There’s an element of faith in setting up any housesit, despite the vetting that takes place through the use of trusted, paid websites as intermediaries. You’re never sure exactly what a given home will look like when you arrive, no matter how many photos (or Skype tours) you’ve seen of it, for one. Nor can you always be confident of the exact character of the neighborhood, or the ease of access to food markets or public transportation. There’s a sense in which surrendering a bit to serendipity is part of the fun of housesitting, but it can also be stressful.
THE KEY TO ENSURING A MINIMAL-STRESS HOUSESIT
Another potential for tension is between homeowner and housesitter. This can come up if you have different ideas or expectations about what each party is supposed to do or provide. To mitigate this, we advise writing up a housesitting agreement, then having both parties sign it. This ensures that everyone involved can feel a sense of security and mutual satisfaction with the arrangement.
HOW TO BEGIN A HOUSESITTING AGREEMENT
Our housesitting agreement begins with this paragraph:
As housesitters, “we” (Heather Demetrios and Zach Fehst) take very seriously our responsibility to “your” (the below-named homeowner) home and/or pets. As long-term world travelers, we appreciate the peace of mind that good home and animal care can provide. We see this agreement as ensuring a fair exchange: we provide the listed services below, and in return the homeowner agrees to certain provisions as a fair recompense. We believe this works to each party’s mutual benefit.
So it’s not Shakespeare, and it’s a bit heavy on the “legalese,” but it’s serviceable. It’s not a legally binding contract, but we want to be clear that the stakes are considerable. You are, after all, going to be responsible for someone’s property and beloved pets; it’s kind of a big deal.
WHAT TO INCLUDE IN A HOUSESITTING AGREEMENT
After the opener, our agreement includes a few different sections, with all of our provisions bullet-pointed below each one. It’s important to list everything you can think of! Better to spell it out in advance then to wish you’d been clearer later, after a disagreement with a homeowner. Our agreement runs about four-and-a-half pages long.
What Housesitters Will Provide
Here we list basics like “care of and residence in the home” (duh) and “we agree to be considerate, quiet neighbors,” as well as things like “we will be present for any scheduled deliveries and/or maintenance.” This is decision time for you! What exactly are you willing to agree to here? For example, we also say that we are okay with “watering the plants and doing moderate gardening.” If you’re not okay with that, better decide it now!
What Homeowners Will Provide
This section is really vital to get right to make sure that you’re happy in your sit. Ours begins: “The homeowner agrees to leave the home in a reasonably clean state.” Who wants to stay in a pig sty? We then add things that would be deal-breakers for us, like the fact that homeowner agrees “to provide all food and sundry items necessary for the care of the animals,” and “cleaning supplies for maintenance and upkeep of the space (i.e. gardening gloves, mops, trash bags),” and that the homeowner agrees to pay all utilities. What you’re trying to avoid is being on the hook for lots of expenses that you really shouldn’t need to pay. Remember, you’re not just getting a free place to stay out of the deal: the homeowner is saving a fortune by not having to pay someone to care for their pets!
In this section we put things that don’t quite fit in the other sections, like the fact that one of us may have to leave on a business trip or something during the sit (so there would only be a single person in the home instead of a couple). You’ll likely have your own unique stipulations.
Specific Details of This Housesit
This is the nuts and bolts section. We ask the homeowner to provide their full address, specific dates of occupancy, policies about the use of their car (if available) and about overnight guests. We ask for detailed information about their pets, including medications, feeding procedures, and daily routines. Crucially, we ask the homeowner to provide as much contact information as they can for many different types of possible emergencies or contingencies (gas service, plumber, electrician, mechanic, etc.) as well as nearby hospitals and veterinary clinics. When things go wrong (and they haven’t yet for us, but knock wood!), this will be important. We also ask homeowners to designate a specific in-country support person whom we can contact for any random questions or situations that may pop up. Usually this is a family member nearby. At the end of this section, each party signs and dates.
Okay, now you know how to safeguard your housesitting harmony with a handy agreement. Happy sitting!
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