How to Keep the BEST House Sitters

House sitters, as a whole, are a bit of a strange lot. You’ve got everything from unemployed handy men to college students wanting free rent, to van- and RV- dwelling retirees. Each with their own unique set of strengths, needs, and skill sets. Some are great housekeepers who leave the home pristine, others are gifted with dogs, while others can work miracles in the garden. A sitter may make one home owner very happy while leaving a frown on the face of another. When you find that special sitter who matches your needs and sensibilities to a T, when you have that perfect “catch,” then, naturally, you hope to use that person again. And again and again. So, how do you become a regular client of a sought-after house/pet sitter? How do you get them to come to YOUR house during the holiday season when house sitters become scarce? Homeowners spend a lot of time and effort searching and interviewing for that perfect sitter. Few, however, realize that sitters are also seeking the perfect client. So what makes a great client that will draw the best sitters back to your door again and again? Really, it’s as simple as common courtesy.

I’ve been pet sitting now for over 20 years. I’ve worked everything from weekenders to gigs over a year in length. I’ve been in all kinds of homes, from rustic to fancy, caring for a great diversity of pets and yards. So what makes the “A List” for me as a highly experienced, background-cleared house sitter? In a word: courtesy.  You see, some clients treat house sitters like a valuable commodity, treating them as the gold they are. After all, you’re leaving this person with the safekeeping of your home, your valuables, and – most importantly for many – your beloved pets. Yet, after the hiring is complete, many people act as though the sitter is a janitor or other employee barely above notice. When it comes to choosing gigs, who do you think will get first priority for their time in the future? You guessed it: the client who is kindest; who most acknowledges the sitter’s value and contribution. So, for those who may not have thought of it, here’s a list of the qualities of my most valuable, “regular” clients who get first priority for my time and energy.


When a house sitter arrives, s/he comes with an abundance of articles, from clothes to food and everything in between, needed for the stay. This often entails many trips to and from the vehicle to drag it all in. The longer the stay, the more food and other necessities that must be lugged. And, although shorter gigs require less food, a sitter may still have many things to drag into, and back out of, the house in just two or three days’ time. I, myself, have four different pillows I use for my neck and back which, in itself, is two trips to the car. So the first flag of courtesy for me is: does the person offer to help carry stuff in? Of course, if a client is aged or disabled this isn’t expected but, otherwise, it’s a common courtesy to offer aid to someone with carrying luggage, (especially if, like me, the sitter herself is no spring chicken!) And this goes doubly for people with steep driveways, lots of stairs, or other features that make many trips to and from the car exhausting. If you have an early flight and won’t be there to greet the sitter, try to have someone there to assist them and get them settled. This shows you’re thinking about their comfort and needs as well as your own.


If you have a really early flight in the morning and want to see the sitter before you leave, consider inviting them to come the day before and spend the night. Often, especially if the weather is very hot or cold, sitters will stay in an area more comfortable until the last minute in order to avoid an overnight stay in bad weather. Arriving early morning means either a stay in challenging weather or driving in the early morning darkness to arrive on time. This can be a hardship for sitters, especially those of retirement age who may not see well at night or can’t get up in the middle of the night and drive. Although it is preferable to meet before leaving, if you have no spare room to offer the night before, consider having the sitter arrive after your departure, preferably with someone there to help them unload and show them around. If you have no one to greet them, simply providing the garage door code or a hidden key will allow the sitter to enter after you leave. Although this is not preferable to me, I have had clients that had to be gone by the time I arrived and it was no problem at all since we had talked enough for them to be comfortable. And, now, with the advent of Zoom and other technologies, we can enjoy face to face time before the appointed gig so everyone feels they are adequately acquainted. 


While many people barely notice the house sitter’s arrival, other clients greet them with a dinner out. This gives the client and sitter not only time to bond, but allows a relaxed atmosphere for any concerns or questions to arise that may have been previously overlooked. This is especially helpful if the sitter/client is new. Everyone feels much more relaxed about the situation after spending some relaxing time together over a meal. All of my regular clients take me out to a restaurant (or cook) before they leave. My favorite ones even take me out again afterwards! This is their way of saying “thank you” and it is deeply appreciated.


Rather than making sure to clean out the frig and cupboards before you depart, consider leaving some things to eat for the incoming sitter. They may have arrived after a long drive without the energy to shop right away or, very likely, they have a very small food budget living on a shoestring. Leaving some healthful foods in the frig, freezer, and cupboard like fruit, vegetables, and unsweetened nuts gives a sitter something to eat immediately and helps to supplement their own budget so less needs to be bought. (In my article, How to Prepare for your Sitter, I’ve also mentioned leaving nuts, nut butters, crackers, and other non-perishables as emergency food in case of power outage or the need to evacuate with animals.) So leaving some food is a good idea for many reasons. This is especially nice for sitters who will be there only for a few days. Lugging food in and preparing large meals when one is there less than a week is a lot of trouble and leaves too many leftovers for the sitter to take. And while I like leaving occasional food gifts for my clients to return to after a tiring trip I, like many, can’t spare a lot of money for food I don’t eat. Some of my clients even buy special food items for me that they know I like but can’t afford, such as something special from Costco, where they can get it cheaper than I can.  


If a sitter is only there for a weekend, it’s okay to live out of a suitcase. If your journey is carrying you away for a longer period than about a week, however, you will want to consider making room for the sitter to be comfortable. An empty dresser drawer or two for clothes is greatly appreciated. And, if your trip is going to be a long one, don’t forget about the frig and cupboards. If a sitter is going to be living in your home for a while, they are going to need to stock up on food, freeze portions they prepare, and so on. As a sitter, it is frustrating to come into a home with a week’s worth of groceries and find a full refrigerator and freezer with absolutely no room for my own food. Some people even have an additional freezer also totally full! This is just not acceptable. People need to eat, hence need food storage. If you want to make a good impression as a client, please take the time to clean out the frig and freezer as much as possible before leaving. Often, all the space is taken up with condiments that can be pitched. Freezers often appear full simply due to not being organized. I’ve lost count of how many times I have had to clean out a freezer to make a little room for myself, only to find that with some reorganization, there was room. It just wasn’t readily apparent. Your sitter should not have to do a full freezer cleaning to find a bit of space. If you want them to come back, please leave at least one empty shelf and one crisper drawer in the frig and at least a square foot of space (preferably more) in the freezer.

Another thing clients sometimes don’t consider is parking. If a client is going to be in your home for more than a week, necessitating runs to grocery stores or other outings, then the sitter is going to want easy access to the front door to load things in. If you are leaving a vehicle, please leave it in the garage, on the far side of the driveway, on the street or at a friend’s, and leave the parking space closest to the front door for the sitter.


If you have amenities in your housing community for residents, such as swimming pool, spa, etc., make sure you leave a key or code for the house sitter to enjoy those benefits. If necessary, register them with the homeowners association or whoever is in charge so they have permission. Often, just having the key for entrance is enough to allow use of facilities.


Frankly, it surprises me how many clients don’t think about tipping, especially if the house sitter is serving for free or has a lot to take care of in your home. Spraying cats, not-quite-house-trained puppies, walking dogs, extra gardening and other duties certainly deserve a tip for a job well done but, in general, it’s a good practice to always tip a sitter. If a person is house sitting for less than two months, then they are incurring an expense in time and gas just getting there and back that the length of stay is not compensating. The most desirable clients recognize the travel expense to house sitters and provide the most generous tip they can.

What is a generous tip? This answer will vary among sitters but here’s my own viewpoint. For me, personally, a stay of a month or less is when I want the highest tip. I know that sounds a bit counterintuitive but, stay with me, the reasoning is sound. You see, if a sitter has to drive someplace, then drive away in a few days or weeks, she is doing so twice on the same income for the month. As many house sitters are on fixed income, this is a common problem. Not only do we need to pay for gas to get there, but then have the same expense a second time in a short window of time. After a month, however, one has a second check to pay for the return trip, so it’s not all coming out of one month’s check. The longer one has in one place, the longer and less steeply inclined is the slope of expenses related to the house sit. Unless I’m driving all the way across country (which I wouldn’t do anyway unless the sit was for at least 8 months to a year), then I feel pretty happy that I’ve recouped my expenses after three months. Hence, not as worried about the size of the tip.

So here’s some loose guidelines on tipping. Bear in mind that the tip should also reflect the amount of work you have asked someone to put in. If the sitter is picking all your fruit off your trees and bushes, weeding your garden, and mowing your 5-acre lawn, they should certainly get the heftiest tip you can provide. Some clients actually pay extra for these duties. (If not the sitter, they’d be paying a yard service or other people for them.) I’ve contracted to paint, do spring cleaning, and other duties for separate pay on top of house sitting. I’ve also personally taken care of some animals that were so much work it was like a full-time job. To receive no tip for these services shows a complete lack of acknowledgement of the great job someone has done. So, here’s my guidelines:

For one week or less, if the person is local (hasn’t traveled) and had easy-care animals with no lawn work, a $50 tip is sufficient, at least for me. If the lawn or animals were high-maintenance, $100 is a better tip for 1-2 weeks. For 4-6 weeks, consider a minimum tip of $200. This is a sweet spot for many sitters. If they can drive away with two hundred bucks, they get a full take of gas and some food and they are happy. For 3 months, consider $200-300. Longer than that – just my opinion – the tip can go down. Free rent and utilities for six months, for example, is a great recoup of the time and gas it took to get there. (Again, provided it wasn’t all the way across country.) For up to six months, somewhere between $300 and $500 is a good tip. When you get up to 8 months and above, however, I’m happy with some gas to get on my way so we’re back to $150-200. That’s IF this was not a work-intensive gig. If someone is working their but off for months on your property, this should be appropriately compensated with a generous tip. Now, mind, if you tip more than that, I’d be very impressed and put you on the top of my list! These guidelines are the minimum that feel fair to me after many years of dealing with various situations. 

Having said all that, we sitters do recognize that some of our clients don’t have deep pockets either, so do the best you can and let them know you’d do more if you could. That way their work is acknowledged and they have, at least, a little to send them on their way.

If you follow these guidelines you will be on the top of the list for your house sitters and will have far fewer times when you find, to your chagrin, that all your sitters are already too busy for your needs.

And, as always, feel free to contact me with any questions or house sitting needs. Good luck and safe journeys!

How to Prepare for your House Sitter

Okay, so, you’ve run an ad, you’ve interviewed people, and you’ve chosen what you hope will be a good, reliable pet/house sitter. Whew! Now you can put up your feet, rest and relax, knowing your work is done. Right? Well… not quite. Now’s it’s time to think about how to prepare for the house sitter. After all, one of the reasons we hire house sitters is because we know that, in our absence, it’s possible things can go wrong and we want someone there to respond in our stead. And setting it up for the house sitter’s success is the best way to assure that, in that event, things will have the best outcome possible.


A good place to start is with a list of all the things a house sitter may need to know while you’re away. How much information and autonomy the house sitter is given will depend on various factors such as how well you know the sitter (are they new, or are they your regular?), how far away your travels take you, and how long the house sitting assignment is for. I’ve done house sits for a year and more, with owners overseas and not easily reachable, so I have had to deal with many things myself. In this case, it is good to equip the sitter as fully as possible for emergencies. This list should include:

  1. The phone number for the local police department, fire department, veterinarian, water department, and utility companies. If in a planned community with its own security, include the number for security and an office/admin number for HOA in case they have any questions related to the rules or upkeep of the property.
  2. The names and ages of all your pets, what they eat, any medications or supplements they need and how often. List how often they need walks, any favorite toys or games they like, and any interesting or unusual habits they may have so the sitter can understand them as much as possible. If you have special words or hand signals you use, be sure to list them and demonstrate for the sitter. Everyone trains their animals differently, so it’s helpful to have an idea as to the owner’s approach with the pets.
  3. The login information for wifi in the home. Staying connected is crucial these days, especially for sitters who work online or are isolated on a country estate. Don’t leave the house sitter without internet, and don’t charge them for it unless you absolutely must. Connecting via email is also often the best way to stay in touch with the sitter.
  4. Key codes for entry gate or other areas s/he may want or need to access.
  5. Login information for Roku, Chromecast, or other TV services linked to devices. In the event of a power outage, these will sometimes logout and require reboot. Although this is not a crucial thing, it’s nice if you can leave your house sitter with uninterrupted entertainment.
  6. The name and phone number of someone close by who can come over and assist, if necessary. This could be a relative, a friend or trusted neighbor. In my own experience as a house sitter, I’ve found it’s always nice to have the name and number of a neighbor, regardless of what other names you may provide. For example, if house sitting in the country where the neighbors are not within visual range when the power goes out, it’s nice to have a number to call to see if others have lost power or if the problem is within the home.
  7. The name and number of someone who can makes decisions if you are not within easy reach by phone. I have house sat through several environmental calamities, and have witnessed major damage to home and/or property. If part of the roof is blown off your home, or a tree falls on it, the sitter will need to either be empowered to contact the homeowner’s insurance and get repairs started, or someone else close by needs to be.


  1. Petty cash. This depends on how long you will be gone and how you work things, but a good amount is usually $100-200. This can be used for an emergency plumber, pet food, etc. If you are going for gone for an extended period, having a Paypal account can come in handy and I strongly recommend you set one up beforehand. This way funds can be transferred rapidly if necessary, requiring less cash be left with sitter. And it’s totally free to transfer money to “friends”. If the sitter is trusted, then no worries either way.
  2. Keys for house, mail box, swimming pool or other amenities the sitter may enjoy while there. Hide a spare key somewhere in case of lockout. Some people prefer to leave it with a neighbor but then the house sitter may find herself in the awkward position of having to disturb someone very late or early, or the neighbor may not be home when a key is needed, leaving the sitter locked out in extreme heat, rain, or cold. It’s best to hide a key and show the sitter where it is. You can remove it as soon as you get home.
  3. Leave your credit card on file with your veterinarian with a letter authorizing the name of your house sitter to bring your pet in, in case of emergency. If you are reachable, the sitter will no doubt call first for your approval but, if you can’t be reached, you may not want your pet suffering because of it. Due to financial constraints, some people utilize vets less than others, so be clear with your sitter what constitutes an emergency in your judgement or how you would like her/him to respond should your animal get sick or injured.
  4. With the advent of increased wild fires, superstorms, etc., it is important for the sitter to have as much of a backup plan developed by you as possible. Be sure to leave pet carrying cases where they can be easily reached if sitter is forced to evacuate and be sure s/he knows where they are. If possible, also provide an alternate place to go with the pets, such as parents, etc., where s/he can either stay with the pets or leave them safely with others.
  5. Leave several flashlights and unscented candles in case of extended blackout. Include spare batteries (for flashlights, as well as remote controls, etc.). I once house sat through a black out a week long and found the stores were quickly out of everything emergency-related, including – you guessed it – candles and flashlights.
  6. Location of major shut off valves for water, fuse box for house (be sure to label all the switches, if you haven’t done so), timer switches for sprinkling systems if they need monitoring, etc.
  7. If doing work, such as gardening, is part of your “contract” with the sitter, make sure s/he is shown where all necessary tools are located, as well as shovels for cleaning up behind pets and anything else that is needed.
  8. Emergency food. In case of blackout, being snowed in, downed trees blocking roads or driveways, etc., it’s nice to have some dried fruit, an assortment of nuts to eat, crackers, nut butter, and other easily consumable foods on hand. If you have a wood stove or tea warmer with tea lights (tiny candles), some canned soup is also good to have around. Not everyone eats meat, so best to keep it to vegetarian options such as tomato soup, vegetable soup, etc.
  9. Regular food. Leaving food in general is a nice thing to do for your sitter. Rather than try to empty the frig and cupboards before you leave, I recommend you let the sitter know they’re free to eat anything in the house. (If you have a $50 steak in the freezer or something like that, be sure to let them know that’s not included! LOL) This is especially helpful for sitters hired for short gigs, like weekend trips. Providing a little pasta and marinara, some frozen fish and potatoes, or other fruits and veggies helps the weekend sitter avoid a lot of unnecessary shopping and lugging of foods in and out in such a short time. (Personally, I find short house sits almost too much trouble for that very reason and is why I charge the most for the short sits.)


  1. Be sure to give your house sitter a tour of the house, garage, shed, or any other place they may need to access in your absence. Show him/her where shut off valves are located, where needed tools can be found, where the above items like flashlights, batteries and other emergency implements are kept.
  2. Show house sitter where the pet carriers are located, hoses for water, etc.
  3. Give sitter a tour of the kitchen and bath. It is not unusual for a sitter to have trouble locating a pot they need, where the spices are hidden, where the pet towels/rags are if they have wet paws to wipe, etc. These are all things someone staying in your home will want to know.


  1. Be sure to let any concerned neighbors know you will have a house sitter there and, if you have it, show them a picture of the person. You can also take the house sitter to meet neighbors, so they can see the person and be at ease. Often, well-meaning neighbors can be quite nosy, causing discomfort for house sitters. Sometimes they even call the owners, worrying them needlessly. I recently had a neighbor worried about how close I had parked my van to the garage door to shade it with the house. Although there was a whole foot between the garage door and my van, the woman looked suspicious of me and didn’t believe I was the house sitter because she didn’t like the way I parked! There are so many weird things that can happen when people are paranoid, especially in today’s climate of distrust. Pave the way for smooth sitting by assuring neighbors that you have a trustworthy person who has passed a background check to house sit for you.
  2. If your absence will be lengthy, consider setting up an account with or other place you like and have pet food, cat litter, etc., sent on auto-ship. This frees the sitter from trips to the store and lugging heavy bags or boxes of litter. DO ask the sitter about allergens. Many people (as well as pets) don’t do well with fragranced litter. It’s always good to err on the side of caution and use non-fragranced products as they can be quite harmful to both pets and humans.

Following these suggestions will help insure you home and beloved fur-babies have the best possible chance of having a safe and fun time with a relaxed and prepared house-sitter.

Any questions? Feel free to contact me with questions or any house sitting needs!