House sitting & Covid – Tips for safe handovers
House sitting and Covid-19
As countries around the world began to ease their Covid-19 lockdown regulations, there was a glimmer of hope for the travel industry. In the northern hemisphere at least, the summer month cases showed signs of improvement, paving the way for the gradual increase of house sits.
House sit listings started to reappear on the international house sitting websites. House sits previously put on hold were revived with more confidence that travel plans over summer and autumn might go finally ahead.
But this was shortlived as winter cases sharply increased once more. There is still a great deal of uncertainty around travel and this could have a knock on effect to any house sit bookings over the coming months.
It's clear that one of the most affected industries in the world is hospitality, travel and tourism and by association, house sitting falls into this vulnerable sector. As one country eases restrictions, another tightens up, and now as the roll-out of vaccinations commences, another level of debate around the issue of global travel is emerging. Will we need proof of vaccines to fly and travel?
Should we be house sitting at all, or with safe procedures in place, is it possible to house sit and continue living a nomadic lifestyle, in a more restricted and local area?
Make informed decisions about travel during the pandemic
Before you make any decisions about travel or house sitting, it’s important that you refer to reliable and trusted sources of information and keep yourself updated about developments around the world where the virus is still impacting decisions.
For reliable information on both the virus and travel restrictions check these websites or your government advisory websites which you will find by searching online:
- World Health Organization
- US State Department Advisory
- Government of Canada Travel Advisory
- Smartraveler - Australia Travel Advisory
- Safe Travel - New Zealand
- UK Government Covid Advisories - Including Travel
While we have seen some countries open their borders to travellers from regions where the virus is under control, it’s still our view that domestic house sits in your home country are the best and safest option, at least for the time being. In some locations, you may find even this isn't currently possible.
With this in mind we’ve put together some tips and ideas for how you can approach upcoming house sits with safety, hygiene and cleanliness, very much at the fore.
Much of this is common sense and merely an extension of the procedures and best practices that experienced house sitters and home owners follow already, but it takes into consideration travel disruption, alternative plans and safety on handovers while keeping to government guidelines.
If you need to cancel a sit organized before pandemic
For both home owners and house sitters, it might be the case that a house sit can’t proceed because of continuing lockdown restrictions, newly introduced quarantine rules, or flight cancellations.
Firstly it’s important to know that you can’t be blamed or made to feel bad for a situation that is outside of your control. Nor should anyone be made to feel that financial recompense or alternative accommodation should be provided. All house sitters and home owners should prepare for emergencies. If you can help each other that’s wonderful, but this shouldn’t be an expectation.
Secondly, prompt and continued communication is key.
Don’t avoid the difficult conversations – stay in regular contact and if a cancellation is necessary for either party, make contact without any delay. There’s nothing worse than not knowing – we are all living with plenty of uncertainty right now, so clear, concise and responsible communication will be appreciated by all.
If a travel ban is imposed, or quarantine introduced, this must be adhered to within the legal guidelines and in the interests of everyone’s safety. We all have different risk levels, and if a home owner or sitter no longer wants to travel through concerns about being infected, this must be respected.
Remember also that your travel insurance for medical emergencies relating to Covid-19 might be invalidated if you travel against the advice of your government.
This is a frustrating time for everyone, but it’s also a time where flexibility and understanding really are the only answer.
For house sits still going ahead
It’s important that the home owner and house sitter relationship remains respectful at all times. These are stressful times, and there are no guarantees that booked sits will take place.
Travel is not being encouraged overseas in many of the countries where house sitting is popular. So it seems the most prudent advice is not to attempt to travel overseas for a sit where you could put yourself or others at risk, and where you may in fact be breaching the guidelines.
We are sure that things will settle down in 2021, and that we will learn to live with this virus. Hopefully by then travel advisories will be more standardized, and it will be safer to take international house sits once more with the necessary testing and precautions in place. Nothing is certain for now though, so it's important to remain flexible and adaptable.
Preparation before the house sit
We keep emphasizing the importance of communication and this is of even more relevance as you begin booking new sits in safe conditions. It’s generally accepted now that there will be significant travel disruption for the foreseeable future.
Now, more than ever, it is important to prepare for emergencies. You'll need to make sure you have a Plan B and possibly even a Plan C or beyond. We've written extensively about having a Covid 19 backup plan, especially for full-time sitters - you can read more here.
For home owners
Make sure you have someone who can take over from your sitters should you be delayed. Just as sitters generally have a Plan B when travelling, it’s now important that home owners also consider what they can do if delayed, particularly overseas. You need to consider the items that might affect house sitters as shown below, and consider what you would do if they are unable to arrive as planned, and at short notice.
Pets - you should also consider the impact on your pets, and not just in terms of the logistics of getting a mix of dogs, cats, poultry etc., cared for if you are delayed. If you have particularly anxious pets, consider the effect on them if you are unable to get back to your home country on the planned date. Discuss with your sitters how you see their care continuing without causing any unnecessary suffering should things go awry with travel.
Pet food / litter tray supplies - this could be a good time to ensure you have an extra supply of food for your pets, just in case you are delayed, or if it becomes difficult to obtain your pets' preferred brands. Make sure more than ever you leave details of your food suppliers, online account details (if applicable), and an emergency cash fund.
For house sitters
Consider the outcomes of the following situations:
Try and risk assess all unforeseen situations. This should include making provision for extra funds should you have to remain in place longer, or find alternative accommodation and travel options.
More tips to make your house sit run as smoothly:
Exchange contact details: Make sure you have each other’s phone, Whatsapp details and email addresses. It’s not a bad idea to take the full postal address too. Don’t rely solely on a house sitting platform messenger system.
Communicate as much as you need to: Discuss openly your views on the virus. There’s a lot of tension around this pandemic. If you feel that wearing a mask is an essential part of social distancing, be clear. We all know house sit matches involve finding like-minds, nothing has changed now. Make sure you are approaching this outbreak with the same level of seriousness.
Stay aware of up-to-date regulations: If you accept a sit or sitter it is crucial that you follow government guidance on social distancing and hygiene.
If you are sick or showing symptoms: Don’t apply for sits, or accept offers if you are unwell or have been in contact with someone with symptoms during the 2 weeks prior. Depending on where you are, you may be required to self isolate for 7-14 days which means you may not be able to meet your commitment. You also risk putting someone else’s family or community in danger.
If you become ill after accepting a sit: We think it’s our moral obligation to let the home owner know – again communication is key.
Follow social distancing rules: Keep to the social distancing guidelines designated by the country you are in. Find out what the guidelines are and make sure you adhere to these on arrival.
Organize a pre-sit interview by video: Particularly in high risk areas, aim to conduct pre-sit interviews by video chat to minimise the amount of time needed in close proximity on arrival . House sitters by nature will be more likely to be moving around a country from different communities, maybe from a more infected region to a less infected area. Practicing safe measures at all times minimises your risk of spreading (and catching) Covid-19.
Keeping each other safe during a Covid 19 house sit handover
I’m sure that for a while, as we all adapt to changes in the handover process, we will have different ideas about how to go about settling into our temporary homes while adhering to safety regs. This is very personal to the sit, and a lot will depend on conversations you’ve had with the home owners, your own safety concerns and risk assessment.
Here are the items we've been thinking about as we prepare to start house sitting again later this year:
- Overnight handover stays. Even though the handover has often been a much enjoyed social meeting on the evening before a sit starts, it makes sense currently to avoid overnight stays with the homeowners either at the beginning or the end of the sit where possible. Local regulations may also prohibit this. An exception could be to stay in a separate annex or BnB accommodation owned by the owners. Another option would be to have your own campervan or motorhome that you could stay in on the property driveway.
- Should you wear a mask at the handover? This may depend on rules within a specific country or state. If it isn’t mandatory, then it's your choice but you may find a home owner requests this for their own peace of mind. If we have to go in a car to take dogs to a walk with the home owners before they leave, we would wear our masks. Everyone has to feel comfortable with their own preferences during the handover and fully respect each other’s choices, as long as they don’t put you or others in danger.
- Learn as much about the sit in advance of arrival - We would suggest asking well in advance of the sit, for the welcome guide (available for TrustedHousesitters members), or a similar home book or online guide, so that you can read through and ask any relevant questions before arriving. If the home owner doesn’t have a guide, send them your own list of questions and ask them to complete online to ease the pressure at the physical handover time.
- Walking dogs with the home owner - We’ve always expounded the benefits of taking dogs on walks with the owners, finding it helps our charges settle more quickly as they see us accepted into the pack. This may still be possible, IF social distancing can be maintained, but if not, then we have to make the most of what can be achieved with restrictions in place.
- Make sure you have the home owner’s travel details – flight numbers, times, cruise ship schedule, etc., so that you are able to track their progress in event of a resurgence of the virus causing possible delays. Suggest that reporting in at least every few days might be a good idea, even if they are people who prefer not to have too much contact while away.
- Emergency contacts - Make sure you have a telephone number and email for one, preferably two emergency contacts – one who would be prepared to care for the pets in an emergency situation. With the potential for travel delays, you should also have the conversation about who can look after the pets if you need to move on to another house sit.
- Testing - Covid tests are becoming more and more easy to get, although they can be expensive if you are not showing symptoms. Tests are now required for travel between many countries. This is a procedure and an extra cost you may need to consider. We have already heard of situations where the home owner has asked for evidence of a negative test prior to the sit commencing. This is a discussion to have when considering the sit. If you aren't being tested but the home owner has had a test to allow travel, you may need to take extra precautions so you don't risk infecting them before they leave.
- Towels and pillows - We've considered taking our own pillows and towels – again a very personal decision.
- Getting to the sit - It’s quite normal for sitters to make their own way to a sit. But this may need some extra consideration during the pandemic, especially if you are using public transport, or expecting a lift from the home owners. Under current conditions, it may be advisable to take sits where you are able to get to and from the sit under your own steam, so as not to put the home owner under any undue risk. If you are overseas, make sure you can organise safe travel to the sit before accepting, by reading the travel advice listed for your destination.
- Neither party is responsible for a sit not going ahead if due to restrictions - Home owners should not be made to feel responsible for accommodating you if the sit doesn’t go ahead, nor for providing financial or medical help. Our experience is that our home owners are always very generous, but difficult times can mean we all have to be much more adaptable, flexible and understanding.
- House sit website advice - If your platform has sent you advice about how to safely handle sits, take the time to read this. They will have more experience of ongoing sits and should be providing invaluable tips and advice to help you make informed decisions. If you have questions, use their customer service lines.
We would advise talking about the handover in some detail during the video chat. We’ve all seen disagreements, I’m sure, on the news and social media about how this pandemic is being handled, and we won’t all agree on the same things. It's good to get clear before arrival if you have conflicting views about safety measures.
Confirm this in writing as an extra precaution if you feel it's necessary.
Covid-19 Cleaning guide for house sitters
Cleanliness is a contentious topic at the best of times for house sitters, it’s so subjective. During this pandemic it’s important you find your own comfort level around the subject of cleanliness and hygiene. Some will be less stringent than others with the cleaning process, but at the very least ensure that government guidelines are being met on handovers, by home owners and sitters, both at the beginning and end of a sit.
You would hope that the property will have been thoroughly cleaned and disinfected before arrival, and you should expect to do the same for the home owner’s return.
This should involve wiping down shared surfaces (light switches, door handles, remote controls, dog leads, etc.) with bacterial wipes and a thorough clean of bathroom, cloakroom and toilet areas. You’ll find more on cleaning below.
We’ve taken a look at the Airbnb cleaning guide that has been compiled with information supplied by the CDC, who have stated that it is possible to catch Covid19 from a contaminated surface. This makes it important to clean and disinfect frequently touched or shared surfaces.
Unlike Airbnb accommodations, it’s not possible to wait 24 hours between a home owner leaving and a house sitter entering the property, so the best you can do is to clean some areas as soon as you arrive.
It is suggested that you both clean (use a soapy sponge or cloth to wipe down a kitchen work surface or bathroom counter), and then disinfect (use a chemical solution to kill germs). Remembering to regularly wash your hands in soapy water.
On arrival, our procedure is going to involve closing off any rooms that we don’t need to use for the first 24 hour period, and clean and disinfect shared use surfaces (such as light switches) in those areas we need to use.
We take our own cleaning materials, and disposable gloves and cleaning cloths just in case the home owner hasn't provided supplies. But, we have already seen sits advertised on TrustedHousesitters where the home owners have said cleaning products, masks and gloves will be provided.
We’ve seen another sit where the home owner has been clear that none of her family have been sick or shown symptoms and that all household products and groceries are sanitized when bought into the house.
I really do think that this will all evolve over time and become a much easier process as we adapt to a new standard over the coming months. These guidelines are likely to go through a number of edits and updates!
Cleaners - If you want to be in control of your own cleaning while on a sit where a cleaner is normally provided, you might ask the home owner to cancel any visits while you are there.
We have produced a summary of the Airbnb guidelines which you'll find by scrolling down. We've selected those items more applicable to house sits. A copy of the PDF along with a list of items to consider cleaning, can be found here:
Home owners should ideally follow these guidelines before handing over the property to sitters, and the sitters should make sure these are part of their cleaning procedure before they leave the property at the end of the sit. Of course home owners might have their own procedures – again something for discussion between you.
We think, in order that home owner approved cleaning products are used, they should be provided at the beginning of a sit. This should include relevant cleaning and disinfectant products, along with disposable gloves and cleaning cloths. All cleaning cloths should be new and unused for the incoming sitters.
Our cleaning check-list:
- Ventilate rooms before you clean (for 20-30 minutes)
- Don’t switch on air-conditioning units or fans until you have cleaned
- Wash your hands thoroughly before and after cleaning
- Wear disposable gloves (remember to wash hands after removing)
- Have own stocks of paper towels, disinfectant wipes and other cleaning supplies
- Clean, then disinfect particularly kitchen and bathroom surfaces
- Focus on frequently touched or shared surfaces such as light switches, kettle etc.
- Dispose of cleaning supplies responsibly and safely
- Repeat process before leaving
Cleaning supplies you might need
As mentioned above, we think it would be better for the home owner to provide cleaning products to ensure you use products they are happy with. As we adapt to a new kind of handover it might be worth considering buying some of your own product, if you have a vehicle to get from sit to sit, just in case home owners don't leave supplies.
Here’s what we’ve thought of:
- Face masksd and disposable gloves
- Bacterial hand sanitizer
- Paper towels / tissues
- Bacterial wipes (my most used product on arrival)
- Disinfectant and bleach
- Disposable cloths / sponges
Eco-products – it might be that your home owner prefers the use of ecologically sound products, especially if they have an off-grid property or sensitive septic waste system. This is something you’ll need to discuss pre-handover.
Conclusion - Updated Dec 2020
Since writing this we have now completed six TrustedHousesitter house sits in the UK and two in France. We have found everyone to be very respectful and considerate of keeping each other safe on handovers and handbacks. We have found by far the best way forward is to discuss how we like to keep our home owners, ourselves and our future clients safe by following some simple procedures. So far we have not experienced any problems and we continue to enjoy the house sitting lifestyle.
All of what we've written is simply a guideline. You might agree with some items more than others – this is just a basis on which you can develop your own way to create a safe handover and handback.
Please let us know in the comments if there’s anything you think we should add, or to share your own experience of a Covid-19 house sitting handover.
Author - Vanessa Anderson
Vanessa and her partner Ian are full-time British travelers and house sitters who have published the online publication House Sitting Magazine since 2016. They provide numerous resources for the community as they continue their explorations and slow travel adventures across the globe. You can find out more about their house sitting lifestyle here or at LongTermHouseSitters.com
Last updated on October 20th, 2021