Friday, June 3, 2016

"Professional housesitting," part two - helpful tips.

Our first "professional housesitting" blog featured FAQs and pros/cons of housesitting while traveling. Many of the "cons" I mentioned are not really "cons" in the grand scheme of things - and they are easily addressed by the tips below...

Once you've signed up for a housesitting web site, when responding to potential hosts the most obvious tip is to put yourself in the host's position. What characteristics would you want to see in a potential housesitter? How would you want your housesitter to treat your animals and possessions while you were gone?

That said, here are some specific tips...

Treat every opportunity like a job application. Your profile is your "resume"; your introductory email is your "cover letter." When reaching out to potential hosts, definitely be yourself, but also be professional and courteous. Include your phone number in your email. Respond to any of their follow-up emails as soon as possible. (Seriously! We lost out on a housesit gig because another couple sent a follow-up reply ONE HOUR before we did. It can get pretty cut-throat in the more desirable locations.)

And show the hosts that you've read their ad! Include their names in your greeting, mention their pets by name, comment or ask a question about something random in their photo gallery or posting. Attention to detail will go a long way.

Finally (and this is mostly for longer housesits), request an in-person visit, a Skype video conference, or at least a phone call - whatever is convenient for them and you. Many hosts will suggest this before signing you on, but if they don't, something as simple as a Skype video tour of their home could give pretty good insight into how they live and how you'd be living during your stay. And a phone call could indicate how high- or low-maintenance your hosts will be while they are gone (either of which are fine, as long as you are fine with it too).

We ended up not doing remote "interviews" for our last two housesits, mainly because we knew they were our last two housesits but also because we trusted our gut instinct by this point, and things worked out totally fine. But it's always a good practice.

Know yourself. Are you a neat freak, a cooking fanatic, an avid bicyclist, a digital nomad who needs reliable strong wifi? Do you love the city or the country? Can you spend days on end without getting out of your pajamas, or does the thought of that make you absolutely crazy?

It doesn't matter so much for 1-2 week stays, but if you're considering a longer housesit, make sure the experience will meet your needs. You might think you can go without {whatever routine or habit} for 6-8 weeks... Trust me, you'll regret it.

Be flexible on timing and location whenever possible. Look for opportunities along your general route or in your general geographic area of interest. Secure those housesits and plan around them. Long-term travelers should have no problem with this approach.

Related, if a host isn't sure about the end date, be sure you're flexible enough to accommodate this before applying. Few things are more stressful than having to scramble to find backup petsitters while you're out of town! Our Portland host ended up extending our housesit, but she made it clear from the start that this would be a possibility; we made it similarly clear that we were completely flexible in September and checked in with her periodically over the summer until she was able to confirm her return date. It worked out great all around.

Clarify expectations upon arrival. Some of our hosts have sent short novellas of instructions ahead of time, others have shot off three-sentence emails from the airport on their way out of town. Either way, it's great to have an hour or evening with your hosts to walk through their day-to-day routine. This is especially true when animals are involved, as it helps to get the animals acquainted with you while Mom and/or Dad are still there.

Also, some hosts are particular about what pots and pans they want you to use, or which dried goods are up for grabs, or how often to clean the cat litter, or whether you can use their local library card (which we highly recommend requesting!). Sometimes long distance is free; sometimes it's not and you'll need to track calls. Sometimes they want you to use a specific Netflix account. These are all good things to clarify before the hosts go out of town.

Send regular updates to your host. This is my own personal tip, which probably comes from years of IT project management... Our hosts felt guilty leaving their pets behind. To reassure them while they were gone, I would send a picture and quick update every few days. (The only exceptions were my Honolulu friends whose cat wouldn't come out of the closet the whole time we were there, and one of our hosts who had limited, expensive internet while they were gone.)

We also sent regular email updates to one host whose dog had a few leg issues (after calling her to get guidance, of course), and another host who had a pricey maintenance issue while they were out of town (just to let them know that the contractor's fix seemed to be working fine).

Daisy, a particularly shy kitty -
her owner was quite happy to get this photo update


So that's our $1.75 on housesitting. If you've tried housesitting while traveling, what other tips do you have? If you're interested in trying housesitting, what other questions do you have?


  1. I think the temporary pets are one of the highlights of housesitting honestly, but the part about getting all the expectations out is scary but important to know whether you can meet them or not on both sides, and I think it's a hard conversation to have because there may be preferences or expectations that you don't think to ask!

    1. It's actually a lot easier than you think it would be. Many of these folks have done this before so they're clear on their expectations. And they also understand that people are human and make mistakes sometimes! As with any "job," it's all about communication!

  2. Good advice. I've never housesat at someones house I didn't already know, and vice versa, I've never had a stranger housesit my house. If I were to, I'd want to know everything about the person, and above all, I'd want them to be professional about the whole experience.

    1. Thanks for your comment, Mary! Yep, everyone has different comfort levels with this type of thing.

  3. I have never done housesitting for someone that I didn't know, but I think it would make me anxious the entire time. I think the tip about meeting with them before hand might help assuage that anxiousness as well as regular contact if possible.

    1. It definitely does help! I was usually a little anxious the first day or two, but it quickly went away.

  4. That's such a good idea to send updates to the hosts, especially if you're caring for pets! I know I LOVE to get updates - including photos and videos - of my dog when we're away.

    1. I got the idea from the best catsitter I ever had back when I had a pretty sick kitty and the opportunity to go to Costa Rica. I was able to enjoy the trip a whole lot more...