In our 4+ years of house sitting, we’ve never had a single cancellation – until now.
In January, we had booked a three month house sit in the lovely Bay Area of California. Sadly, the home owners let us know last week that their trip was cancelled due to the current world travel lockdown. While we completely understood the circumstances, it was still a stressful situation for us. We suddenly found ourselves without a place with our date of departure from our current house sit less than a week away.
All house sitters and any homeowners with travel plans in the upcoming months are now dealing with these same circumstances. It’s an unprecedented time for everyone. Still, house sitting cancellations can happen at any time, for various reasons.
In this article, we’ll go over some of the DOs and DON’Ts of house sitting cancellations, for house sitters and homeowners. It’s a difficult situation for both sides, without a doubt. The key is communication, compassion, and understanding for those on the other side of the house sitting exchange.
How to Handle House Sit Cancellations: DOs
Have a Valid Reason for Cancelling
First off, you should have a legitimate reason for cancelling, such as an illness, unexpected emergency, loss of a loved one, or a trip cancellation that is out of your hands. That means don’t cancel because you decided to let your daughter’s cousin’s friend stay and house sit instead. And sitters, don’t cancel because you found another house sit that seems “better” to you.
On both sides, agreeing to a house sit means that you intend to go through with it, barring extenuating circumstances.
Obviously, if for some reason through the course of communication, new information comes to light that has you uneasy about going through with the house sit, then you should not do the house sit out of a sense of obligation. This is why 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.
Read more: Red Flags of a Bad House Sit
Read more: How to Avoid a Bad House Sitter
Communicate the Need to Cancel Far in Advance
If you do have a legitimate need to cancel a house sit, communicate with your sitter or pet owner as soon as you know. This gives the other party as much time as possible to make other arrangements.
Of course, sometimes things happen unexpectedly at the last minute. As in our example above, this last minute cancellation was something that neither side expected nor wanted.
Offer to Help
Offer to help off-set travel costs if their tickets are non-refundable or subject to a change fee. If the trip is very last minute, if you’re a homeowner that’s comfortable and have an extra room, you can offer to put them up for a night or two while they sort something else out. As a sitter, you might try to connect the pet owner with another sitter.
Whatever it is, a little goes a long way. Offering to help in whatever way that you can will be much appreciated, regardless of whether they take the offer or not.
Have a Plan B (and even C)
As a house sitter, the number one thing to do to prepare for house sit cancellations is to have a solid safety net. This is an emergency fund in case you need to shell out for last minute accommodations or flight changes.
Yes, everyone should have savings, regardless of whether you’re even house sitting or not! Savings are an absolute must no matter what your current circumstances. You simply never know what can happen in this world. But savings become even more important when house sitting, especially when house sitting full-time (like us) without a home base. Keep in mind that while you should have travel insurance, it will not protect you against cancelled house sits.
Everyone’s living expenses are different, so this amount of savings will obviously vary per person. One way to know for sure: calculate your monthly expenses and start saving enough to enable you to live off of your savings for several months. That includes paying for accommodation (whether that’s your mortgage, rent, or short-term accommodation). Our favorite sites for booking accommodation are listed on our travel resources page.
Unfortunately, we’ve seen many full-time sitters currently in dire straits because their upcoming house sits have been cancelled due to the pandemic, and they have basically no savings to get them through this tough time. It’s a hard lesson to learn, so don’t let that be you! For those of you interested in embarking on a full-time house sitting lifestyle, we suggest that you have at least $5,000 in savings before starting.
If you only house sit occasionally, make sure you have enough savings that you can still take your trip even if your house sit is cancelled. That includes having enough to stay somewhere while you figure out your next move, and cover the cost of that next move, whether it’s renting a car, booking accommodations for a longer period, or booking a flight back home.
For home and pet owners, if a house sitter cancels on you with some time to spare, you can relist your ad on whatever house sitting platform that you use. Reach out to the platform directly and they’ll bend over backwards to try to find you another sitter. They don’t want to lose you as a member, so they will do everything they can to assist you. You’ll usually be able to find a new sitter that way, sometimes even at the last minute!
Just in case, you should also be prepared to hire a local paid sitter. You can find local sitters on apps and websites such as Rover.
How to Handle House Sitting Cancellations: DON’TS
Don’t Cancel Just Because You Found “Something Better”
As mentioned above, don’t cancel for arbitrary reasons. Don’t cancel because you’ve decided to give the house sit to someone else. They might not be a good house sitter anyway! We’ve house sat for so many people who used to let their neighbor’s son house sit for extra cash, but guess what – that person didn’t take the best care of their house and home. House sitters with stellar five star reviews will be the best choice for your home and pets.
And again, house sitters: don’t cancel just because you found a “better” sit! Even worse, don’t cancel in the middle of a sit because you “got bored.” Unfortunately, we’ve heard of house sitters leaving home owners high and dry because they found a house sit in a more glamorous location. While this situation is the exception rather than the rule, these kinds of house sitters give a bad name to all house sitters. They infuriate us as full-time, responsible house sitters who rely so much on this community!
Don’t Wait Until the Last Minute to Cancel
The second you know there’s a possibility of cancellation, communicate this right away. Yes, you may not want to cry wolf, or be wrong, but it at least gives extra time for both sides to figure out what they might do that much sooner. For example, our recently canceled house sit, the homeowners, once it was communicated to them that their reason for traveling in the first place may become canceled, they let us know right away.
Again, we’re not asking anyone to predict the future. Sometimes everything looks good until the last minute and then you must cancel. This is why communication is just so important. As long as you keep each other in the loop, you can help guide each other’s expectations every step of the way.
How to Avoid House Sitting Cancellations
If you’re reading this article, you may very well be dealing with a house sit cancellation right now. We’ve been there, and we truly feel for you. It’s a tough spot to be in, no matter what the circumstances.
You’re probably wondering how you can avoid such a situation in the future. While of course there is no way to guarantee that you’ll never deal with a cancellation again, there are ways to mitigate the risk of cancellations happening.
Again, it comes down to clear communication about expectations and choosing a responsible sitter or house sit that fits your needs. Ask all the questions you need before agreeing to the house sit. There are no hard feelings if you choose another sitter or decide not to agree to the house sit before a final decision is made.
There will be hard feelings if you ignore a nagging gut feeling, agree to the sit, and then back out at the last minute. Again, this is a topic that we cover in depth in our book, The House Sitting Handbook. The accompanying free workbook has templates and checklists of questions to ask, every step of the way.
For a comprehensive resource on house sitting during COVID-19, head to this article on House Sitting Magazine.