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Four questions to ask before you agree to housesit

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Our homes are one of our most valuable assets, which is why it’s important to have someone trustworthy take care of them while we’re away. Some people turn to professional housesitters to maintain their homes, while others rely on neighbors, close friends or family members.

If you’ve been asked to watch someone’s home, there are some aspects you should consider before taking on — or declining — the responsibility. Here’s some advice on how to navigate those conversations and what to keep in mind when making your decision.

What responsibilities will you have?

When a neighbor or friend taps you for housesitting duties, first have an honest discussion about the responsibilities and their expectations. Joshua Viner, a regional director of the vacation rental platform Vacasa, says both parties should work together on creating a checklist, which should include detailed instructions, to avoid miscommunication.

“Written agreements with professional managers are a given, but it’s also really helpful for anyone caring for a home to have a checklist that they reference,” Viner says. “Make sure to write out each task that needs to be done and how often, especially when it comes to watering plants or other tasks that aren’t one-size-fits-all.”

Having a healthy relationship with your neighbor or friend before taking on the responsibility is also helpful, because if something goes wrong, you’ll need to be prepared to have some potentially tough conversations.

Viner says to be sure to get phone numbers for home repair and maintenance services in case you need them, as well as instructions for devices such as the security system and thermostat. He also says not to overestimate your familiarity with a friend’s or neighbor’s home. Ask lots of questions, even about elements that seem obvious. “Being a guest in someone’s home and being the caretaker are two very different scenarios,” Viner says.

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How often should you communicate?

Other pre-departure discussions should address your communication frequency and which situations will need a phone call vs. a text message. D.C.-area real estate agent Nurit Coombe says that, although communication is important, you can probably keep contact to a minimum unless there’s an emergency.

“If it’s just keeping an eye on things and checking the home periodically, there may be no need for communication unless there is an issue,” she says. “If it involves pet care, you probably want to communicate once a day, even just a quick text to say everything is going well.”

How should you handle the mail?

Collecting mail is a pretty common request when people go out of town; a stack of mail can be a giveaway that a home is vacant. If you have access to the home, Viner advises finding a secure place in the house to store the mail. That will make it harder to lose or misplace packages, bills or other important items.

If you’re housesitting during the busy holiday season, Coombe suggests leaving mail duties to the professionals.

“We encourage our clients to have their mail held at the post office, and it’s very easy to set up. It’s a simple online form, and the post office will deliver your mail and packages to you upon your return,” Coombe says. “Especially during the holidays, when unexpected packages may arrive, it’s best not to put this burden on your neighbor.”

What kind of pet care is involved?

Adding pet care to your housesitting duties — depending on the type of pet — can make the job much more time-consuming. If you’ve previously spent time with the animal and are comfortable looking after it, make sure you have everything you need before saying yes.

Angela Laws is a community manager for TrustedHousesitters, a company that connects petsitters and housesitters with those seeking the services. She says you’ll need to have a detailed feeding and walking schedule, a list of allergies, quirks and favorite toys, and the number for the vet in case of an emergency. For cats, get instructions on cleaning litter boxes; for dogs, find out where you should dispose of their waste.

Ask for additional information that can help you replicate pets’ routines, including whether they need cuddle time, what games they like to play and whether they have a preferred walking route. “In a pet parent’s absence, nothing for your pet should change except its human caregiver,” Laws says.

How to decline a request

Remember that it’s okay to say no. You should feel comfortable with a housesitting request, and if you don’t, let it be known that you don’t have the capacity to take on the job. Coombe says that if you’re not comfortable, politely decline and suggest other options, especially if the absence is for an extended period of time.

“The key to [saying no] is to be positive and gracious,” she says. “Tell them you’re honored that they trust you, but your schedule is simply too busy. Be honest and let them know. You could also suggest an alternative friend, a housesitter or a property manager.”

Mariette Williams is a freelance writer in Florida.

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