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House-Sitting: Communication with the Owner is the Key to Success

Surprises when house sitting are most unpleasant, particularly after a long and expensive journey. Arriving at a house-sitting job to discover that it is not at all what you had envisioned causes major disappointment, especially if you have committed to a lengthy stay. And imagine the home owner’s dismay if you are not as he or she imagined you to be.

The simple way to avoid these situations is to get as much information as possible before coming to an agreement to undertake the position. Hopefully the owner’s schedule will permit answering all the important questions far enough in advance so that either of you can back out of the deal if something is amiss. Not only does trading facts with the home owner well in advance of the meeting date arm both of you with all the information you’ll need, it assures the home owner that you are serious, experienced and professional.

Trading e-mails is the best way to define the owner’s needs and desires, as well as his physical location. But in addition to simple written questions and answers, we have found that at least one telephone call to the owner makes things more personal and helps solidify the relationship. We always send a prospective owner a photograph which speaks volumes about us—how old we are, our ethnicity and grooming habits. If we are not acceptable to them for any reason, they have a chance to break off negotiations then instead of being surprised later.

In return, we ask for photos of the owner, the house, the garden to be cared for and any pets that are part of the job. Most owners find this flattering. But it also gives us agreat deal of information. The shrubbery that was advertised as a “small plot” suddenly appears as acres of carefully tended formal rose garden, “the dogs” are transformed into a half-dozen Great Danes and the house appears in dire need of structural work. In truth, we have never turned down a house-sitting position because of the pictures, but at least we always knew what we were getting into.

The Internet is a valuable tool for researching potential jobs. Once you have the owner’s address, mapping it on line so that you can see it’s relationship to cities and towns is easy. Even aerial photographs are available so you can visualize the basic topography. But be careful—we once took a suburban house sit advertised as only two kilometers (1.2 miles) from the town grocery. The surprise was that the whole trip was on a 45 degree slope. We were in the best shape of our lives after hiking up that hill with backpacks full of groceries every day for six weeks.

Perhaps the best way to use the Internet for exploring a proposed house sit is to teleconference with the home owner. This can be accomplished computer-to-computer via Skype if both you and the owner have the software and webcams.

Excerpted and adapted from the ebook “The House Sitter’s Guide: How to Live Rent-Free Anywhere in the World” by Kathy Barron and Tom Wood.

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