Why you need a housesitter
Are you planning to go away on vacation and there's no one to look after your house? Who's going to take care of the cat?
When friends or relatives can't help, people like Jeanie Cherkowski can make sure that domestic concerns won't get in the way of out-of-town holidays. Cherkowski, the manager and owner of Domestic Assistants Inc., has been in the housesitting business for seven years.
"It gets busier in summertime and Christmas," Cherkowski told the Georgia Straight in a phone interview from her home and office on Vancouver's West Side.
For a fee, her team will come to your house every day, do some cleaning, pick up the mail and the newspapers, water the plants, move the curtains, and turn on some lights–just about everything to let outsiders think that there's somebody living inside. A typical visit lasts about 15 minutes.
They will also feed a cat, although Cherkowski's outfit doesn't do dogs. "Cats can stay in the house all day by themselves, but dogs–we would have to come in three times a day," she said. "They [Owners] should just put them in a kennel. I don't think dogs should be alone."
Some vacationers even want hot food waiting for them when they arrive home. Others want their pantry stocked with fresh groceries. Such extra services can be negotiated.
Not only do they maintain the house, Cherkowski said, even though they aren't a security firm, their service deters potential burglars. "You just feel safer knowing that somebody is going to check your house," she said.
As far as Cherkowski knows, there isn't an association of house sitters that sets standards of service. However, the 38-year-old professional house sitter offers some points for homeowners to consider. She noted, for example, that her company is insured, meaning it's covered for any damage that may be caused by its house sitters.
"The only thing we're not insured for is if the house gets robbed or if there's a major leak in the house that is not of our own fault, like if there's a leak in the roof," she said.
Her company also has a GST number, an indication of a legitimate business. Asking for references from homeowners who have previously used a housesitting service is also helpful, she said.
Other house sitters have taken this occupation to another level, by moving into the house while owners are away. In some cases, the house sitters –usually a couple–pay the utilities bills.
Housecarers.com, a Web site based in Sydney, Australia, has a list of house sitters and offers a number of tips on the ins and outs of the business. This is how the Straight tracked down Dan Thiessen, a 55-year-old Vancouverite and a former marriage and family counsellor.
Thiessen and his wife Sandra have been housesitting for nearly three years. They've spent eight months in Alberta and three months on Vancouver Island. For the past year and a half, they've lived for free in a $1-million home left in their care by an owner who's working abroad. Thiessen's situation is unique, because he was also given the responsibility of managing the owner's business, and for this he also gets paid.
"I'm living at a home that has a waterfront view in Vancouver," he said. "It doesn't cost me anything. The owner allows me to stay in the place and pays all the bills."
How they started housesitting is a story on its own. Thiessen's wife became ill, stopped work, and now receives a pension. They felt they were a bit too young to properly retire. According to Thiessen, "We decided to develop a lifestyle that was cheap on the overhead but a lifestyle we wanted".
As former Christian missionaries, they are used to moving around, so housesitting was a good option. They got rid of most of their possessions, except for mementos like family pictures.
"We did own a home at one point," Thiessen said. "If you want to live an easier lifestyle, you want to find a way that you don't have to pay for all of that. I like the fact that it [housesitting] allows me the freedom to go to different places. It allows me the freedom not to have a steady job. I like flexibility."