Hiring a house sitter this December? Here’s how to make it a successful arrangement

Personal Lines

Hiring a house sitter this December? Here’s how to make it a successful arrangement

Published: 03 December 2019

With house breaking being the number one crime in South Africa for 2018/2019, many South Africans opt to have their houses looked after while they are on holiday rather than letting them stand empty. The country’s largest general insurer Santam, says this is a great idea, but points out that there are some important things to consider when entrusting your home to someone else.

According to Statistics SA, approximately 5.8% percent of households reported incidents of home robbery to the police in 2018/19 with about 260 000 incidents taking place during the same period. The Santam Insurance Barometer Report 2019 cites burglary and theft as the second and third-largest perceived risks with a third of the total number of claims for home contents insurance resulting from burglary.

Attie Blaauw, Head of Personal Lines Underwriting at Santam, says, “Whether you are in the home or it is being looked after by someone else, insurance policies should be regularly updated and checked to ensure the risk of burgulary is always adequately covered.

“If you are getting house sitters, theft, attempted theft or malicious damage will still be covered, but it is imperative that the policyholder informs the insurer if someone else is staying in the property. This is important because an insurance policy is linked to the policyholder’s information. Your house sitter’s details will need to be added on a temporary basis.”

He said to reduce the risk of costly damages to a home, homeowners should enter the house sitting arrangement very carefully. “While having someone you know well look after your home is first prize, it isn’t always possible. If you need to use someone you don’t know, it is vital to assess professional house sitters thoroughly before entrusting them with your most valuable assets – particularly pets. “Check multiple references, and ensure the references are for people who are not related to the house sitter in any way.”

Whether a financial arrangement or a personal connection, it is still important to take the house sitting arrangement very seriously in order to avoid unwanted incidents or not having a claim paid out.

 Blaauw suggests doing the following before handing over the keys to a house sitter:

  • Advise your security company. If you have a contract with a security company, make sure you inform them that there is someone else staying on the property. Ensure your house sitter knows your password in case they do accidentally set off the alarm. Also make sure they add the security company’s emergency number to their phone in case they need to call on them.
  • Advise your insurer. Ensure your structural and home contents insurers have all the necessary particulars of the house sitter.
  • Show your house sitter how to turn off your water mains. Being able to dash immediately to the outside mains and turn off the water can help prevent thousands of rands in flood damage if something goes wrong.
  • Show them where your electrical supply box is. This will ensure they can independently put electricity back on without disturbing your vacation if something trips, and also help prevent an electrical emergency.
  • Give them your load shedding tips. If Eskom has to implement load shedding, give them tips to help prevent damage to electronics from power points – for instance make sure they have notifications on their phone so they know when load shedding may start, giving them enough warning to turn off pools, TVs, dishwashers etc. in advance of the lights going off.
  • Lock away the good stuff. Even if your home is taken care of by a family friend or relative, store all your valuable possessions in a safe place, such as a safe, spare room or lockable storage. December is a festive time so even if you completely trust the house sitter, they may find themselves hosting friends of friends who may be less trustworthy.
  • Be clear about the responsibilities. Many people see house-sitting as a good way to make some extra cash or stay in a nice house without realising the responsibility that comes with it. Set out clear guidelines for your sitter, including what they would be liable for if any of your valuables are broken or missing. Try getting this in writing and make sure there are no insurance policy implications.
  • Help your sitter familiarise themselves with your pet and house routine. This is especially important when you have pets who expect to be fed and exercised at a certain time.
  • Make sure your house sitter has your vet’s particulars. Many pets get out of sorts if they have a change of diet or exercise regime. Make sure your house sitters have your vet’s phone number and know the quickest route to the surgery.
  • Explain your tech. You don’t want to come home to a broken television, internet routers, electricity box or security systems. Take the time to show them how to use all your electronics and write it down too for extra ‘insurance’.
  • Give your neighbours a heads up. If you stay in a security complex or are on friendly terms with your neighbours, either introduce them to your sitter or let them know there will be someone new. It’s also a good idea to leave an extra set of keys with them.
  • Avoid letting them have the use of your car. Ideally if you are leaving a car behind, it remains safely tucked away in a garage or under a carport safe from potential hail damage or break-ins. However, if the loan of your car is part of the arrangement, ensure the driver is added to your policy on a short term basis so that claims are easily processed.
  • Furnish them with every emergency number you can think of. Fire department, municipality, police, homeowners association, friends nearby and, of course, the number of the place you are staying in case your cellphone doesn’t work for whatever reason. 

Once all of this is done you should be able to head off on a relatively undisturbed holiday – and come home to a fully functioning home!

Santam offers personal lines insurance across your home, vehicle and business. For more information, visit santam.co.za.