For peace of mind, he minds your home
HE STRETCHES out in a Sentosa Cove bungalow complete with a large manicured garden and a swimming pool. He even has two dogs to amuse him.
You could say Bernie Ong, 48, has it all - except it is not his home.
Mr Ong is a housesitter, getting paid up to $150 a day for taking care of other people's homes. He offers his services through his website homesitting.com.sg.
Housesitters like him take care of the property when the occupants are away, making the homes look "lived in" to deter burglars. Often, the home owners also need the housesitters to take care of their pets.
Mr Ong says home owners do not take their pets overseas because of quarantine laws that the animals may be subject to. He cites Australia, which has strict regulations, as an example.
"If you take your dog to Australia, it'll be placed under quarantine for a number of weeks," he says. "Most pet owners don't want to subject their pets to an enclosed and cramped environment like a quarantine centre."
Mr Ong has been housesitting for five years. He used to work in manufacturing and insurance. He told The New Paper on Sunday that it began as a hobby, after a colleague asked him to housesit as a favour in 2011.
He says: "He was going on a holiday and asked if I was willing to take care of his house in his absence.
"There was no money involved, but that job made me wonder if I could turn it into a business."
After setting up his website in 2012, it took him three months to get his first job.
Business was initially rocky, but improved after positive reviews from his first few clients.
While he admits that the leisurely stays in Bukit Timah and Sentosa Cove bungalows are a nice change from his Bishan flat, this is not the case most of the time.
Mr Ong, who is married and has two children, says: "Some days, I can have no jobs at all, while at other times, I might have eight or nine jobs a day."
A typical day would have him running across the island feeding the dog and watering the plants at each house.
He says: "It's very tiring, and there are days when I have my meals on the go because I simply don't have time to rest.
"If I don't make it to the house, the dog goes hungry. I have the pets' welfare in mind and I do my best to get to them as quickly as I can."
For these simple visits, he charges an average of $30, but if his clients ask him for extra services like clearing their swimming pool of leaves, he would increase his fee.
He says: "If a client asks for things that take time, I will charge more because I could have used the time to go to another job."
Then there are jobs which require him to be at the house for the entire day, usually because the home owner has pets that need constant supervision.
For these jobs, he usually seeks permission from his clients before using their furniture and kitchen equipment.
He says: "Sometimes, I take a sleeping bag to the home and sleep on the floor or sofa, and go out to buy food as I don't touch the food in the fridge."
In some of the bigger homes, his clients might have a guest room that he can use.
And there are some clients who tell him to make himself at home.
He recalls: "There were clients who were even open about me sleeping on the beds they normally use."
Trust is a major element in this job. Before taking on any job, he always asks to meet the clients and their pets.
"It's important to meet, for both sides to understand each other," he says.
In September, a housesitter from the United States went to the Netherlands and took on a housesitting job in Amsterdam without meeting the home owners beforehand.
In her blog, she said she realised too late that the home owners left a flea infestation for her to deal with, without warning her.
Mr Ong says such scenarios can be avoided if home owner and housesitter communicate more.
He would discuss his clients' needs and visit the home before agreeing to housesit.
He is most careful when it comes to pets, saying: "Once, after a week of dropping by the house delivering food for the dog, it suddenly turned violent and bit my hand. They're still a big question mark for me when I take on a job."
THE NEW PAPER