Whether your end-of-year plans include time spent away from home or housesitting for a friend who is travelling, there are several small but important considerations that can make a dramatic difference to overall safety, security and short-term insurance coverage. In fact, the tips below also serve as good reminders even if you’re staying home for the holidays this year.
Top tips for home owners
Make sure all security features function properly
For your cover to remain active, a policy usually depends on stated security measures being used. For example, if you have an alarm linked to armed response and have noted this to your insurer, it must be active at all times. Check that all is in good working order before you head on leave and make sure anyone tending to your property understands how to operate the system properly. Also provide all important information for their easy reference, including contact details for the alarm company and how to reach the neighbourhood watch.
Make sure your house sitter understands all insurance requirements
Someone staying in your house (not just visiting periodically for post, trash or ad hoc duties) gives rise to further considerations. It can be common when staying in a place that isn’t your home (or when being on holiday) to feel more relaxed about safety. However, popping to the shop but forgetting to close a window could be a much costlier experience than the milk and bread originally budgeted for. Make sure your house sitter understands all security requirements, as well as other insurance considerations. What happens if the geyser bursts, for example – who should they call? To play it safe, think of the worst-case scenario and plan ahead. Leave sufficient guidelines, notes and contact details for the house sitter to be able to handle the emergency.
Take care to choose the right house sitter
If you are trusting a friend, family member or neighbour to housesit for you, be sure they are reliable. From keeping your postbox emptied periodically to opening your curtains occasionally, routine can make a big difference to the results.
If you do not have a friend or acquaintance to assist, there are professional agencies who provide housesitting activities. However, be sure to get a good recommendation or reference, and address all your security and any other requirements when consulting them for a quote. You should also check their own insurance details (will they be covered if they lose personal items or have an accident while staying in your home, for example) and have a formal contract in place.
Top tips for house sitters
Understand your responsibilities if housesitting goes beyond the house
Be careful not to overwater pot plants, in case a spill could cause a problem. If you are watering a garden too, you may need to note water restrictions. Also make sure you understand how lighting for any outdoor spaces work, as lights left on during daytime hours (or not switched on at night) might signal that nobody is home.
If looking after pets, be sure to lock up properly when going out for walks and ensure that water bowls are secured. Turn any taps used to refill bowls off properly and avoid placing a water bowl where it might get knocked around. Also consider that bored pets can look for items to distract them. A holiday job does not have to mean the end of your favourite pair of shoes, so ensure chewable or tempting items are stored safely. You can also ask pet owners to leave some chew toys. Finally, check all key considerations: where pets sleep, how to make sure they don’t accidentally set off alarm beams, when and what they are fed and their other routines. It can be hard on pets when their owners are away, so being prepared as best you can will go a long way.
Take care of the trash
It’s important to check the day bins are collected by the council. Wheelie bins can attract burglars, as little movement may reveal less activity at home. Be sure to take the bin out on designated days and to bring it back in as soon as you can. If you’ll be celebrating Christmas at the house you’re looking after, be careful not to throw anything away that could indicate new or expensive purchases, such as the packaging for a new TV.
Practice makes perfect
Ask the property owner about all relevant terms and conditions of their insurance policy and make sure you apply the required measures. Also consider practising key routines before their departure. It can be a good idea to get a sense of the neighbourhood, such as going for a walk nearby to note where the closest safe place is to exercise the family dog. You can also note where recycling drop-offs, the nearest vet or any other emergency services are.
For both home owners and house sitters, having a checklist against these tips could be a place to start. However, there will be specifics to add depending on your circumstances and it’s always a good idea to touch base with your adviser. It’s best to be thorough to ensure a safe and carefree holiday.