By Nancy Bennett
Home Away From Home
When people retire, many look forward to travelling more. Whether it is to see family and friends, or to go somewhere you’ve always wanted, the only downside to travel is where to stay? No one wants to stress out family members who might not have the room or spend a fortune on a cold impersonal hotel room. One way to make your stay less stressful and easier on your pocket is to consider house sitting.
House sitters benefit from a free place to live and get to experience new countries and cultures.
Home owners seek house sitters for a variety of reasons. Some home insurance policies do not cover houses that are vacant for extended periods. Finding renters for the exact time a home owner is gone would be difficult. Home owners would also need to put many of their personal belongings in storage with renters. One of the biggest advantages of having a house sitter is having someone to look after your pets and household while you are gone. The costs of boarding pets can be prohibitive and animals do better in their own homes.
Being retired or close to retirement usually gives you more flexibility with travel arrangements. If you own a house yourself and want to experience living in a new place you can swap houses on Home Exchange. The arrangements can be for a few days or up to a year and there are locations all over the world.
How to Begin
There are many websites which give you listings of homes coming available in your target area.
House Carers and Mind My House are two of the ones who provide this service. On these sites you can log in with cities of your choice and your qualifications.
If you do not have access to a computer, or want to cover all the bases, you can also check the yellow pages for house sitting services. Check with local real estate agents, who might have a line on someone looking. Post your own ad in the area you plan to travel to. Newspapers,churchs and local tourist and community centers are all worth contacting. Family and friends in the area you are going to stay can also canvas their own social network. If your trip is to be centered around a certain interest or event, such as golf, why not ask the local greens if you can post an ad on their bulletin board?
Who Pays for What?
Who pays the bills? Normally things like taxes, rent, insurance premiums are paid by the home owner and the day to day costs such as hydro, gas, heating etc are paid by the house sitter. It is always good to clarify in writing who pays what before you commence sitting, as nothing sours an experience more than haggling over money after the trip is done.
For long term stays, any general maintenance should also be discussed. For instance if the home owner usually mows his own lawn, but you don’t want you, you will have to pay for someone else to do it.
A security deposit is usually requested by the home owner, and will be used to cover any incidents that may be caused by you. If you break a window, even by accident, you will be expected to get it replaced.
If the stay is going to be a long one, and affected by the seasons, you will have to negotiate for possible compensation. If it is a freezing cold winter, your landlord would have to pay anyway to keep the heat on, lest the pipes freeze. However if you like it semi tropical inside, and your host would usually just stick on another sweater, you will have to pay the extra to turn up the heat. It is always best to set a consumption standard, and agree to pay the extra if you go over.
Pros and Cons
Sometimes you will need to plan your trip dates around the house availability in the area, so it is best to plan well in advance. You may have to adjust how long you want to stay to accommodate the owner. You may also be asked to route phone calls or mail. You may have to do certain chores or pet sit in the owner’s absence. If pet sitting it is best if at all possible to meet the animals before you move in. This might mean arriving ahead of the home owners departure so the pet is not put off by “that strange man in my house.”
But there are also many pros to house sitting. You will feel like part of a neighborhood and cultivate new friends in the area. Your eating costs will be down as you can cook at home, and you can come and go as you please without worrying about being locked out of your hotel. If you want time alone, you can settle in with a good book without worrying about ignoring your relations.
Things to Remember Before They Depart
Make sure to get the following
- a contact number for where the owners can be reached.
- A list of emergency numbers including insurance providers, family or trusted friends, repair people and if pet sitting, the animals veterinarian. The owner should also instruct you on how much will be spent in the event of a health emergency, or better still have this cleared with his vet.
Good House Sitting Etiquette
My mom had a saying that one should always leave a house looking better than when you arrived. This means taking care of the day to day cleaning, and being considerate of the house owner. If you smoke for instance, and the house owners don’t make sure you always smoke outside away from the house. If your host is allergic to certain scents, don’t saturate yourself and your surroundings with your favorite perfume. Learn to live without, or use it sparingly. Bring your own linens and towels. Make a list of what food is in the larder so you can replace it before the host returns. Make sure you clean out any leftovers of yours and replace any. If your host lives in a quiet area, don’t crank up the stereo after 8 pm.
Above all, relax and enjoy your stay. Most people who have house sat before find it extremely rewarding, both financially and mentally. But be careful it can be addicting. You may find yourself wanting to expand your house sitting experiences out of Canada, to see more of the world. Paris, anyone?
About the Author: Nancy V Bennett divides her time between her farm ( Three Sisters Farm) on Vancouver Island and writing articles on a wide variety of subjects. Her work has appeared in over 400 publications, including Dogs In Canada, HR Luxury Magazine and Reunions Magazine. She is an avid heirloom gardener and promoter of saving and sharing seeds, especially rare and endangered tomato and sweet pea varieties.