housesitting

42 questions you must ask to avoid house sitting hell

WHEN you agree to house sit you make an important commitment to your host(s). They rely on you so they can take a once-in-a-lifetime holiday, go on their honeymoon, visit ailing relatives or leave their home and pets for any number of other significant reasons. It is important that you understand and honour your commitment.

Of course, you also want to enjoy your time in their home, and having a fabulous sit starts long before you talk to your host or even before you apply for the sit. If you’ve already been house sitting and part way through the sit thought to yourself, “I wish I’d asked that” or, “What did they tell us about that?” chances are you didn’t ask the right questions to start with. Knowing the important questions to ask of yourself and your host is vital to getting all the information you need for a successful sit. 

42 questions you MUST ask before accepting a housesit

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42 questions you must ask before accepting a housesit

There is as much variation in house sits as in house sitters. Sits can be in the city or country, big houses or small apartments, lots of pets or very few or even no pets. Some pets need lots of company, others little or none. Happy house sitting arrangements come from a good match between hosts, pets and sitters. Don’t assume anything. Ask the right questions and you will be well equipped to make the right decision about whether to take the sit.

So what should you ask?

Before you apply for the housesit

You’ve seen a house sit that interests you. It’s in a country or region you really want to visit and the host and pets seem great. But online profiles can be a far cry from reality. Before you apply there are a few things to think about.

There are seven important factors we consider before we approach a host: climate; safety; travel costs; the number, type and needs of pets; local activities and attractions; availability of public transport; and deal breakers.

Climate, safety and travel costs

What is the climate in your destination, is it a safe area and what are the travel costs to reach the house sit? Do some research. Barcelona may seem like an amazing location but it gets seriously hot in summer. We don’t go to areas that the Australian government warns against visiting. You may love the idea of two weeks in CapeTown, South Africa, but if the airfare is going to cost a small fortune and you can’t afford it, perhaps you should reconsider.  

The number, type and needs of the pets

Ask yourself whether the number and type of pets suit you. There’s no point in taking on a large, powerful, young dog if you are not strong enough to manage him on walks. If you don’t like cats don’t take a house sit caring for a cat even if the home is in your favourite destination in the world. Caring for other peoples’ pets is all about giving them the genuine affection that their owners give them.

housesitting pets

Local activities and local transport

If you’re going to be in Upper Moose Head West, Idaho, for three weeks, with only one cat in your care, will you have enough to do? If your host is not providing a car and the only bus that comes by is the school bus, will you be too isolated? 

There is a remarkable amount of information on the internet seemingly no matter how remote the location, so go for it. And remember to ask your host for local knowledge of public transport, places to visit and interesting activities. If no car is offered, you might want to raise the possibility. In our experience, hosts often don’t think of how you might get their pets to a vet if need be, but they are prepared to leave a locked car in the garage

Deal breakers

Prepare a list of your definite deal breakers.  If there’s something about the sit that you really would not enjoy, be honest with yourself. You don’t want to have a terrible time because of something that could have been avoided easily. For instance, we feel very uncomfortable in homes in which people smoke. And for now, anyway, we’ve had enough of really hot climates, so we don’t consider those sits.

Prepare a list of questions to ask the host

From your research and consideration of some of those points, you’ll probably have a list of questions you will want to ask a prospective host. These might include some of your deal breakers as well as basic questions about the sit. So, now’s the time to contact the host and arrange a time to meet.

Meet the host

42 questions you MUST ask before accepting a housesit

Get your free cheat sheet now.

42 questions you must ask before accepting a housesit

We’ve taken only one sit where we didn’t meet the host beforehand. It was one of our first sits and it was a big mistake. Meeting hosts gives you an opportunity to see whether there is a rapport with them and their pets and to ask all the questions.

Meetings don’t necessarily have to be in person, but can be arranged on video through apps like FaceTime, What’s App or Skype. The best option is to visit but, of course, it isn’t always possible. We are booked up to a year in advance and we may be returning to a city or country and able to visit a host months before the sit starts. If we can, we always do.

I’m not suggesting that you ask all your questions in rapid-fire style.  If your conversation with your host is good, many of your questions will be answered as you chat. You may also find that many are answered in the host’s profile and might just require confirmation or a bit more detail.  For example, if you have a car you will want to ask about parking arrangements. Depending on the your unique circumstances and the characteristics of the assignment and host, you may not need to ask some questions at all.

Lawrie and Kirsty made us feel confident and secure from the very first video chat we had with them. Meeting them at our apartment confirmed our feelings.
Naomi and Stephen, Hosts

The pets

It’s really important to consider the pets’ needs and whether you are the right person to look after them. If there is a dog that needs company all day but you want to explore the area, maybe that sit isn’t right for you. Experience has shown us that it is wise to meet the pets or at least see them online and ask the following questions of your host.

  • Do the pets have any health issues and, if so, what specific medications/other strategies are required?
  • What are they fed, where and when?
  • What type of exercise do the pets need and for how long?
  • How often do they need to go outdoors and/or how often should litter be changed?
  • Do the pets vomit and/or lack bladder control?
  • How does the host want you to manage things if the animals get sick? Do they have an account with their vet and does the vet know that you are house sitting?
  • Is there a carry case for the pet?
  • How long can the pets be left on their own?
  • Can the pets go in the car?
  • Is there anywhere in the house or garden the pets aren't allowed?
  • Where do the pets sleep?
  • Where are leads, food, litter and cleaning materials stored?
pet medication schedule for housesitters

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Home and environment

We all get used to the creature comforts of home and develop a liking for certain things. There are some things that sitters just can’t do without. For us, it’s good coffee and tea. So we carry the coffee and tea we like, plus a small stovetop percolator and tea-making pod. (We thereby eliminate the potential catastrophe of arriving somewhere to find we can’t have a coffee or tea!) It’s really important to know your own needs and make sure that your sit suits you. If the host doesn’t have a food processor and juicer and you can’t live without them, the sit may not be for you.

One of the most important questions you can ask  hosts concerns their previous experience of house sitters. Look for references from past sitters. If the host has had several but none has provided references, it might indicate that the sit was an unpleasant experience. The same is true, of course, when there are several poor references. One bad reference among many good ones is more likely to mean that an individual sitter had a bad experience but that this is an anomaly. We have taken sits where there are no references after satisfying ourselves that the host is a reasonable person offering a high quality sit. 

housesitting application letter

The list of questions below was developed from our experience. Some of them may seem odd to you, but we wished we’d asked them all before accepting some sits. These should be in addition to your list regarding the pets.

  • Ask the host for a tour of their home and to see the room you’ll have.
  • How well equipped is the kitchen?
  • Are there any regular problems with the water or power supply?
  • If a car is included, confirm you are covered comprehensively by the host's insurance and ask for a copy of the documentation.
  • Is there a security alarm and how does it work?
  • If there is a pool are you required to look after it? Ask for specific instructions.
  • Do they want you to look after a garden or potted plants and what are the specifics?
  • Do they want you to collect their mail? If so, where is the mail box and do you need a key?
  • Will you be sleeping in the hosts' bed or another room and what would they like you to do with the sheets and towels the day you leave?
  • Do they have wi-fi and is the signal strong?
  • Has the host worked with house sitters before and was it a success? 
  • Have other house sitters provided references for them?
  • Have they provided references for other house sitters?
  • Ask the host to formally request in writing that you to sit for them, either by email, message or on the site on which you met.
  • Ask the host to complete the written Welcome Guide if you are using a site that provides one.
Is this sit

The location

  • What is the proximity, frequency and cost of public transport? Are there any ride share options such as Uber?
  • What is the proximity of shops, supermarkets, gyms or any other facilities you need?
  • Is the neighbourhood noisy or quiet?
  • Where are the local dog parks and walking tracks?
  • Are pets allowed on public transport?
  • What is the local etiquette when you meet other people with pets while out walking? For example, are leads required on dogs at all times or only in certain areas?

The host's personal likes

  • What does the host regard as an emergency and what would they like you to do if there is an emergency?
  • Does the host agree to you having guests, including overnight?
  • What type of communication would the host like with you and how often?
  • Would they like you to be there when they depart and return?
  • Does the host have any issues with you posting about the sit on social media or your website?

Once you have all the answers ...

  • Read the sit manual and seek further information if required.
  • Confirm your host's contact details (including preferred contact method) and address.
  • Confirm contact details of local support people, vets and emergency services.
  • If you’ve been asked to do any tasks of which you are unsure, seek further clarification.
  • Send the host any extra written notes or completed checklists documenting your conversation. Send only those comments not already included in another housesit manual.
  • Seek written confirmation of host’s travel details (flight numbers, times, dates).
  • Confirm when they would like you to arrive and depart.
  • If relevant, check whether you can stay in the host’s home before they depart and after they return.

Now you have all the answers, you can make your travel plans and pack your bags.

Have fun!

house sitting

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4 Responses

      1. Hi Kirsty,

        Thanks very much for this. I’m sure it will be of great use to both housesitters and people requiring sitters.

        1. Thanks Virginia. So glad you think the post is useful. Hope you, Mark and Bella are all good.
          Kirsty

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