By James Robert Daniels
If you have clients who must leave their homes before they are sold, or even if they are going to return to their home after an extended absence, consider finding them a house sitter. It can provide many benefits for the homeowner.
Not only is an empty space hard for many people to envision as home, but they get an entirely different point of view from the sofa in the living room. Aside from appearances, a house sitter provides other benefits. A home that’s occupied is more secure from invasion, fire and the little problems (like a leaky roof) that can develop into major deficits (such as catastrophic electrical failure and structural damage).
Homeowner Dorothy Schwartz of Hernando, Fla., says having a house sitter provides “peace of mind knowing everything was being looked after.” For a homeowner, Schwartz says, this means that “if something needs attention it’s going to get it. Mail and the paper don’t have to be stopped (piles of mail and newspapers at the door can alert thieves to an empty house). Garbage is taken out. There’s a car going in and out. In other words the house is lived in and occupied.”
Keeping up appearances of a vacant home and unkempt yard might well cost more than a real estate agent is willing to invest. An absent homeowner, meanwhile, is likely spending the money on travel, purchasing a new home and other priorities.
Helena Bastedo of Hope, B.C. now has house sitters for the first time but has yet to see them or the house since they arrived. She’s happy already and reports, “The couple minding our house has been excellent – dependable, conscientious, thoughtful – really everything one could want in a house sitter. Furthermore, they’ve involved themselves in our community too and have really enjoyed their experience, which meant a lot to all of us involved.” I asked her where she would look in the future for somebody so reliable. She says, “If the same couple was available, I’d bring them back. If not, I’d go to the same website I went to before: mindmyhouse.com.”
Whether it’s a client’s home for sale, your second home, a vacation rental or your own place when you’re on holiday, a house sitter helps to keep it insured. Bastedo says, “The house insurance company preferred that we have a reliable house sitter as opposed to someone checking on the house.”
Susan Holtham operates mindmyhouse.com from her home in Stokes Valley, near Wellington, New Zealand. She says, “Leaving your property empty for any length of time is tantamount to asking for trouble. Not only is your vacant house far more likely to be vandalized and burgled but your home and contents insurance becomes null and void after your home is empty for 30 (or sometimes 60) consecutive days. In the words of every home security, police authority and insurance advisor: Don’t do it!”
Unlike property managers, caretakers or drop-by services, house sitters generally don’t charge fees. Tova White’s family owns a working farm outside of Toronto but they’re only there three weekends a month so they have house sitters to care for the property and animals. White pays hydro, cable, phone and gas (which they otherwise wouldn’t keep turned on). In exchange for the sitter’s accommodation and utilities, they have a list of small jobs, like collecting the mail, feeding the animals and putting out the garbage. . . more or less standard house sitting duties.
The house sitter gets first right of refusal on the extra work of farm jobs, like gardening, lawn care and housekeeping at competitive hourly rates. Most house sitters are interested in earning some income during their stay, anyway. Some take work in the community as well, which helps to get them involved in the local culture and let neighbours know that there’s a well-maintained property here that may be up for rent or sale, all to the good. As White says, “A good house sitter is priceless!”
Sue Fenlon, a sales rep in Woodstock, Ont. has been a house sitter on two occasions and has used the services of a house sitter, who she calls “a gem. I’m embarrassed to say she cleaned my cupboards and I returned home to a far neater home than the one I left her with.” She agrees that the obvious benefit is completely satisfying insurance requirements. And she points out the real possibility of something going wrong: “Last year, for instance, during a snowstorm, the exterior vent pipe for my gas furnace got buried in snow drifts and automatically cut off the furnace. The storm continued all night, and I had to go out and dig out the pipe twice, and reset the furnace both times. Had the house been empty, no one would have been here to do that and the pipes could have frozen. That was one of the reasons I found a house sitter this year.
“The other big advantage is communication. While I was in Mexico this year I wanted to complete the real estate update course on-line. I could register as long as I had my real estate broker’s license registration number. Alas, it had been left behind at home. I was able to email my house sitter and instruct her where to look for the license registration number, and she emailed it to me.”
A house sitter is a security system and more, a connection to your biggest investment and your life back home.
By James Robert Daniels