House-sitting: The House

Part 4 of an ongoing series

Image by Ben Scherjon from Pixabay

The most important part about the house sit, beside the pets, is the house. No-brainer, I know. However, since it’s an important topic, I might as well write about it.

(Someone asked me why I write about house sitting, if all I’ll do is tell more people how to house sit, and lose out on possible jobs myself. First, housesitting is a great experience, and everyone should have the chance, just once, to live in and experience a foreign country. Second, if and when you go, I want it to be the best possible experience for both sides, so no one gives up on it. House sitting can so easily turn into the Craigslist “Oh, don’t trust Craigslist weirdos,” so I want to do my part and make sure it doesn’t)

You’ll often hear “Treat the house as if it’s your own.” Don’t do that. That is a trap. Treat the house like it’s your most treasured possession. But don’t feel like you need to go crazy repainting the hallway or anything.

When Darcy and I housesit, we spend the last few days doing a deep clean. We make a list of every room, every chore to do in the room, and we knock it out over the course of a few days. It feels amazing to come home from a vacation to see your house immaculate, and the pets happy, so that’s what we try to do for the home owners.

Stressful? Absolutely! But worth it. We’re invited back for the next time they need a housesit, and it’s a great way to make friends with the homeowner.

Keeping the house clean isn’t your only chore. It’s also your job to make sure that nothing breaks. And I’ll tell you know, just to help your stress levels, something will break.

Let me repeat that.

SOMETHING WILL BREAK.

I know I just said make sure nothing breaks, and that I followed it up with something will break, but that’s the deal. Try your hardest to treat everything carefully. Don’t twist things that are meant to be pulled and vice-versa. Don’t use steel utensils on their non-stick pan. Don’t put your feet up on any non washable white furniture. If you do break something, don’t panic! It’ll be okay! Every homeowner we’ve met says “Just let me know, and don’t worry about it. We would have also broken it eventually.

During one of our first house sits, I opened the fridge door to get into the freezer, which is in the fridge. But the doors opened opposite ways. The fridge door opened on the right, and the freezer on the left, so the fridge door needed to be fully open before the freezer could be opened. When I opened the fridge door, I heard a loud snap, and the thin piece of metal that was the spring broke in two. (That was the most £40-ish pint of ice cream I’ve ever bought.) Everything ended up okay. I told the homeowners what happened, and told them I could fix it. I ordered a spare part, took apart their counters (since it was an integrated fridge) and replaced the broken part with the new one. Which brings me to my next point…

It’s always helpful to have some general handyperson skills. Just being handy with a screwdriver/drill. Maybe with a paintbrush if you accidentally dinged one of the walls. Nothing crazy.

Let me put you in the mind of a home owner (if you aren’t one who does housesitting.)

You leave for a few weeks, someone is staying at the house. You got a killer tan, saw a great sidewalk performer, and now you’re headed home after one last cuba libre on the beach. You get back, and you see a build-up of soap scum in the shower. That’s fine, that’s what happens when people shower. And, oof, a ding on the wall. They must have moved the chairs around. No worries, easily solvable with a coat of paint. A broken plate? No worries, it’s just IKEA. I just wish they told me.

And that’s what I try to do. I try to clean the soap scum, paint over the ding, and if I break anything, tell them. I always let them know I’d be happy to replace it, or send them money for it. To date, no one has taken me up on the offer, but I want people to know it’s there.

I know a few people who don’t tell the home owners when something breaks, instead just fixing it themselves. Their rational is “If it breaks again, they’ll blame me for not fixing it right the first time.” I feel like that’s a very iffy ational, and it’s better to upfront and honest, because that’s who I’d want staying at my (nonexistent) house.

Be careful when house sitting, and everything will be okay!

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House-sitting: Choosing Where and Which Owners

Part 3 of an ongoing series

Ohrid, Macedonia

In the last post, I briefly touched on choosing where to go. In this post I’ll continue that idea and talk about how to choose a homeowner.

Choosing where to go is nearly 100% up to you. I say nearly, because of course, house sitting isn’t available in every country, or every city. I have talked to people who want to housesit in places where the concept isn’t common, like Italy, Eastern Europe, and parts of Africa. Generally speaking, if you’re going to be housesitting in one of those places, it’s at the house of someone foreign to the area. Which can be a bonus! Often times, expats will have things in their house that we’ve come to expect in the Western world, like a washer (or dryer, if you’re lucky!) or air conditioning.

In most countries, these things aren’t as common, so keep that in mind when you’re packing your bag (which I’ll talk more about in another article.)

Housesitting can be a great way to see places you normally wouldn’t have heard of (I know, dangling participle!) Darcy and I recently completed a house sit in Caen, Normandy, France, and it was fantastic! For the two of us, it was off the beaten path (but not to any WWII history buff) and we made great friends!

France is actually one of the few countries that have quite a few housesits available at any given time. Between a number of UK expats, and French who love their pets, it’s easy to find one and go visiting.

Before choosing a housesit, be very careful to read the description! I cannot stress this enough. It seems like the obvious thing to do, but not only do you want to have a firm idea of what you’re getting yourself into, you also want to be able to refer back to the description if you find the homeowner was not as forthcoming as they should have been.

Here’s a few things to watch out for.

First: Money. Never pay. I repeat. NEVER PAY. Nearly all house sitting websites tell you this same thing, but some homeowners think they’re doing you a favor by giving you a place to live. In fact, you are doing them a HUGE favor. You’re looking after their animals while they are away, ensuring the home owners aren’t paying for a house sitter locally, and most importantly, ensuring the animals are happy.

Where I used to live in the States, a night in the kennel would cost someone about $50. So a housesitter charging less than that would easily get the job, solely based on the fact the homeowners pet is in a place they feel comfortable — home! When a homeowners description says the housesitter will have to pay electric/gas/water etc, it tells me they greatly undervalue the service you are providing. This also tells me they will be requiring you to do things they didn’t list, ‘since they’re already doing you a favor.’

(To add on to this, never buy anything for the animal they should already have, i.e., food, bedding, litter, treats, etc. All of those should definitely be provided for by the pet/home owner. But if you want to buy the pet a treat, check with the pet owner, then do so! We did a fantastic pet sit in Edinburgh with an adorable dog, and the owners said he loved sausages from down the street, at a restaurant. They made it clear he didn’t need these, but if we wanted to treat him, those would be okay. I personally like recommendations like this. Of course, we ended up spoiling the pupper rotten, but they made it clear we didn’t need to, which we appreciated. It was also far more fun to do on our own volition.)

The only times that might be okay to pay is when there are no pets, and the housesit is long term (more than 2 weeks.) Then I understand the homeowner trying to keep costs low. And electricity/gas shouldn’t be too much for a month, anyway. At least, it’ll be cheaper than an AirBnB for a month.

Second: Check to make sure you’re not staying at a thinly veiled Workaway program. (If you’re looking for a Workaway program, ignore me!) Some of the housesits are looking for a live-in caretaker to do chores such as gardening, taking care of farm animals, etc. Which isn’t such a bad idea. But keep in mind, often times you will not be able to find a paying job without a visa, and the homeowners won’t pay, they’ll only offer lodging. I saw one offered in Guatemala that had the house sitters working long-term at their restaurant/resort location. Again, if this appeals to you, go right ahead! However, I am hesitant to do any work for someone without some kind of contract or payment.

Third: And this one is far more subjective. Get a feel for how the homeowner writes their description. If they sound demanding or welcoming. If it’s detailed or completely lacking information. To get a feel for this, just search through different descriptions. Don’t take too long, though! Once you find a house sit you want, you’ll have to jump on it! Which brings me to…

Initiating contact. Your first message doesn’t need to be a fleshed-out, color-coded, from-birth-till-today exposé on your life. Just a few sentences will do. ‘Hi, I’m so-and-so, and I saw your housesit. Your XYZ looks so adorable, I have a little furry guy myself. I’m proficient/well-practiced at the chores you need done. Look forward to hearing from you.’ Something simple like that, maybe a few more bells and whistles. However, if you’re the type of person to show your personality on that first message, please don’t let me stop you! I want you to do whatever feels natural, that was just a little sample of how simple it can be.

When you’re sending out messages, try not to send out more than two, three at the most. You don’t want more than two people say yes, because then you’ll have to tell one of them ‘Oh, too late,” which makes it sound like you’re just in it for the vacation, and not the animals. I should reiterate, ANIMALS COME FIRST.

The reason I say it’s okay to send two is if you’re in a crunch, you have to get out of the house you’re in, and you need anyone to say yes. It’s an incredibly uncomfortable and difficult situation to be in, and you shouldn’t blame yourself if you have to send some messages and hope for the best.

I’ve never done a Skype call for any house sit. Usually Darcy and I exchange messages, then What’s App info, then a few more messages. The first housesit we did, we didn’t have a last name, address, nothing. (UK Border Patrol was real happy about that. I’ll talk more about that in a separate article.)

Once that’s done, it’s just the waiting game!

More often than not, you’ll be asked to come a day or two early, just to meet the owners and the pets. This is totally normal. Usually you’re put up in their house for the night they ask you to come. You can also do what Darcy and I did, and rent a hotel room, explore the city and meet the homeowners in a way that has minimal pressure. (After all, if something terrible happens, we aren’t getting kicked out of a house. We just go back to a hotel room and figure out Plan B.) But I’ve never heard of anything horrible happening, so you’ll be fine!

If you’re curious about more housesitting information, follow me! I try to post one article a day on a different, or slightly different, topic. If you want to read some of my fiction work, please check it out!