House Sitting – Expect the Unexpected

House Sitting Guidelines - Be Prepared for your house sit

Last updated on November 10th, 2019

House Sitting Preparation To Ensure Your Next House Sit Is Plain Sailing

Every house sitter hopes each assignment runs smoothly and is only eventful in a positive way. Most of the time they are, but every now and then something goes wrong.

Whether it is something that happens to the pets, the house, or even you. It is quick thinking, rapid action and prior preparation that will save the day, and your reputation!

When I’m not house sitting, one of my favorite pastimes is sailing. I’m never happier than at the helm of a yacht. Either in full waterproof gear crossing the English Channel or in swimwear, island hopping around the Mediterranean.

A couple of years ago I finally got around to obtaining my RYA Day Skipper qualification. The course syllabus had very little to do with the actual skill of sailing a yacht. Instead it was all about planning voyages and preparing for and responding to situations when things go wrong.

Being prepared ensures a good house sit

Michelle at the helm

A Good Captain

A good captain does not sail into heavy weather unnecessarily nor do they leave port without having all the equipment and communication tools necessary to get them and their crew back safely – however short the voyage.

A good captain ensures they and their crew know how to respond to a man overboard, an onboard fire, an engine failure, a sail breaking or the hull being breached. They make sure everyone knows what steps to take should they have to abandon ship so that everyone makes it back alive.

Even when they are on someone else’s yacht, a good captain’s first thought is to familiarise themselves with the location and operation of all the safety equipment.
As At Sea, So On Land

I’ve had to deal with a couple of incidents on my latest long term house sitting assignment – a pet poisoning and an injury to myself while gardening. Having successfully dealt with both, I realized that the skills I’d learned as a sailing skipper were equally applicable on dry land as a house sitter.

Anticipating potential problems, taking measures to avoid what can be avoided and ensuring that the right tools, information and procedures are in place to respond to those that can’t be avoided, are skills that every house sitter (and homeowner) can learn.

Here are a few house sitting guidelines that will help every house sitter be better prepared for their house sitting voyage. You can be a good captain to your crew and be able to deal with any situation that arises after the homeowner sets sail.

Pet illness while house sitting

Pet Illness Or Injury When House Sitting

  • Program the telephone number of the vet for your current assignment into your phone – so you aren’t trying to find it in the home-book or on the notice board. This will also help you deal with any emergencies that happen away from home.
  • If the homeowner hasn’t taken you to the vet, go before you need to – Know the fastest route and where to park, etc.
  • Know the vet’s opening hours. Call them out of hours to hear if they have an emergency number, special instructions etc – it’s a lot easier to write these down when you are calm than when you are in the midst of a crisis.
  • Have a backup vet – preferably a 24 hour one – and repeat the above steps.
  • Learn a few key words in the local language. Perhaps have them on a piece of paper in your purse or wallet. Even if you can’t pronounce the words, you can point to them. Injuries are generally obvious but trying to describe symptoms of an illness can be problematic.
  • Familiarize yourself with some basic pet first aid for the species you are caring for. Treatment can vary from species to species and is often counter-intuitive compared to human first aid.

Property problems when house sitting

House Sit Property Problems

  • Familiarize yourself with the location and operation of the controls and emergency shut off mechanisms for electricity, gas and water.
  • Check with the homeowner what is “normal” for the electrics. Rural electrics can be less stable, so find out about any foibles the system might have. You don’t want to incur expensive call-out fees for an electrician when you have just been over ambitious with the number of domestic appliances in use at one time.
  • Keep torches in key locations in case of power outages – by the front door, by the bed, at the top of the stairs – so that you can safely move around in the dark.
  • Familiarize yourself with the emergency services number of the country you are in. They are all different and some countries have different numbers for the different services, instead of one number for all.
  • Ask the homeowner for the latest bills for all utilities – electric, gas, water, internet – as these will have all the contact information you need and the account numbers you will need to quote in the event of a problem.
  • Learn how to describe the property’s location or a place where you can meet people to bring them to the property. Addresses often aren’t enough and sat-navs aren’t as accurate in some countries.
  • Ensure the homeowner leaves the contact number of an electrician, a gas engineer and a plumber. These are the tradesmen you are most likely to need in an emergency.
  • Ask the homeowner about any likely weather situations you might have to deal with. Are there windows that leak in heavy rain? Is the area liable to flooding? How does the homeowner deal with these situations?
  • Consider what you’ll do in the event of a fire. Where is a fire most likely to occur? Are there any fire extinguishers you should know how to use? What escape route options do you have?

Car Trouble

  • Familiarize yourself with the rules of the road including alcohol limits for the country or area you are visiting.
  • Find out what the procedure is in the event of an accident. In some countries you have to call the police to every accident, however minor. In others they only need to be called if the accident is causing an obstruction for other traffic.
  • What documentation requirements are there? Some countries require you to carry all personal and vehicle documents at all times, others don’t.
  • If using the homeowner’s car, have them show you that the insurance, tax and any vehicle inspection certificates. Make sure they’re valid for the duration of the assignment.
  • Keep the car fueled up at all times. An emergency run to the vet or hospital shouldn’t be delayed by having to stop for fuel en-route.
  • Have the telephone number for your breakdown service in the car and in your phone. If you don’t have breakdown cover then the number of a mechanic close to the property.
  • Keep a bottle of suitable engine oil and a bottle of water in the car and ensure all levels are checked regularly. Different cars use oil and water at different rates so don’t assume the homeowner’s car will be like yours.

House Sitting First Aid

Human Emergencies – House Sitting First Aid

  • Ensure you know where the nearest hospital or emergency clinic is located. As with the vet – drive there, figure out where to park, check opening times and find an alternative just in case. Similarly for a pharmacy.
  • Check if there is a good first aid kit in the property and if not, get one. Check the contents and replace anything that is missing or out of date. You don’t want to cut yourself badly and then discover what you thought was a first aid kit actually just has two small plasters, some mosquito repellent and a tube of haemorrhoid cream in it (I speak from experience)!
  • Keep your phone on you at all times – especially if you are a solo house sitter. It’s no good being a crumpled heap at the bottom of the stairs if your phone is at the top.
  • Ask the homeowner for the number of a trusted neighbor and program it into your phone. You may need them to step in and feed pets if you have to go to hospital.
  • Familiarize yourself with key first aid actions such as what to do for someone who is having a heart attack, a stroke, has had a blow to the head or is bleeding heavily. Many house sits are in rural locations so the actions taken on the way to the hospital or while the ambulance is on its way can make all the difference.

In conclusion…

A lot of what I’ve suggested is second nature to more experienced or full-time house sitters. Other tips may seem like overkill. But at the end of the day it’s better to be over prepared for a disaster that doesn’t happen, than to be ill-prepared for one that does.

So before your next house sit, have a think about any gaps in your knowledge that you can be filling beforehand.

Once you arrive on-board, as well as cuddling your new crew and admiring the view over a welcome glass of grog, put your captain’s hat on for a time and work out what could go wrong. Make sure you have all the information you need from the homeowner before they sail off into the sunset.

You might also like to read:

When things go wrong while house sitting

House Sitting Fire Evacuation Plan

What is expected of a home owner and a house sitter

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House Sitting Guidelines - Expect the Unexpected - Measures you can take to help you avoid problems. By Michelle McDines #housesittingguidelines #housesitting #beginhousesitting

Author Bio








As well as a keen sailor, Michelle McDines is an entrepreneur, business consultant and property investor. Originally from England she is now based in Cyprus. Michelle began house sitting in early 2017 and is currently traveling around Europe with her rescue dog Eddie. Follow their adventures, find useful tips and advice and stock up on fun house sitter themed clothing at  You can also follow The Happy Housesitter on Facebook

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