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How to Handle House Sit Cancellations

written by Samantha Anthony February 28, 2024
How to Handle House Sit Cancellations

We never had a house sit cancellation until 2020, after house sitting full-time since 2016.

Four years later, you can probably guess why (cough ahem cough covid pandemic).

Cue the headlines and the sirens, and the world ending.

Or so we thought.

In that moment, it felt that way.

In January 2020, we had finalized a three month house sit in the California Bay Area. We were ecstatic to experience a new place and neighborhood we could never afford (but pretend to be residents of). The owners kept us posted as the details of the pandemic unfolded, and trip cancellations flooded would-be house sitters and pet owners alike. Despite understanding completely why, it was a very stressful situation. As full-time house sitters, we line up house sits back-to-back with minimal gaps. Now we found ourselves with no future house sits, or the usual time buffer we set up for ourselves to figure out the next one. This California house sit was a week away when it was cancelled in March 2020.

This was something that everyone, house sitters and pet owners, had to deal with. The house sitting community was at a stand still. Now that we were landlocked, we needed to figure out a new plan. Some days we had leads and made progress, some days we didn’t. The days that we didn’t, inspired us to write some new content.

Now we had to share our cancellation story, but also show how to best plan for house sit cancellations for the future. We pride ourselves in being a trustworthy and helpful house sitting resource. House sit cancellations can happen to anyone, anywhere, and anytime for a variety of reasons. While we can’t foresee our future, we can plan in the present as we inform ourselves from the past.

In this post, we’ll consider the Dos and Don’ts of house sitting cancellations. It’s a difficult situation for both house sitters and pet owners, undoubtedly. The most important thing to remember is effective communication, holding compassion, and trying to empathize with those on the other side of the house sitting exchange we’re involved with.

How to Handle House Sit Cancellations: DOs 

There are always measures one can take that will be considerate of all affected in a house sit cancellation.

Have a Valid Reason for Cancelling

This may seem obvious, but we’re always surprised to hear about some outlandishly irresponsible house sitters (more on that later in the Don’ts).

In this case, we’re going to focus on the legitimate reasons for cancelling. Illness, an emergency, a loss of a life, or a transportation change (such as a flight cancelled) that is beyond your control.

For both sides, making a commitment to a house sit means exactly that – you intend to see it through until the end. Barring extenuating circumstances, of course.

There are exceptions. For example, if you begin to realize that you may be signing up for a bad house sit, make the decision to pull away before finalizing the sit. Even if the pet owners are turning out to be unreasonable and inconsiderate, does not give you full license to do the same. Choosing the right house sit or house sitter in the interview process is so essential. We go more in-depth into interviewing, with templates and guided questions, in The House Sitting Handbook. 

We also have free resources that provide an basic introduction.

Read more: Red Flags of a Bad House Sit
Read more: How to Avoid a Bad House Sitter

black dog and black cat

Communicate the Need to Cancel Far in Advance  

Once you have made the decision to cancel a house sit, don’t delay, communicate that day. Let your house sitter or pet owner know as soon as possible to allow them plenty of time to make other arrangements.

When it comes to cancellations, compassion and understanding is key. Our house sit cancellation was practically last minute. Yet this was beyond either side’s control, that neither side wanted or expected.

Offer to Help 

Now once you find yourself initiating the cancellation process, offer to help in anyway that you can.

For example, offer some cash to off-set travel costs, if their tickets are non-refundable or subject to a change fee. Our pet owners offered to do that for our tickets, but fortunately we were refunded by the airline anyways.

If you’re a pet owner with room to accomodate, offer to let them stay for a ngiht or two while the sitter figures out the next steps.

If you’re a house sitter, try connecting the pet owner with another tried-and-true sitter from your house sitter rolodex.

A little goes a long way. Whether the offer is taken up or not, the effort will be appreciated.

Have a Plan B (and even C)

Every time we make plans for the future, we literally do three very likely possibilities. In our experience, always at least one works out, or one becomes modified and still works.

That being said, there’s are concrete steps one can take and tailor to their needs. We highly advise a strong yet flexible safety net to catch you if and when you take a dive. We have an emergency fund in case we get slammed with last minute costs in the forms of accommodation or transportation changes.

In an ideal world, we would all have savings. As we’ve learned, the world has many more surprises in store just when you think you’ve seen it all. If you can’t muster up some savings to cushion your house sitting career, you may need to reconsider house sitting. Let us repeat: if you can’t manage to save any money, you should avoid house sitting.

This is especially important if you anticipate far-flung destinations that are far from home. And if you’re a full-time sitter like us, then savings are vital. We don’t have a home base, we don’t pay rent anywhere or own a home to fall back on. You can mitigate costs with travel insurance, but that won’t protect you against cancelled house sits. However, some premium house sitter platforms like Trustedhousesitters, offer house sitting insurance that covers cancellation costs, and damages to property.

Living expenses vary tremendously depending on where you live. Being caught in a bind in a foreign country where the US dollar goes a long way, you’ll be fine. But if you’re caught with your house sitter pants down in a global city like NYC or London, or many wealthy nations, expect substantially higher costs.

We use a simple rule: calculate your monthly expenses and start saving sufficiently to live off your savings for several months if need be. Consider accommodation costs, whether its mortgage, rent, or temporary. We recommend our favorite booking sites on our travel resources page.

At the onset of the great house sit cancellation pandemic, many full-time sitters were left in dire straits because they had no savings. It’s a tough lesson, so learn from their mistakes. For those would-be full-time house sitters, we strongly recommend you have at least several grand saved before heading out the door.

If you’re an occasional house sitter, like a few times a year, a few days at a time, have enough saved to cover your trip. Having enough money to literally buy you time while you game plan, for a return flight, car rental, or additional accommodations, is safety net you can confidently fall into.

Pet owners, if a sitter cancels on you with time to spare, then you can easily re-list your house sit. If you use a premium platform, reach out directly and they’ll assist you in finding another sitter. Usually you’ll be able to find another sitter, as there are always more sitters than sits.

Another back up plan is to pay for a local sitter, via apps and websites such as Rover.

How to Handle House Sitting Cancellations: DON’TS 

There are just some things you really shouldn’t do.

Don’t Cancel Just Because You Found “Something Better” 

Pet owners: focus on getting the best sitter for your sit, and you’ll never need to cancel. Don’t do the usual switcheroo of treating online house sitters as a back up until you find your nephew who will do it. What’s more important, good pet care or convenience?

A recurring theme we hear from pet owners is how disappointed they were in relying on a friend or relative for pet care because they never bothered to explore other options. If you want great pet care, shell out the cash for a premium house sitting service, and you’ll see the plentitude of options you wish you had considered before.

House sitters: don’t cancel because you found something “better.” Not only is it irresponsible and disingenuous, it perpetuates an already precarious situation for those new to house sitting. You could be that one sitter that spoils the rest for the bunch. We’ve heard of sitters leaving owners high and dry becuase they found a more glamorous (read: instagrammable) location. While these are more rare, it still gives a sitters a bad name. Just don’t be that sitter. These sort of shitty and shallow behaviors piss us off as full-time sitters who rely a ton on the life-blood trust of the online house sitting community.

Don’t Wait Until the Last Minute to Cancel

The moment you know there’s even a possibility of cancellation lurking its head on the horizon, let everyone know. Sure, you may not want to give away false alarms, but at least it provides ample time for both sides to figure out what they might do. The pet owners from our cancelled house sit told us the minute anything had changed. Once they accrued a cancellation on their end(the first of many as they fought hard not to cancel), they informed us right away.

Of course, no one can predict the future. Often cancellations come without warning. This only reinforces the importance of communication. As long as communication is open and flowing, you can guide expectations for each other along the way.

How to Avoid House Sitting Cancellations 

Chances are that if you’re here reading this, you’re suspecting an imminent or dealing with an immediate cancellation. We truly feel for you. Once we were there too. It sucks.

How can you avoid such situations in the future? While there are no guarantees in life, we can always try to up the probability of a future house sitting success.

We’ve laid out clear strategies in this post for how to mitigate cancellation risk. Clear and open communication about expectations and putting the time and effort into making the right house sitting match are key elements of successful house sitting. Make sure you ask all the questions before agreeing to a house sit. This goes for both pet owners and house sitters. It’s significantly less bad to pass on a potential match than to go through with something that smells fishy (sorry fish we love you but sometimes you stink).

While we glossed over some key elements, there’s just so much more to getting the most out of house sitting for you. This is a topic we cover way more in-depth in our book, The House Sitting Handbook. It comes with a free workbook with templates and checklists of all the best questions, for every step of the way, so you can start living your dream life through house sitting.

Further Resources 

For a comprehensive resource on house sitting during COVID-19, head to this article on House Sitting Magazine

TrustedHousesitters Cancellation Policy and Guidance 

Nomador Cancellation Policy and Guidance 

The House Sitting Handbook

10 Red Flags of a Bad House Sit 

How to Avoid a Bad House Sitter 

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