. Absolute filth. How one person could make such a mess of an entire house in one week was beyond me. The kitchen was a disaster. There were puddles of urine all over the house from her puppy. It was clear the dogs had been all over the furniture and the bed, which I specifically asked her to not to allow. A number of knick-knacks were broken. The vegetables in my gardens were all dead…
What I learned from our nightmare of a house sitter
After the initial shock wore off, I did a lot of reflecting on the situation and here’s what I learned:
- Always interview your potential house sitter and always do it IN PERSON.
- A good house sitter is going to cost you money. He or she is worth every penny.
- If a house sitter wants to bring their own pet with them, ask them to bring the pet with them during the interview so you can judge whether it will be a good idea or not. Prepare specific questions about the behavior and habits of their pet.
The BEST house sitter ever
A year or so later, we planned a 10-day trip home to Seattle and we were again faced with the dilemma of what to do about our house and animals. We didn’t want to leave our home empty for 10 days because there had been a rash of break-ins in our neighborhood. Not only that, but chickens can’t be boarded.
This time, I made a plan as to how to find a great house sitter. I was methodical about the process and in the end, we wound up with Evelyn. When she started house sitting for us, she was a young lady in college. She is now employed full-time, engaged, and building a home with her fiance, but she continues to house sit for us.
The secret to keeping them coming back
How do we keep her coming back, you ask? I’ll let you in on a little secret: we pay her VERY well. Because she proved her worth the first time she took care of our home and our beloved animals. We came home to happy pets, a house that was cleaner than we left it (and I always do a very thorough cleaning before leaving on vacation), and thriving vegetable beds. She has proven more than once that she can think on her feet and problem solve. And when our dog required antibiotics twice a day the whole time we were gone last year, he received them twice a day, every day. I can’t put a cheap price tag on all that.
Keep a backup house sitter in your contacts list
I’ve had to go through this process again because sometimes Evy isn’t available (word got out, apparently!). Now we have two outstanding house sitters to call on when it’s time to plan a trip.
You, too, can find an Evy
And here’s how. Follow these steps and before you know it, you’ll be bragging to all your friends about your fabulous house sitter. Just be careful: they’ll all want to book him or her so plan accordingly for future trips!
Step 1: Advertise
- Word of mouth is important. Get names and contact info from your friends and neighbors.
- Advertise locally. We have an online forum in each town here called Front Porch Forum and we receive it via email every day. I advertised there. I didn’t use Craig’s list because I feel like it’s kind of risky for something like this. I also used Facebook, both my own page as well as the advertising feature, Facebook Marketplace.
- I prefer not to call people looking for a house sitting job. I’d rather they be actively looking and come to me because they are interested.
Step 2: Determine what you will pay
- Don’t advertise your pay rate. Ask potential house sitters to call to talk about it.
- You can ask the people you interview how much they charge, but I guarantee 98% of them will say, “Whatever you think is fair.” So do your homework.
- Look in local online advertising (Craigslist is okay for this) for people looking for house sitting jobs and see what they are asking.
- Go to sites like housesitter.com or housesittersamerica.com to see what the going rate in your area is.
- Determine the minimum you will pay. When you tell a potential house sitter what this rate is, they’ll most likely say, “Yeah, okay, whatever you think is fair.” That’s great! Don’t tell them that this is their BASE RATE. You now have leeway to increase their pay via a “bonus” based on the quality of their house sitting.
Step 3: Schedule interviews and call references
- As each person responds, talk to them on the phone to get a feel for whether or not you want to interview them further. Ask them to bring references with them.
- If you would like to meet them, schedule a time for them to come over, chat, see the house, meet your animals, and discuss pay.
- Plan to try to interview as many of the people who contact you as possible. The more, the better.
- Prepare specific questions that you will ask each person you interview.
- Call each interviewee’s references and make notes.
Now it’s decision time. At this point, you probably have a gut feeling of who would be the ideal house sitter for you–the one you really hit it off with and has great references. Congratulations! Make your call and you’re in business.
Step 4: How to keep a good house sitter coming back
- When you come home, give your house sitter his or her base pay and then let him/her go. Now I want you to start thinking about a “bonus”.
- Spend the next couple of days noticing everything. Are there things you are especially impressed with? Even if they did exactly as you asked and no more, that’s good work, right? You’d want that person to come back, right? So now give them a “bonus”.
- Write out a nice thank you card and enclose a bonus that will make them want to come back. That’s the trick. Because you gave it to them after the fact, along with a note letting them know how impressed you are with everything, it will seem extra special to them and they’ll remember you.
- Consider giving gifts to house sitters who continue to come back. I now pick up a gift for Evy whenever we are on vacation. Our last trip was to Paris and I brought her back a gift pack of Kusmi teas.
There’s no reason your vacation should be clouded by constant worry about your house and your animals. Follow these steps to find the absolute most perfect house sitter and your vacation will be carefree, just like vacations are meant to be. If you have any questions about the process of finding and hiring a high quality house sitter, please don’t hesitate to ask. Comment below or send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Good luck and happy travels!