General Advice for House Sitting

Definitions of a House Sitter

1). A person who occupies a dwelling to provide security and maintenance while the owner/occupier is away.

2). To take care of a house or residence while the owner or occupant is temporarily away, especially by living in it.

3). When one ‘house sits’ they generally stay and watch the house in place of the owners, which would be most important at night when there is greater risk of mishaps (e.g. robbery, fire, etc.).

It is interesting that the definitions do NOT mention pets. However, I have found that over 90% of house sitting requirements include the care and well-being of the clients ‘pets’ or ‘babies’ as some of the clients refer to them.

I do not intend to include ‘dog walkers’ and ‘dog sitters’ (sic).

To give more clarification on both, let’s say a ‘dog walker’ is a person who collects the dogs from the client’s property and takes them on a walk for half an hour to an hour and returning them to the property. The ‘dog walker’, in a lot of cases, is relieving the client who may be occupied with work. This person has no references other than ‘word of mouth’ and could be a risk for the client if the dogs’ concerned are valuable. However, there is a demand for ‘dog walkers’.

‘Dog sitters’ cover those people who visit a client’s property while the client is away and feed the pets and spend from an hour or two with them once or twice a day. The ‘dog sitter’ does NOT stay overnight. I have never understood why clients use ‘dog sitters’ instead of house sitters – paying the extra for someone to look after the property etc. Of course, it could well be that the client is at work during the day and requires someone to pop in and check that all is well with the pets.

First and foremost one must look at the clients who are concerned about the well-being of their pets on the one hand and their property on the other.

Having been involved with house sitting at clients properties both overseas and local (Western and Eastern Cape), I have acquired a knowledge of a cross section of clients as covered below. Some of you might be critical of my views.

The Client

Clients can be divided into a number of categories, a few of which I am going to mention.

The following content on clients is purely my own opinion on the experiences that I had gained over the years House Sitting.

I have been rather fortunate in having the bulk of my clients who are young, well-educated professional people who are concerned about their pets on the one hand and their properties on the other.

It is interesting that none of them had children, hence their dedication to their pets.

I also, have a couple of clients who are in the 50 to 60 age bracket whose children have grown up and moved away – these clients have pets more as companionship than anything else.

And finally, I had a client who is a professional at a university in Cape Town, who is elderly and on occasion visits her family in Gauteng, South Africa. Like most elderly people, there was little to no regard to the tidiness to her property but the mainstay of her life being the three dogs and one cat that she had acquired from ‘homeless’ people. As you can imagine, there was no training nor control over the dogs, who had no compunction in taking food from the table. I declined in continuing house sitting for her. This experience of a rather elderly lady proved to me that I have found the 30s to 50s age-group of client far more to my preference.

However, each to his own – although I find that my preference lies with a specific age and income group – that does not mean that other House Sitters should take cognizance of my views.

To explain further, I prefer my house sitting experience to be enjoyable and in comfort. I love the animals, and also tidy and well-maintained properties. And, of course, a separate bedroom and bathroom to the owners’. Okay, you might find this odd, however, I somehow feel that sleeping in someone else’s bed is a private thing.

If you can, it is advisable prior to the House Sitting date, to visit the client and meet the pets. To discuss the meals and times for the pets. To see the property and the client(s) who would like to have the confidence that their pets and property are in good hands.

I have a prepared list of questions I ask the client; which I then print and hand a copy to the client.

I always dress smartly when visiting a new prospective client as it gives them confidence in the person who is going to look after their property and animals.

Always start with a greeting with both members and then if the pets are around, it is an excellent idea to stroke and pat them and compliment the pets and the owners.

On entering the house/property mention the furniture (and show your knowledge if it is Cape Dutch and/or antique) as most people are proud of their furnishings and appreciate being told. Comments like this can give you extra kudo points.

I have found in 90% of cases that the ‘woman of the house’ is the person in charge of employing and interviewing the House Sitter. Her husband or partner will sit in and rarely makes a comment. However, always never forget that he is part of the decision making and it is an idea when answering a question from the wife, look occasionally to the husband to gauge his reaction as well.

If you can, it is an excellent idea to have one of the pets close to you that you can stroke and pat while chatting to the client(s). This gives them a tremendous confidence that you and the pet are getting on with each other.

Don’t forget when leaving the property to once again to stroke, pat and say a few words of encouragement to the pet(s) concerned.

When asking what your views are on animals, don’t say “I know dogs/cats”; this is enough to put the client off you. You have to say “I love dogs/cats”. Comments like this will give you extra kudo points.

Finally, my next issue (Issue 2/2022) will cover more on the property, the pets, feeding, food and medication. Don’t forget to read the next issue in two weeks time.