Are you a homeowner thinking of using free house sitters? Maybe you’ve just stumbled on the idea of free pet care in exchange for accommodation, and you love the idea, but you’re not sure if you can truly trust free house sitters.
We’ll give you a short spoiler alert: you absolutely can trust free pet and house sitters to provide top level, professional level, yet free pet care. In this post, we’ll share things to think about and questions to ask yourself as you warm up to the idea.
But first, let’s get on the same page about what exchange-based house sitting is. In short: a homeowner gets a house sitter to stay and care for their home and pets, while the home/pet owner is away. Usually, there is no payment involved – the pet owner gets free pet care while a house sitter gets free accommodation.
We’ve been house sitting since 2016 and have done countless sits, with the vast majority of them done through TrustedHousesitters. BTW, we also have a 10% discount for our readers if you do decide to sign up. Just use this special link to get the discount!
With every house sit, we talk at length with the homeowners about what’s important to them in finding a house sitter. So we’ve learned a thing or two or several about getting started as a house sitter. We’ve even written an entire book to help fellow prospective house sitters do what we do – house sit full-time.
However, we’ve noticed a real lack of helpful information on how to start using house sitters, especially for pet owners looking for their first free house sitters. Getting paid pet care is pretty straight forward, but when it comes to the exchange-based model (what we’ll be talking about here), home and pet owners can get a little anxious.
Most of our house sits have been for “first timers”. While trust is the key between pet owners and house sitters, we’ve noticed that overall everyone is looking for that extra confirmation of security. Here are some things to keep in mind if you’re thinking of using house sitters for free pet care while you go away.
1. Ask Yourself: Are You Ready to Take The Leap of Faith?
First off, when thinking of using house sitters from an online platform, both parties need to take a leap of faith. Both homeowners and house sitters need to accept the possibility that something can go wrong (i.e. a sick pet, lockout, etc).
If things do go wrong, both sides need to do everything in their power to handle the situation and trust that the other side would do the same. We’re not just talking about things that could go wrong at a house sit, but even before. Both parties are vulnerable, and in this way the footing is more equal than at first glance. Homeowners have their pets and property. House sitters could be left high and dry in an unknown country if the house sit is canceled last minute.
Trust is absolutely crucial when it comes to a happy house sitting exchange. If you’re just too anxious about the whole thing, you likely won’t be able to enjoy your time away. So before you move to the following steps when looking for free pet care, really ask yourself if you’re willing to take that leap of faith and trust another human being with your house and pets.
If you feel very uncomfortable with a new person caring for your home and pets, then you may need to accept that having house sitters isn’t for you. Saving money cannot be the only motivation for both you and them.
However, there is one great way feel much more secure…
2. Remember that Reviews Mean Everything
Read people’s reviews before confirming. We can’t stress this enough. And don’t just take our word for it. Every pet owner that we have house sat for has said that they picked us based on the glowing reviews other homeowners had left.
If a prospective house sitter is new, ask about their outside references and if you can contact them in case you want that extra security. (Side note: make sure to review your sitters when you return!)
We’ve asked a couple of homeowners we’ve house sat for if they’d mind being contacted as references, though we’ve only been asked once for their contact info. Virtually all our house sits have been confirmed after a video call that left everyone feeling good about the situation.
Keep in mind that like Airbnb, all it takes is one bad review to taint a profile. Anyone who wants to continue house sitting will do their utmost best to please, because doing otherwise will hurt their ability to do so in the future.
3. Do You Need Official Documentation?
Sometimes reviews don’t entirely assuage those anxious fears about getting free house sitters. We understand that it’s your home and that your pets mean everything to you. Some pet and home owners need more official documentation, such as a background check, to feel safe in welcoming house sitters into their home. Most of the online house sitting platforms now have different levels of verification built into the system. Some websites, like TrustedHousesitters, even have an insurance backed guarantee, for even more peace of mind.
But does a background check affirm that a house sitter can provide proper pet and home care?
Maybe some people do have a criminal record and you’re uncomfortable with that. Yet, who’s to says someone who has a clean record can take good care of your home and pet? These documents don’t verify any of that. It’s more important to go with an experienced house sitter with many five star reviews, than one with no experience but a background check.
Again, it’s not just us who say so. Every pet owner we’ve spoken to says that reviews are the most important factor. We’ve only been asked for a background check one time in all of our years of house sitting.
Also consider things from the house sitter side: it makes the house sitter feel guilty until proven innocent. Arguably, house sitters could request your background check – how do we know we can trust you? Don’t have it? Don’t think you should have to? Brings us back full circle – why should the house sitter then?
Trust goes both ways. Just as homeowners may do their “due diligence” on house sitters, house sitters also have their own methods of feeling out if a house sit is right for them.
This is why one piece of documentation that we’ll always agree to is a contract, agreed to and signed by both parties. A contract protects both sides and should something go wrong, everything is in writing. Generally, contracts include the length of sit, duties for the house sitter, and duties for the homeowner (payment of utilities, credit card left with vet, etc). Homeowners and house sitters can work together to agree on contract specifics.
Once you’ve decided on the necessary info that you need to trust a sitter (and you state that clearly in your listing), it’s time to have a direct conversation, ideally via video.
4. You Should Have An Open and Honest Conversation
This may seem obvious, but sometimes we hear about both parties being disappointed and it almost always comes down to miscommunication. That’s why a direct and live conversation where both parties’ expectations and needs are voiced is vital to a happy house sit. Talking with each other, especially by video, helps ease any fears, get questions answered, and establish a connection with the other person.
As a homeowner, all your concerns should be communicated immediately and clearly. You should have already included as much as you can in your listing so that it can attract the right house sitters for you. That means being detailed on pet care, home location, all responsibilities required of the sitter, and describe the general area (is it accessible via public transport? Are grocery stores nearby? etc.). Include photos of both your pet AND your home (interior and exterior).
Just as all home or pet owners will have different needs, so do house sitters. It’s about finding the right match and connection for what both parties need and want.
Over the course of your conversation, talk about your needs and expectations. Make sure to get all questions answered (and vice versa). By the end of the call, both parties should feel relaxed and excited about the house sit! Once you’ve confirmed a house sitter, that doesn’t mean the conversation ends there. Keep in touch until the trip by providing updates, confirming tickets and arrival times, etc.
5. Can You Trust Your Intuition?
Ultimately, you need to go with your intuition. Even if somethings appears okay but intuitively feels off, go with your gut. We were taken aback by our first house sit – our homeowner was ready to confirm before we were. He was very confident in his choice, thanks to his 30+ years working in the service industry that taught him how to read people.
But if you’re still feeling anxious about getting house sitters, that’s completely fine. It’s about recognizing what you’re comfortable with, and not everyone is going to feel comfortable with exchange-based house sitting. It’s better to be honest with yourself first, rather than go through the whole process of engaging house sitters and then backing out last minute. Just like house sitters should stick to their word and agreements, so should home and pet owners.
House sitting is an exchange; this is an idea that we will keep reiterating. This is the community we want to encourage. If you’re looking for a win-win (meaning a win for both sides), then house sitting can work for you!
We love house sitting because it has connected us to wonderful people around the world who are willing to trust and take that leap of faith. Like many house sitters, we’ve become friends with several homeowners for whom we have sat and welcome the chance to cross paths or even house sit for them again.
Curious as to what website will give you the best tools for finding those perfect sitters? Check out our comprehensive and honest (meaning we didn’t get paid to write it) review on TrustedHousesitters.
Further Resources if You are Thinking of Using Free House Sitters:
House Sitting Magazine: House Sitting Expectations
House Sitting World: What Do House Sitters Expect From Homeowners?
*Editor’s note: This post was originally posted in March 2017 and has since been updated.