We’ve been very fortunate to say that we’ve been able to house sit for a fantastic group of people and their pets with very few problems. Over the last number of years we’ve had great house sits in Italy, Scotland, France, England, Portland, Oregon, Israel, Norway, Sweden, Taiwan and S. Korea.
There is a knack to weeding out a bad house sit.
If you are like us, you’ll first be tickled pink just to get an email back saying the homeowner wants to chat. In the beginning we would have said yes to nearly any house sit. We’ve had amazing experiences in each location, but have learned a few things along the way, and have been able to avoid any troubles.
Go With Your Gut
This never fails. You can have a gut reaction just by reading the listing, or later on during your Skype interview. There was one house sit that we saw that looked amazing, but buried in the description of duties was the expectation that we wash all the windows before they returned. We tend to be hyper clean and leave a place in better shape than we found it, but this was a red flag for us. Your gut never lies. Keep this in mind as you look at house sits.
Always Video Chat
You want to see the house you will be living in, the people you are dealing with and if they aren’t camera shy, the pets you will be sitting for. You can learn a lot about people by watching body language and listening to their inflections – things that won’t necessarily come through in a well-crafted email.
Basic Necessary Expenses
If the homeowner is requesting that you pay for utilities, walk away. It isn’t fair to ask your house sitter to pay for the electricity that will be used to keep the pets climate controlled or to cook their food. If the homeowner doesn’t provide transportation, walk away. It’s super easy to add people to car insurance in Europe, and that’s what our homeowners did in Scotland and in Brittany. And thankfully they did because in each instance we had to make trips to the vet. In hindsight (and going forward) we are going to ask more questions about what to do in case of an emergency, but more on that later.
You Aren’t Free Labor
You have to consider the experience and the value that you are bringing to the table here. If the owner says that you are going to work 6-7 hours cleaning a barn every day, think about how much they are saving by not hiring a local worker to do these tasks. Think about what your hourly rate is for what you do. Then think about how much a hotel is for the night. If you do the math and it feels right to you, as it did for us in Vermiglio, Italy, go for it. But if it feels like you will be putting out more than you will be getting back (free stay, food, car, etc). than you should just skip along to the next house sit.
Think About Yourself
Know what your needs are. If you know that you are afraid of the countryside and being remotely located, look only for house sits that are in cities. Even if the house looks amazing and charming. If the house sit looks to be filled with precious and irreplaceable family heirlooms and you are a total klutz, find another house sit! This is especially important if you are going to be there for more than a week or two.
Communication & Trust
For me these two go hand in hand. We had a house sit that started out as a dog and a cat, but we watched their Facebook posts with amazement as more animals were added. Which totally changed the scope of the house sit. I had to ask what kind of situation we were walking into to get the full story, and it turns out that it continued to change even after I asked. This should have been a red flag for us.
Trust is a two way street until suddenly it isn’t. We pride ourselves on being totally open and upfront during our house sits - anything we accidentally break, we offer to replace it at a fair market value. It’s probably best to have these things sorted out before your house sit.
Overview: How to Avoid a Bad House Sit
Go With Your Gut: If anything seems off or just not right, chances are this is not a good fit for you or the homeowner.
Always Video Chat: Everybody can make themselves look good on paper. Crazy is harder to hide in conversation.
Discuss Basic Expenses: If this topic bothers the homeowner, or they don’t want to set you up with the basic things necessary for you to be successful, think twice.
You Aren’t Free Labor: Yard work and farm animals take more time than you think.
Think About Yourself: Know your needs and put them first when choosing a house sit. This is the best way to avoid a bad one because you will be putting yourself in the best position to succeed.
Communication: Talk about how much is too much contact.
We've been incredibly lucky to have gotten all the fantastic house sits that we have. While each of them posed unique challenges, none of them have been bad. Which is why we can write this post on how to avoid the bad ones! (We even won the Sitter of the Year Award in 2018 from Trusted House Sitters!)
This is one post in a series of posts about house sitting. If you are interested in house sitting, you should read the whole series.