Tired of showing up an hour early to sweep the porch at your vacant listing?
If the local homeowners association permits renters, find a house sitter to move in and keep the home in perfect showing shape until it sells.
House sitters also can deter would-be vandals who might find an empty home a prime target, a growing concern in slow markets where listings stand empty for months before they sell.
Diana and Kevin Uphus of Select Real Estate in Spokane, Wash., began using house sitters after their own home was vandalized while on the market. What's more, their home owner's insurance policies wouldn't cover the damages since the house had been vacant for more than 30 days.
"Probably the biggest advantage of house-sitting is the security, knowing that someone is there watching your home," says Diana Uphus. "But having a house sitter is not only free security, it's free lawn care."
Convinced by their personal experience, the Uphuses started Diana's HomeSitting Services in 2000 as a complement to their real estate business. They offer the house-sitting service free to any of their sellers with vacant properties. House sitters pay a monthly fee of $400, which isn't shared with the home owner, a fact disclosed in the listing agreement. However, house sitters pay utility costs, too, saving the home owner those expenses.
Finding the Perfect Sitter
The Uphuses carefully match a person needing a temporary home to one of their vacant listings. Here are some of the qualities they look for:
• Clean background. They check credit reports, employment, and residential history. They also conduct a criminal background check.
• Flexibility. House sitters must be willing to leave quickly for open houses or showings. Sitters must also be willing to move out of the home in as little as 30 days when the house is sold.
• Insurance coverage. House sitters must have a liability insurance policy with $100,000 personal liability coverage. It's also a good idea to advise homeowners to check with their insurer about their coverage when a housesitter is there.
• Willingness to maintain property. Housesitters must be willing to mow the lawn in the summer months and keep walkways and driveways shoveled and clear from snow and ice in the winter. Beds must be made daily; garages and closets must be kept clean so they appear spacious; bath and kitchen fixtures must be wiped down; and rooms must be free of clutter. Diana Uphus does routine spot checks to ensure sitters are keeping the home showable.
• Complementary furniture. The Uphuses make sure the furniture is in good condition and fits the home's decor. She adds finishing touches, such as towels, shower curtains, silk flowers, and planted flowers in the yard.
And who knows, your house sitter might just fall in love with the home. The Uphuses have had a few house sitters who, after testing out a home, decided to make it their own.