Often a successful housesitting experience can rest on the quality of communication and the information provided between the homeowner and housesitter. In her latest guest blog for Housesitmatch, Kelly Hayes-Raitt outlines some tips on how to best avoid miscommunication and misunderstanding in advance and during your housesit.
Communication can make or break a successful housesitting experience
As someone who has been housesitting internationally full-time for the past 12 years, people often ask me, “What makes a great housesit or successful housesitting?” (…or, “Have you ever had any bad ones?”)
For me, it’s not necessarily the cuddly pet, the breath taking views from the house or the exotic locale that make a great housesit .. although all those things help!
I believe what makes the most successful housesitting experience for both the homeowner and the housesitter is the relationship formed between them. This may seem counter-intuitive since housesitters and homeowners rarely spend much time together. However, the basis of that is clear, concise, timely communication.
“Clear” communication is one of those muddily defined concepts that can easily lead to misunderstandings.
Here are 13 tips for establishing successful communication with your potential housesitter or homeowner. (Great communication works both ways!)
Put your communication preferences in your profile
If you are a homeowner who wants daily videos of your pets, mention that. If you are a housesitter who likes a lot of detail, say that.
Assess each other’s communication styles
I like to do that during my video interview, so I gauge the homeowner’s responses and the way they provide information. Has the homeowner only partially answered my questions? Do my questions spark other information the homeowners want to provide? No judgments – this is just information gathering to see how easily we each give and receive instructions.
Homeowners can use this interview to see how quickly and thoroughly a potential housesitter takes in their information. Savvy homeowners notice I take a lot of notes (hey, I’m a writer!), indicating that I absorb information by reading it.
The power of video communications
Other homeowners like to make videos of their homes or leave explanatory post-it notes in strategic places. Personally, I love post-it notes! But a housesitting buddy told me she felt they were condescending.
I’m not a big fan of videos, as I have to sit through the whole thing to find the nugget of information I need.
Other housesitters love them. So ask and adapt to each other’s styles, strengths and preferences to improve the chances of a successful housesitting experience.
Discuss communication specifics ahead of time
I ask homeowners how often they’d like me to communicate and by which method (email, text, WhatsApp). Then, I calculate what time zone they’ll be in so I don’t interrupt romantic dinners with mundane questions. From there, I ask whether there will be parts of their trip when they might be less accessible (daily while on the ski slopes? week two while on the safari?).
Homeowners can take the lead in this discussion and proactively request their sitters not to contact them at certain times (unless there is an emergency).
I’ve been surprised by the number of homeowners who’ve told me – when I asked – that previous sitters had sent too many photos or videos of their pets. As sitters, we assume we are being really diligent by sending a lot of photos, but some homeowners just want to get away.
Before the housesitting assignment get as much information as you can
Some homeowners already have thorough house/pet manuals. Others are new to the idea of a stranger living in their home and are uncertain about what info to leave. I have a thorough housesitting agreement form that requests the homeowners’ travel arrangements, names and numbers of local emergency contacts, and every pet and house contingency I’ve encountered.
I ask homeowners to review my form and complete anything that isn’t in their manual.
This is another assessment that indicates whether I’ll be a good fit with these homeowners. If they baulk at the length or depth of my form, we won’t mesh. If, on the other hand, they appreciate my thorough questions, then we will likely have a great experience!
Agree on how we will convey that information
I recently had a housesit where the homeowner provided an online document with links to information such as her vet. That wasn’t helpful for me; I prefer names, phone numbers and addresses printed out that I can grab during an emergency without having to fire up my laptop and click through to find vital information. Other sitters would have been fine with her electronic document.
But I had to email her three times for the name of her after-hours emergency vet. She had provided only a link to a list of vets with no indication of preference or proximity to her home. Not helpful if I’m rushing a sick dog to medical care.
By the date of the housesit, we had exchanged several emails where I asked for clearer or more complete information. I’m sure it annoyed her that I kept coming back for clarification. I know I was annoyed that I had to spend extra time requesting and collating what I felt was critical and routine info.
We both went through with the housesit anyway. Communication never got better. She then decided to leave the key in a lockbox at the last minute. However, she didn’t send me the combination – which was different from the keyless entry code previously sent to me.
So there I was standing in the drizzle having just flown in, desperately needing to use a bathroom – and waiting for her to respond to my texts for the lockbox combination. Not a great welcome! Communication continued to be incomplete and – eventually and inevitably – became strained, creating a stressful experience for us both.
Even though the dog was an absolute dream, it was one of my worst housesits. Had I paid more attention to our differing communication styles, I would have requested a pre-trip conversation to address those differences.
Listen for “red flags” in the communications
If the housesitter indicates they are getting free digs, the homeowner should be wary. If a homeowner says, “But I’m letting you stay at my house!” s/he clearly doesn’t understand the magnitude of the responsibility the sitter is undertaking.
Pay attention to how quickly homeowners respond to pre-trip texts and emails. Sluggish replies aren’t likely to improve when either party is distracted by new routines.
Ask for feedback during the sit
“We love the photos you’ve sent so far. But we really miss Fluffy. Can you please text us more frequently – every other day, please?” Or, “Would you prefer fewer or more photos of Rover than I’ve been sending?”
Respect time differences and schedules
Those times when either party may not be available to chat. The homeowner mentioned above was upset when I failed to read an email asking if an exterminator could come at 8:00 that morning. She’d sent the email at midnight – and I didn’t read it until 8:15, missing the exterminator’s window.
Indicate communication styles in reviews
This helps future housesitters or homeowners get an inkling of what they might expect. In reviews on my profile, homeowners tend to note my “detailed questions” or “thorough questionnaire.”
Follow up on house and pet minding briefing notes
I thank the homeowners for their detailed house/pet notes in my review of the homeowners. Then, incorporate my hand-written notes into the Word doc the homeowners sent me. That way, I have additional info for future sits. Homeowners could also ask housesitters for info they should include in their housesitting manual.
Thank each other for a successful housesitting assignment!
Most of all, remember that gratitude, patience, flexibility and a sense of humour go a long way to smooth communication missteps. We’re all here to help each other to assure successful housesitting experiences!
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Kelly Hayes-Raitt jokes she sleeps around – usually with animals! She is the author of How to Become a Housesitter: Insider Tips from the HouseSit Diva, available in softcover and Kindle on Amazon or as an e-book at www.HouseSitDiva.com.
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