What’s the deal with house sitters?
Listening to some of their stories you might think they actually enjoy pain and suffering.
You have heard the stories, or even have one of your own. You know, the ones about arriving at a house sit only to find the place to be a disgusting, insect ridden, pig sty that immediately sets off your asthma.
Or where the sitter discovers that someone else will be living in the house with them, either a wild, out of control teenager or an invalid spouse who requires full time care.
There are many unsavory situations that house sitters can find themselves in, we have outlined a few in the 9 Types of House Sits You Might Want to Avoid.
To be honest it’s not always the sitter that sets out to torture themselves. Sometimes a house sitter lands in a bad situation, because the owner has not been truthful and has misrepresented the situation.
Other times it would appear that the house sitter enjoys enduring pain.
What about you? Are you a glutton for punishment or possibly a closet masochist?
Here are seven ways that house sitters manage to torture themselves. See if any are familiar and discover how to avoid them.
1.They don’t know what they want
Yogi Berra (not the ‘Hey Boo Boo” guy) summed this one up.
“If you don’t know where you are going, you’ll end up someplace else.”
The same goes for house sitting.
Some house sitters never think about what they want to experience, before they set off on their adventure. The result is often an unpleasant and far from enjoyable situation.
The easiest way to avoid this form of punishment, is to define exactly what you want to experience from house-sitting right from the beginning. In other words, start with the end in mind.
Ask yourself the following questions:
- What type of house-sit are you looking for?
- Where do you want to live? What type of property, what kind of scenery?
- Where do you want to travel? What countries or regions interest you?
- Do you seek big cities, rural locations, or completely off the grid?
- What type of animals would you like to care for? If any.
- Do you want to house sit for a few weeks, a few months, or full time?
Once you have answered questions like these you can then develop a wish list.
This process will help you avoid situations that are the equivalent of house sitting purgatory. Once you are armed with a clear vision of what you would like to experience, you can find the house sitting opportunities that are a good match.
The clearer the vision the better.
By identifying what you want, you narrow in on your specific needs, saving you time, money, pain and frustration.
2.House sitters don’t define their show stoppers
Knowing what you don’t want is even more important than knowing what you do want.
What are your minimum requirements? What requirements need to be met in order to ensure a happy and successful sit?
A show stopper is when one of these minimum requirements is missing.
For example, not having access to a decent internet connection is a major show stopper for many travelers. Others may not care if they are offline for a few weeks or a month.
Know what your own requirements are, and keep those in mind when looking for a potential house-sit. If you don’t know what your requirements are, someone else will define them for you! And you may not like the results.
Make a list of anything that is a potential show stopper for you, and then avoid them like the plague!
Remember that a house-sit has to work for both parties. If it does not have the minimum requirements you want, do not apply. Neither you nor the owner will be happy.
Tip: Post a short list of your basic requirements (access to kitchen, laundry, Internet, and a comfortable bedroom) on your website (hopefully you have your own personal house sitting website) or at least write them down and include them on your profile.
When you apply for sits, direct the homeowners to your site and ask them to read your requirements. This will prove invaluable to both you and the homeowners, as it sets clear expectations for both parties.
3.They don’t do their home work
Hey how does a 2 week house sit on a South Pacific Island sound?
Fricken amazing right? Until you discover that it is going to cost over $5,000 for return airfare and $500 dollars a week for groceries.
Don’t crucify yourself by accepting an assignment before you understand the financial obligations and the logistics involved. Save yourself the embarrassment of having to back out of an assignment after you have accepted it, because you failed to understand what was involved before saying ”I do”.
It is also important to know if the owner has already made their own travel arrangements i.e. bought their tickets. If they haven’t, there is a higher risk of the homeowners changing their minds and cancelling on you.
This can be a very painful lesson, especially if you have already booked your flights. We know exactly how this feels from firsthand experience, although it did work out satisfactorily in the end.
Besides the cost of getting to and from a house sit, you must understand the following.
Cost of Living
How much is it going to cost to live there?
Do you know how long your initial visitor visa will be for? If you have to extend, do you know how much it will cost and how easy or lengthy the renewal process is?
- Is a rental car required? – is public transportation available?
- How close are basic amenities such as groceries?
- Are there any language barriers where you will be sitting?
Safety and Security
- Are there any travel advisories issued for the area?
- What kind of weather or climate can you expect?
- Are there any health issues associated with the area – Malaria, Yellow Fever, Dengue?
Are your roles and responsibilities well defined?
- What gardening or yard work is required and how long will it take every day or week?
- The number and type of pets you are caring for?
- Do they have any health or behavioral problems?
Unless you are a sucker for punishment, perform your due diligence before accepting that awesome sounding house sitting assignment.
4.House sitters don’t read between the lines
The homeowner’s objective when looking for a house sitter is to secure someone to care for their home and pets. Sometimes in a hurry too.
It is also human nature for people to overlook inconveniences or problems (perceived or otherwise). This can result in the tendency to inaccurately describe or to not fully disclose the house sitting situation.
Fear not, most of the time the owner will leave clues. It is up you, the house sitter, to read between the lines and figure out exactly what the homeowner may not be telling you.
Here are some tips to help you read between the lines:
- If there are no photographs of the property on the house sitter wanted advertisement, ask to see some once you have started a dialog with the owner.
- Have a Skype call with the owners. As they typically do this from home, you will get an impression of at least one part of the house. Ask for a tour and an introduction to the pets if they are using a laptop.
- Ask for clarification on any areas that concern you.
- Do not be afraid to ask the homeowner if they have had sitters before, if so obtain their contact information and ask them about their experience.
- Ask specific pointed questions about any ‘grey’ areas on their listing, things like ‘light yard work required’ or ‘pets with medical issues’
If you still have any nagging doubts ask for their address (at least the street name) or their coordinates if it’s a rural property. You can then do a Google Earth check and see the area for yourself.
Do not be afraid to say “no thank you” and walk away, there will be other house-sits. There is a world of opportunity out there.
5. They Assume
“The greatest problem of communication is the illusion that it has been accomplished.”
~ George Bernard Shaw
House sitters, Paulette and Bruce, are an example of the importance of proper communication. They had an interview and felt that they would be offered the position. However, they did not hear from the homeowner and disappointingly decided that they had misread the situation.
Three weeks later they got an email checking that they were still coming to do the sit as arranged. The owners had previously sent them a message offering them the sit and had assumed that they had received it.
Because they had not heard back from the owner, Paulette and Bruce were unaware of the owner’s assumption that they were booked for the sit and had made other arrangements. Unfortunately, neither party followed up until it was too late.
The golden rules of house-sitting communication:
Always follow up
Ask for confirmation
A good flow of communication is essential at all stages of the house-sitting process.
If you don’t know all the details about the pets, the house, the internet, public transport etc. – ask.
6.House sitters are sometimes desperate or over enthusiastic
“In the desert, an old monk had once advised a traveler, the voices of God and the Devil are scarcely distinguishable.”– Loren Eiseley
Desperation is another reason that causes some house sitters to inflict self imposed wounds.
House sitting and ‘free’ accommodation often attracts travelers with more limited financial means, which can lead to problems. House sitters who rely on back to back sits to make ends meet might be tempted to settle for less salubrious house sitting assignments.
New sitters may also accept less than ideal assignments. This is typically because of inexperience, or the sheer excitement of landing their first few sits.
Desperation is a twin edged sword.
The desperate house sitter is more prone to accept assignments that they would not otherwise accept out of sheer necessity.
There are also homeowners who are desperate to get a sitter and may ‘gild’ there posting a little to make it more attractive. Sadly there are also owners willing to take advantage of sitters as sources of cheap labour, unpaid care givers or home help.
The sitters who tend to beat themselves up this way are mostly younger travelers with less financial resources behind them. This combined with their lack of life experience or skills allows them to fall prey to unscrupulous home owners.
Smart house sitters avoid this trap in two ways:
1. Being aware of the potential pitfalls before taking on an assignment.
2. Have a financial cushion, big enough to get them through several weeks or a few months of travel. Just in case a decent house sit does not present itself.
Homeowners may also subconsciously pick up on any inadvertent desperation signals you are sending and weed you out, because you ‘don’t feel right’.
This brings us to the seventh way of achieving house sitter martyrdom…
7.They don’t trust their instincts
When making a decision to accept or decline a house sitting ssignment there is a lot of information to process. So how do you ensure you make the right decision?
Have you ever experienced a “gut feel” or trusted your intuition about a important decision you had to make? Listening to your instincts, the sense of unease or discomfort can be an important decision making tool. Mature travelers and experienced sitters often avoid painful situations by listening to their inner voice, or their ‘spidey senses’.
Matruity and life experience has its advantages. It allows you to recognize false or problematic situations and patterns and therefore avoid the patterns that spell “Trouble”.
If you have an adverse gut reaction to a sit or to the owner, often the best solution is to walk away from the assignment. Other times that reaction merely means you need more information before making your final decision.
For younger travelers or those who have not yet developed the ability to listen to their gut, let’s quickly recap the points as discussed above. They are important if you want to stop torturing yourselves.
- Determine what you want
- Define and avoid your show stoppers
- Do your homework
- Read between the lines
- Be very diligent and precise with you communications
- And don’t go charging into an unknown situation unprepared
Remember house sitting is a mutually beneficent arrangement for all parties and should be a win-win situation for all concerned.
Stop the Insanity!
Let’s face it some house sitters are masters of self sabotage.
House sitting does not need to be a house of horrors, but if pain and suffering is your thing go ahead, fill your boots!
However; if you practice some self-awareness and perform your due diligence. You will find that the majority of homeowners open and willing enough to invite sitters into their homes are wonderful people.
With the above pain avoidance measures in place, house sitting is one of the most rewarding travel experiences available anywhere.