Hellish house sit
On the heels of what turned out to be the worst house sit we have had so far, we thought we would pass on a few thoughts we had on how to avoid a disappointing house sitting experience.
Although most could struggle their way through a short house sit that’s gone wrong, when you are committing to months and traveling long distances to get there, not to mention spending lots of money, a bad experience can really affect a trip. The growing trend of house sitting is definitely creating issues for some people and at its root is a simple question, what is house sitting? A question that can have different answers for different people. Fundamentally, our opinion is that house sitting is an exchange of accommodations for the peace of mind of having someone overseeing the wellbeing of a property and its pets. More and more we see people looking for house sitters in exchange for labour. That isn’t house sitting but work exchange. This isn’t to say that these deals can not be agreeable, but it is not house sitting.
One of the biggest problems (or not) with international house sits is that there are no regulations. This means that each party has to be comfortable taking each other at their word because in the end there can be little to no recourse for either party if a deal goes badly.
Hindsight being twenty-twenty, here are a few things for you to consider before your next long term house sit.
A detailed list of chores
The number one thing to do before accepting any house sit is to get as much detail as possible, in writing. That means if there is an expectation of chores or work, have it outlined in detail. Vague descriptions can be interpreted in different ways and something like light yard work can quickly turn into full on construction. A detailed list before going in will let you know a) if you have the skill set needed b) if you feel it’s fair to the deal. Having the list upfront will also give you a document to fall back on if the homeowner starts to change things after you arrive.
Taking care of pets
Many house sits involve taking care of pets. To us this is a bonus because we are animal lovers, but a few questions may sway your decision on whether to accept the gig. How old are the pets? This is a question that is often ignored and could be a huge factor in its care. The worst possible case being the death of an elderly pet while the homeowner is away, are you prepared to deal with that? Are the pet’s shots up to date and has it been treated for fleas and ticks? Discovering flea bites or in our recent case, a tick bite, due to an unprotected animal is not something pleasant to deal with, for you or the animal, and can lead to medical problems in the future.
Utilities and estimations
Avoid any deal that hinges on estimations. Our recent experience has taught us that opening the door to an estimate in heating, electricity, water, gas or wood bills can lead to disappointment in the end. If the deal is to pay for utilities (common in countries where it’s expensive or in desirable locations) get as much detail, in writing, as possible and if you can, ask for a copy of the homeowner’s bill to justify the charges. Estimating your portion of an electric or water bill when house sitting a large property can lead to big problems and at worst deceit, where what is said to be negligible can end up being more than expected. We now have a rule when negotiating a house sit that anything benefiting the homeowner or their pets is paid in full by the homeowner. That means if heating is also to keep the dog and cat warm, they pay, if the Internet keeps us in communication with the homeowner, they pay.
Pictures are worth a thousand words
Ask for as many pictures as possible, of your accommodations and the property before accepting. Just like hotel scams, out of date pictures can make things look better than they are and current pictures can show you exactly what you are getting. For example, when you are told you will have a full kitchen, but it’s missing an oven or the refrigerator is a bar fridge with no freezer. Descriptions can be interpreted very differently and a picture can sometimes clear up those details. Another tool to use is Google Earth, not only will it give you a better idea of the exact location of a property, like at the end of a very rough dirt road or more removed than you expected, but you may discover things that were not revealed by the homeowners like ongoing construction next door, industrial noise or pollution (dump or factory) or something as simple as a misrepresented view.
Your instinct is right
Listen to your gut. It may sound a bit cliché, but it is so true and many times, in hindsight, we have known there was an issue due to a gut feeling. Like buying the car of your dreams, it is easy to be swayed by the external look of things because you want it so much, even though your gut is telling you that there are problems under the hood. Don’t let the idea of being in a dream location obscure your gut feeling of something not being right because usually, your instinct is right.
Finally, if you have made the decision to accept the house sit, take the time to do a detailed inspection of the property when you arrive. This includes pets, pools, vehicles, everything. Take notes and time dated pictures of anything that looks concerning like mold, broken fixtures and dirty appliances. Be as thorough as you can, turn everything on and off including the stove, water, lights etc. Many times the homeowner is unaware of damage on their own property and a set of fresh eyes can uncover things they may later accuse you of causing. Document everything with pictures and have a final meeting with the homeowner before they depart so you can make any findings known.
Rewarding house sits
At the end of the day some of our most successful and rewarding house sits have come from trusting, generous and caring people, but not all fall into that category. Traveling to the far corners of the world to house sit can be the best experience you will ever have but it’s worth really understanding what you are getting into to avoid disappointment and at worst deceit, misrepresentation or fraud.
Don’t let our experience discourage you from taking on housesitting, learn from our mistakes. There are plenty of great, like minded people who are looking for good house sitters and some great experiences waiting to be had. If you are interested in house sitting as a way to save on accommodations or to travel longer, websites like HouseCarers and Trusted Housesitters are a good place to start. If you’re looking for housesits specifically in Canada, try House Sitters Canada.