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A house sitter can save you thousands

Whether your sitter is a live-in or drop-in, a vigilant pair of eyes on your home can prevent serious problems.

By Donna_Freedman Dec 26, 2012 1:18PM
Logo: House with bills (Creatas/age fotostock)Planning a trip? It's not enough to stop the mail and board the dog. You need a house sitter.

You might not even have to pay for this service: 
  • Maybe a friend with three roommates would appreciate a week of privacy and peace.
  • Perhaps a trusted neighbor will pop in for a daily walk-through, as a frugal act of kindness.
  • Have a recent-grad cousin who had to move back home? He'd probably pay you for a chance to pretend he has his own place.
Whether your sitter is a live-in or a drop-in, you need a vigilant pair of eyes on your digs. Even for a long weekend, you really do. Here's how I know.

My dad was out of town last week, and I got there for Christmas a day-plus before he did. Good thing, since a leak in the water pump tank was just beginning to develop. Within 20 minutes the drip became a steady trickle, dumping eight gallons of water per hour.

I shut off the power to the pump and emptied the water tank so it wouldn't drip all night. The plumber who showed up the next day diagnosed a failed pressure relief valve.

If circumstances had been different, my dad would have come home to an indoor wading pool. That's one vote for having a live-in house sitter. He did have someone walking through once a week or so. But suppose the leak developed five days earlier vs. starting shortly before I arrived?

An Anchorage friend spent several months house-sitting last winter. Initially the homeowner had waffled on having someone stay there. Good thing she changed her mind: The furnace failed. Had the house been vacant, the owner would have returned to find frozen pipes and major water damage.

Lots can go wrong 

Speaking of cold, if you live in a snowy place, your house sitter's footprints and/or a shoveled path could discourage would-be burglars. This kind of subterfuge works even if the house sitter isn't actually staying there. A guy I know who's keeping an eye on the neighbors' place moves the couple's vehicle from spot to spot to warn away would-be thieves casing houses in that part of town: Somebody is home.

He also checks their mail, which is a good thing: A number of pieces, including a tax bill and a credit-card bill, were not forwarded to their six-months-a-year snowbird address.
Stopping your mail isn't always good enough. "Shopper" publications and coupons/political ads hung on the front door are dead giveaways. (My daughter calls these "rob-me tags.")

So are packages. One was waiting outside my apartment when I got back from a two-month-long trip last summer. I'd had my mail forwarded, but this unexpected mailing was dropped off by a private carrier. Luckily, I had non-larcenous neighbors.

As for my dad, he's planning to buy moisture sensors for the basement -- the kind you can check via the Internet when you're out of town. Even a live-in house sitter might miss a leaky water pump tank, unless he sleeps in the cellar.

More from MSN Money:

9Comments
Dec 27, 2012 6:49PM
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House sitters can also be a nightmare unless you have someone you can really really I mean really trust. Not the neighbor who brings 17 friends who want to see your house, or gives the key and alarm code to whoever when they don't feel like walking across the yard, or the ex-Mother-in-law who decided to not just "check in" but stay there with her gentleman friend and empty your panty & freezer & leave you piles of dirty sheets towels & dishes, or the dogsitter housesitter who when I came home I found she had left the dog outside in the pouring rain and the house unlocked....... You might be better off (if it's warm enough climate) to shut off the water and furnace and have a camera connected to the security system you can monitor remotely and remove any valuables jewelry etc to safe deposit at the bank.  I had one dogsitter housesitter who was wonderful, paid her $50 per day plus mileage, big dog loved her, college gal who soon graduated got married and moved away, after her it was a disaster, never again. 
Dec 26, 2012 5:28PM
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back in my babysitting years I made a lot of extra money by  house sitting, either going over to get the mail, packages, watering plants, taking care of pets or spending the night.  One family I babysat for had a dog, 3 cats and a bunny.  It would have been more to board them and more traumatic for the animals.  15 years ago they would pay me $30 a day to house/pet sit a day.  Would ask me for a grocery list if there were particular foods I wanted.  If a pet required special attention (shots or trip to the vet) they paid me extra for that.  I always got paid in advance and arrangements were made with the vet before they left that they would be billed after if a vet visit was needed.  If you aren't sure about leaving emergency money with your housesitter then "hide it" if they call with an emergency then you can direct them to the hiding spot if needed.  Boarding pets can cost over $30 each for each day.  Dogs can catch "kennal cough", most often though the stress of the situation can cause them irratible tummy trouble/stress.

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Dec 28, 2012 11:45AM
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In the winter, if I am leaving for several days, I turn off the water, flush the toilets, open all faucets to drain the pipes, turn the water heater to pilot setting (electric heater turn off the power), turn off the ice maker in the fridge.

If everyone did this people would not come home to frozen pipes and massive water damage if the heat goes off.  Very simple, takes a little time.  Yes insurance covers this damage, but your rates will probably go up not to mention the hassle.
Jan 2, 2013 2:20PM
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I have a contractor work on my house when I'm away.  It's a great way to get caught up on any needed home repairs and at the same time, you know that someone's regularly at the place.  I then let my neighbor know that his truck will be in the driveway.

Of course this depends on having a contractor you can trust.  I would never do this if I'm hiring someone to do a job that I didn't previously know.
Dec 31, 2012 5:30PM
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HAVE OBAMA IMPEACHED! THAT'S HOW YOU SAVE YOURSELF MONEY! HE JUST SIGNED EXECUTIVE ORDER TO GIVE A PAY

RAISE TO CONGRESS!!!! HOW OUT OF TOUCH IS THIS SOCIALIST MORON AND DEMOCRATS? YOU THINK ANY DEMOCRATS

ARE GONNA GIVE UP THEIR PAY RAISES AND THEY ARE ALREADY MILLIONAIRES??? TALK ABOUT HYPOCRITES! I'M SURE

THEIR TAXES WON'T BE GOING UP LIKE THE REST OF US ALONG WITH FOOD ENERGY PRICES! THANKS OBAMA DEMOS!

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Donna Freedman

Donna Freedman, a writer based in Anchorage, Alaska, writes the Frugal Nation blog for MSN Money. She won regional and national prizes during an 18-year newspaper career and earned a college degree in midlife without taking out student loans. Donna also writes about the frugal life for her own site, Surviving and Thriving.

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