Sunday, April 1, 2012

The Housesitting Business

Over the past few weeks, Jim and I have learned an important lesson about housesitting: even though there's no money involved, it's still a business!

As housesitters, we're offering a service to homeowners. This service may include caring for a beloved pet, checking the mail, or even gardening, depending on the situation. In exchange, we receive non-monetary compensation, such as a rent-free place to live. Everything is negotiable and no two situations are exactly alike. Both parties have to agree to the terms and feel like they are getting a fair shake.

Once we've made contact with a homeowner (or they've contacted us) via a housesitting website, the next step is to set up a call. This is usually done via Skype. Since most of the homeowners we're talking to are overseas, Skype is a free and easy way to hold video conference calls.

Our initial call is a chance for us to see and hear each other -- an important gut check! -- as well as get more information about the home, neighborhood, and housesitter's responsibilities. First impressions are important, so we make an effort to smile during the video conference calls. It's definitely a two-way street, with both parties scoping each other out and asking questions. Being a good listener can be just as important as talking!

After we finish the call, we usually ask for 1-2 days to think things over and discuss amongst ourselves. We don't assume that we've been offered the assignment unless the homeowner has clearly said so at the end of our call. But the ball is usually left in our court to determine whether or not we're interested in pursuing the assignment.

So what are some of the reasons why we might turn down an offer? In our recent experience, there have been two major sticking points that made us think twice.

First, we need to be fairly compensated. Since no money is exchanged, we're not talking about dollars and cents here. Our "compensation" is what the homeowner offers us in exchange for our services. Clearly, this includes a home to live in. On top of that, the homeowner may also provide:
  • Transportation to/from the airport
  • Use of a personal vehicle, especially if public transport is unavailable
  • The cost of utilities, including electricity, TV, internet, phone, and heating
  • Regular cleaning or landscaping services
  • Payment for immigration-related expenses, such as long-stay visas

In exchange, we're willing to provide 2-3 hours of house work, care for their pets, stay on their property every night, and cover our own food and personal expenses during our stay. Housesitters also pay for their own flights to the location of the housesitting assignment. We may ask for additional compensation for anything beyond these basic services.

The second sticking point is being compatible with the homeowners. This might sound obvious, but it's easy to underestimate its importance. Homeowners and housesitters need to feel comfortable with one another to maintain an open, honest dialog. We love working with homeowners who are friendly, helpful, respectful, and reasonable -- that's the kind of people we want to do business with!

We were sad to hear that many homeowners have been let down by previous housesitters. Some housesitters didn't show up or cancelled at the last minute, while others didn't respect the homeowners' property or pets. There is a lot of trust involved in these arrangements, but believing that people are generally good, trusting your intuition, and doing some quick Google searches can go a long way in terms of building credibility. This is good news for any of you who might be interested in international housesitting -- there are clearly lots of opportunities available for reputable, responsible, and professional sitters!