(If you’re looking to house sit – this article is for you. If you’re a homeowner looking to avoid bad house sitters – we got you covered – click here.)
If you’re wondering what house sitting is or how to get started, head to our House Sitting 101 post first, then come back here to read about how to avoid potentially bad house sits. We’re about to get into some serious house sitting specifics!
We’ve been very fortunate to have met and house sat for many great people and pets. So far we have done over 15 house sits total, and have house sat in London and Brighton, Glasgow, Scotland, Berlin, Florence, NYC, the Hudson Valley, and Utah,
But it’s not all luck – the key to a successful housesit is clear communication and expectations. We use TrustedHousesitters for getting that perfect sit – see our comprehensive and honest (they’re not paying us) review for more info.
Discerning between a beneficial house sit and a potentially bad house sit is a necessary skill, especially if you plan to house sit on a regular basis. At first, you’ll want to jump at every opportunity, but caution and discretion are your best friends.
If we feel something is amiss, we politely pass. A French chateau might scream “ZOMG YES”, but discreetly whisper “high maintenance owners”. We’d rather take care of a small cozy cottage for friendly and welcoming people than a glamorous mini mansion furnished with priceless antiques where we don’t feel comfortable. After all, we will be living there for a few weeks/months!
For us, house sitting is an exchange and we want to make connections with people that share a similar perspective on house sitting. We’re budget travelers. We don’t have a nice pension or assets (like property) that produce income. We cycle through each of these strategies when perusing potential house sits, which have helped lead us to make friends with pet owners across the U.S. and Europe. We’ve learned which house sits to jump on and which house sits to avoid.
Whether you’re planning to house sit occasionally or trying to embark on a full-time endeavor, these tips will help across the board.
1. Not a Fair Exchange
This is crucial. We love house sitting as a way to provide a service that others need (animal and home care) in return for something we need (a place to stay). When the balance becomes tipped that we would be doing more work each day than the accommodation would cost, is when it becomes an unfair exchange. We avoid these listings altogether.
For example, sometimes we come across listings that require the house sitter to take care of Airbnb guests. This is an absolute immediate pass. If the homeowner is profiting from a business situation, they should be paying someone to do the maintenance or not accept guests when they are away.
We only take on house sits that require at most a few hours of work per day. A situation with constant lawn maintenance, a menagerie of animals, etc, is not a fair exchange. Think about it – you wouldn’t pay a whole day’s salary just on a place to stay for the night, so you shouldn’t have to work the whole day in an exchange either.
2. Passing Necessary Expenses to the House Sitter
Going off of the above point, the house sitter should not incur huge expenses in order to complete the house sit. If the location is inaccessible by public transportation, then the homeowners should provide use of their car. Renting a car (at the cheapest) is around $20/day, so if you’re house-sitting for a month, that’s $600!
All of the homeowners we have sat for that did not live in cities (and even some that did) added us temporarily to their insurance so we could have use of their car. Keep in mind that this isn’t only a need for us – what if their pet needs to be driven to the vet, or for daily walks? This is part of caring for the animal and thus a cost the homeowner needs to assume.
For longer house sits, some homeowners will ask that house sitters pay utilities. This is another situation that is an immediate no for us. While some house sitters don’t mind paying utilities, we argue that you couldn’t leave a pet home alone with the heat turned off during freezing winters and let them steam in hot summers. This practice seems to be most common in areas where utilities like AC or heating are super expensive and homeowners are worried house sitters will rack up a massive bill.
Again, the key here is communication. We always make sure to ask the settings we should keep the AC or heat on and what we should turn it down to when we go out.
3. Lack of Trust
On most house sitting websites, there is an area to show that you have undergone a background check (the actual check remains confidential after being verified by the platform).
But what does a background check really say? It says you aren’t a criminal, not that you are a good housesitter or can take care of pets. We immediately pass on homeowner listings that specifically request to see a background or police checks. It’s not that we have anything to hide! If they don’t trust us until a governmental body has verified that we don’t have a criminal record, they’re probably not people we are going to click with. If homeowners don’t have to provide a background check, neither should sitters – both parties are vulnerable.
Once we almost house sat for someone who insisted on keeping the WiFi router in a locked room. We both work online and depend on WiFi. If there was a connection problem, we’d have to contact a neighbor to unlock the door. The house was also far away from the nearest small town, so should this happen, it wasn’t like there was a coffee shop with WiFi down the road that we could pop into. Essentially it might mean jeopardizing employment in order to complete this housesit.
Also, it just doesn’t feel right. We’re not asking homeowners to leave their safes unlocked. If we don’t feel like we have the homeowner’s trust to not rifle through their drawers or not sit on certain chairs, we don´t feel comfortable. For us, this signifies a lack of trust. If something goes wrong, whose side will they take? Will they trust that we did everything we could to responsibly rectify the situation?
4. Homeowner is Not Up Front
Once some fellow house sitting friends of ours told us about a house sit they were considering and ultimately turned down. Our friends both work online (as we and many house sitters do) and thus needed a stable and decent internet connection. The homeowners assured them that this was the case at their house, yet the entire time during their Skype call, the homeowners’ video kept cutting out. Needless to say, misrepresentation of the situation is a bad sign.
A Skype call can help clarify the situation as you can get a little ‘tour’ of the house. While we have not experienced extremely messy or dirty homes, other house sitters have and highly recommend video chatting to avoid surprises.
The key point to keep in mind is to make sure that both parties – the homeowner and the housesitter – are happy with the agreement. Every homeowner’s needs and every house sitter’s needs are different.
5. Something Just Doesn’t Feel “Right”
Maybe it’s just one thing you can’t put your finger on and it keeps bothering you. Or, a bunch of seemingly minor things add up. You might feel like you’re being paranoid or that these things shouldn’t bother you.
For example, homeowners should trust that you’re a competent adult and can handle tying a full trash bag and replacing the liner after. This was actually demonstrated to us once! We had another instance where the process dragged on for weeks and when we finally went to meet the homeowner in person it was clear that she was not truly comfortable with the idea despite wanting to give it a try. Recognizing these signs early on can help reduce stress and amount of time wasted on both sides. Of course, this is something that comes with a bit of practice.
In all situations, many house sitters (ourselves included) go by the mantra GO WITH YOUR GUT. Especially when we were first starting out, we questioned what was normal. By connecting with the larger community of worldwide house sitters on a housesitting via Facebook groups, we quickly learned that most other housesitters go by this very important rule of thumb as well.
The key thing to remember here is that housesitting is an exchange. You’re both doing each other a favor. We want to encourage a community of trust and cooperation, not treating one side as an undeserving person who is so lucky to help the other.
We try to approach housesitting in a way that allows us to say “no” without fear of consequences. And we hope to show that you can too!
What do you think – are you a house sitter or a homeowner? What is your take on the house sitting exchange? Anything we missed for avoiding potentially bad house sits? Leave your thoughts in the comments below!
*Editor’s note: This post was originally posted in March 2017 and has since been updated.