Ok you have decided to take the plunge and house sit overseas. Congratulations, the hardest part of any journey is making the decision and taking that first step.
However, before you accept that dream house sitting assignment and jet off halfway around the globe. There is a critical question that needs to be asked.
Have you done your due diligence? – or in other words have you done your homework?
What does homework have to do with house sitting you ask?
The simple answer is ‘to prevent your dream assignment from turning into a nightmare’.
There is a Boy Scout motto” Proper Planning and Preparation Prevents Piss Poor Performance” – or something along those lines (it has been a while since I was a Boy Scout). Being prepared and performing some due diligence can mean the difference between, an enjoyable house sitting experience or a total unmitigated disaster.
A Step by Step Guide to Due Diligence
Accepting a house sitting assignment, without performing your due diligence is like forgetting to study for an exam. It does not matter how smart you are, if you don’t do your homework there is a pretty good chance you will go down in flames. Not doing your homework is just one of the 7 Wicked Way House Sitters Torture Themselves.
Good news! Help is here.
To save you from a house sit that is right out of the pages of Dante’s Inferno, I have put together 27 questions that will help you avoid a house sitting disaster.
The entire due diligence process of any house sitting assignment can be broken down into 7 critical elements.
- First Things First
- Financial Considerations
- Safety and Security
- Personal Requirements
- Show Stoppers
- Roles and Responsibilities
Let’s get this party started.
First Things First
You have been exploring the house sitting platforms and found a house sit that looks absolutely perfect.
House sitting is a little like dating. The object of your desire might look stunning; however you may want to get to know each other, before you decide to move in together.
The first question you want to ask is this:
- Do the dates work for you the sitter?
Before you even consider corresponding with the home owner you need to ask this question.
Keep in mind that some homeowners have flexible dates and might be willing to accommodate the sitter’s schedule, especially if the owner considers the candidates to be their perfect match.
- Are the owners dates confirmed and flights booked?
It is important to know if the owner has actually made their own travel arrangements i.e. bought their tickets.
If there is no financial obligation on the owner’s part, there is a higher risk of the homeowner changing their mind and cancelling on you. This can happen, especially if there is no previous relationship with the owner, getting stood up is no fun at all.
We have had owners bail on us, leaving us in an uncomfortable situation, especially as we had already booked our flights.
House sitting in the Caribbean or the Swiss Alps might look like a dream come true, that is until you discover what it is going to cost you. $5000 for return airfare or $750 dollars a week for groceries can take the shine off a house sit especially, if it carpet bombs your budget.
- What are the costs to get there? (Flights and surface transportation)
Unlike North America and Europe, some parts of the world are very expensive to get to such as Central and South America.
The Caribbean is another one of those more expensive places to get to. You might assume that you can take a ferry between the islands nations. Reality is these services, on the whole, do not exist, it is fly or swim baby.
- What are typical accommodation costs?
If you are planning on exploring the area before or after the assignment – what are the accommodation costs while you are not house sitting?
- Is a rental car required – or is adequate public transportation available?
- Do you have the use of a vehicle during the sit?
- If not, will you require a rental car?
- What are the costs involved?
Don’t assume that renting a vehicle will be as reasonable as back home. For instance in some parts of Caribbean it will cost a minimum of $60 USD a day plus incidentals, for a bucket of bolts that rides like an epileptic fit. In high tourist season you might just be out of luck even trying to find a rental, as we discovered in Barbados last Christmas.
- Is the cost of living understood?
How much is it going to cost to live where you are house sitting? Will you be able to live within your budget? Here are a few sites to help you get an idea of what your living costs could be.
Numbeo.com provides crowd sourced cost of living information, right down to the price of a bottle of beer. The site also allows you to easily compare the cost of living between two places.
BudgetYourTrip.com this is another crowd sourced data base, compiled by travellers who use the site. Especially useful for calculating travel costs when getting to and from housesitting assignments.
Do you know your exchange rate for the local currency? Don’t let it be a nasty surprise!
XE Currency Converter – Live Rates is a currency converter to assist with exchange rates.
- Are any financial obligations with the homeowner well defined?
Have you defined who is responsible for paying household expenses, such as power, internet, cleaner, gardener etc.
If you have agreed to pay for power or internet, make sure you know exactly what they are going to cost you before you commit?
- How close are basic amenities such as groceries or a veterinarian?
This is very relevant if you won’t have use of a vehicle. As is knowing where the closest veterinary clinic is located. Taking a sick Pit-bull on the bus might not be fun.
- Are there any language barriers?
Speaking English only, is doable in most parts of the world (except maybe Italy). However you need to know if you have to interact with others (i.e staff) in a foreign language.
We house sat a ‘Domaine’ in France and where responsible for wine sales in French of course. We have also completed sits for properties with live in staff and had to function in Spanish.
- Are the country visa requirements fully understood? (ie cost, duration, renewal process)
Do you understand how long your initial visitor visa will be valid for? Do you understand the cost and the specifics of the renewal process if you have to extend? Plus, having proof of onward travel is a typical requirement; will you be able to provide that?
Don’t assume the homeowner will coach you here. They may not understand the process themselves and you may need to renew your visa after the owner has left.
Note: In some countries a visa extension requires a sponsor. This would not be fun in a country where you do not know anyone!
Several sites provide information about country visa requirements.
Visa HQ lists visa requirements based on your citizenship.
Project Visa – has visa and embassy information for all countries with links to foreign government websites
Note: Use these sites as a guideline, in some places the bureaucrats appears to make things up as they go along – ask someone who lives there to understand how immigration really works.
Safety and Security
House sitting in a war zone sounds like fun right? Or how about, being kidnapped by Narco Terrorists?
Being blown off the face of the earth by a hurricane, not your cup of tea? Better get answers to the following questions then.
- Are there any travel advisories in place?
Before heading off to a house sit, consult the following government websites for general information that may affect your personal safety and security.
- US Department of State
- Canadian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Trade
- British Foreign and Commonwealth Office
- Australian Governments Department of Foreign Affairs
- Is the weather / climate what you are expecting?
Heading to the Caribbean for August & September? It can be awesome, or a total sweat box, depending on where the property is located, or if there is no breeze and no air conditioning. In the tropics, a few hundred feet of elevation or which side of the island you are on, makes a huge difference in your personal comfort.
Oh and by the way, there may be the odd hurricane or two. Alternately there might be monsoon rains or minus 40 degree weather. Homeowners ain’t dumb, they take vacations when the weather at home ain’t so nice.
Ask the homeowner – and hopefully they with be forthcoming.
Other sources of information include the following:
Climate Information Websites:
A good book on the topic:
Know before you go.
- Any health issues associated with the area – Malaria, Yellow Fever, Dengue etc?
The best people to answer these questions are the people who actually live there. Other resources include:
Be warned these government websites appear to have a mandate to scare you into submission (or at least a mandate to support the pharmaceutical industry).
- Any potential annoyances – plagues of biting insects?
For example Google “annoyances in Utila”, from this simple search you will discover that when the winds die down in Utila, you will be eaten alive by sand flies.
This information should not stop you from considering a house sit there, however it will provoke you to ask the right questions– Like are there are adequate screens in place or how is the property situated with respect to prevailing winds.
When you have the owner’s response, remember to read between the lines.
- Are your personal requirements met?
Make a list of your personal requirements and ensure they are met.
Are There Any Show Stoppers?
Make a list of anything that is a potential show stopper for you.
Examples of show stoppers include:
- Will anyone else be living on the property?
- Does anyone else have access to the property during your stay, pool privileges for instance?
- Will there be any construction or maintenance work occurring during your stay?
- Is there adequate internet in the home (not a 3 mile trek through the Jungle)?
- Can’t live without teaspoons? Are the kitchen facilities adequate?
- What are the sleeping arrangements? (not everyone is keen to sleep in a hammock)
- Are there any restrictions to your mobility? Are you required to be on the property 24 hours a day 7 days a week to provide security, or to comfort a dog with severe separation anxiety?
- Do you have access to basic amenities like running water and an indoor toilet?
Roles and Responsibilities Well Defined?
- Is gardening or yard work involved?
- Are you expected to work a set number of hours per day or week?
- Will you be responsible for running the owners business interests while they are away?
- How many and what type of animals are you responsible for?
Avoiding a Disaster
Answering each question above before you commit, will help ensure that your house sitting experience is not a total disaster.
Remember to download the pdf version of the checklist [no opt-in required] and use it whenever assessing a potential house sitting assignment.
Do you have any additional important due diligence questions that you ask before accepting a house sitting assignment?
I’d love to hear about them in the comments below.