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.
THE HELPFUL GREETING
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.
INVITE THEM EARLY
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.
THE WINE AND DINE
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.
MAKE ROOM FOR THE SITTER
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.
TIP TIP TIP!
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!