Housesitting ain’t easy sometimes

We have been housesitting now for nearly 5 years, we have multiple repeat sits in England, Ireland, Spain, Canada and Mexico and have been invited back to housesit most of our homeowners’ pets and properties.

A housesit goes bad International Housesitting Nightmares

Housesitting is not easy and it really is about working, caring for someone’s house and pets is not something to take lightly. I would say that 98 out of 100 homeowners understand that they are getting fantastic care for their pets and their homes and it is a serious business but once in a blue moon, you get the homeowner from hell.

our Tipperary housesit

This is our long sorry tale of bad homeowners and a housesit nightmare and I will admit that this is partly my fault, I didn’t listen to my instincts on that first Skype call, but I had wanted to visit this area for a long time and the pets looked adorable. My cautionary tale is about listening to your instincts, trusting yourself when you see or hear the red flags and learning from the experience.

The Homeowner from hell – when a housesit goes bad

That first Skype call was not terrible we just noticed that the homeowner spent a lot of time complaining about previous sitters and how awful they were damaging things, killing her plants, neglecting the animals and stealing stuff from her house, running up the utility bills and so on. We commiserated and promised we were definitely not that kind of housesitter and had the references to prove it. But that should have been my first clue.

The homeowner spoke of needing a car but said that there were shops in the village and the banks were “down the road” little did we know this was a complete untruth. The homeowner said we could “rent” her car for £8 Euros a day, which we turned down, as it was much too expensive, and we felt we could manage with public transport or taxis (of which it turns out there were none – another “untruth”).

My second clue was the fact that both of them appeared to be drunk, clutching wine glasses and pouring the whole time they were online.  She kept complaining about his drinking and how he had fallen down drunk at a “do” last night. That was the second red flag that we ignored.

A housesit goes bad International Housesitting Nightmares

Nevertheless, we proceeded to accept the housesit and continued our conversations via email where she sent us pictures of the exterior of the house and the dog. He looked like a lively happy fellow but when we tried to get more details about the house, we were sent pictures of the multitude of pots in the garden and more untruths about the location.

The third red flag came when I got a screamingly pissy email about how I hadn’t kept my promise about keeping in touch. Now we were 12 weeks out from the sit and I did recall promising to keep in touch with her when we were housesitting on a regular basis but I never agreed to check in each week before the sit began. I Shoulda listened to my gut but at that point, we had already made the commitment and the tickets were booked and they were expensive.

A housesit goes bad International Housesitting Nightmares

At this point hubs and I decided we couldn’t let the lovely animals down and it wasn’t fair to the homeowner that we backed out now and to be totally honest we didn’t have another sit booked as we had stopped looking when we got this one. So off we flew hoping against hope that all would be well.

We landed late at night and the homeowner and her boyfriend came to pick us up which we were extremely grateful for, as we had no clue where we were going to be. The entire way back to her house we were subjected to a litany of complaints about her boyfriend (who was in the front seat) his drunkenness, his appalling behaviours socially, the fact he had cheated on his wife and had ended up at 67 with a daughter.  

A housesit goes bad International Housesitting Nightmares

It went on for the whole 45-minute drive with us cringing in the back seat of the car. We managed to get to the house without incident and the homeowner proceeded to show us around and detail our “duties”, well she did – he sat and drank an entire bottle of wine and several beers that were in the fridge.

We had to water all 300 potted plants at least every other day and ensure that they stayed alive, as the other housesitters had killed them all. We could not leave the house longer than 4 hours at a time or the dog would go crazy. We should feed the cat but she didn’t care about it as both pets had been bought for the boyfriends’ daughter. The cleaner was to come in every few weeks and take care of the house.  She pointed out the stained stair carpet (we didn’t care really lol), finally exhausted we managed to get them to leave us alone so we could rest and see them in the morning.

housesitting tortoises in Spain

The next morning they arrived from the boyfriend’s house where they were staying for a few days before they left. Again we were instructed on animal care, how to plug the TV in, be careful of the very expensive glasses in the cupboard and so it went on and on.

We then proceeded to the car and they showed us a small dent on the driver’s side and explained the insurance and the rules of the road for the area. We hopped in the car with them for a tour of the area and were again subjected to another session of complaints about how the previous housesitters had “taken them for a ride” and because of this they had changed the rules of the housesit.

Housesitting in Progreso Mexico
Cleo our Mexican friend, housesitting in Progreso

We were no longer allowed to use the private pool at the boyfriend’s house, they had arranged for us to use the pool at the Clubhouse. This was a 5 km drive but it sure as hell beat a 50km drive to his house. We also learned there were no shops in the village just a few restaurants and the actual banks and ATM’s were a good 2.5 km away.

At this point, we said to ourselves thank god we have the car we would be totally stranded and they must have been sensible enough to realize they couldn’t ask us to housesit without any transportation.

Finally, after a few days, they actually got on the damn plane and left. We were exhausted, they complained constantly about each other and each other’s drinking, they complained about all their previous housesitters and how much they had stolen and cost them.

They drank constantly and expected us to clean up after them. The homeowner did cook us two dinners that we had to suffer together but of course did not lift a finger to set the table, clear the table or do the dishes. It was a nightmare and we couldn’t wait for them to leave.

my office in Cyprus while housesitting

So we spent 8 weeks watering the plants, feeding the dog and cat and walking the dog twice a day in 45-degree heat. The area was suffering a heatwave they called Lucifer so we went and bought a portable fan, as we didn’t want to use the aircon. It was brutally hot; high walls surrounded the cottage so no breezes and the heat built up to near unbearable levels.

The kitchen was so tiny a camper kitchen would have felt luxurious. The BBQ was so old, wobbly, and low on fuel but the dog was adorable, such a sweetie and the terrace garden was lovely.

One night the dog fell over around 9 pm and had a seizure it was terrifying. We found a vet that was open and raced through the night (over 20kms) to get the poor creature down to the vet’s where he was given three shots and x-rays were taken. He was alive that’s all that counted.

By the time, we got him back his snout had swollen to 4x its size and we realized he had been stung by a wasp and had an allergic reaction. We took him back to the vet the next day who confirmed our belief, gave the dog 3 more shots, one more x-ray and charged us £79 Euros.

Later that night the homeowner called the house after I had sent her an email describing the excitement. During the phone call towards the end when the connection was going fuzzy, she said something curious to me about sorting out the cost and deducting it from what we owed her. I didn’t get to question this as the phone died. So the next morning I sent her an email asking what she meant and for clarification.

A housesit goes bad International Housesitting Nightmares

I was told at that point that since we were going to pay for the utility bills for our stay, the car rental, the wifi cost, the propane cost for the BBQ and the insurance that she would take the money she owned us off the bill.  I was told that I “couldn’t possibly expect to stay free in someone’s home and that I had to take responsibility for the bills that we had run up.  Did I think that housesitting was a free ride, how dare I believe that housesitting was about living in other people’s homes for free?

I was speechless and astounded, to say the least, and knew that this wouldn’t be the last of that conversation and that we were in for another 8 weeks of being berated, abused and held to what I considered monetary extortion.

We were halfway into the sit and had another 8 weeks to go when we received a call from home about a medical emergency. Within 3 days we had made arrangements for the dog to stay with his previous sitters, the homeowner had called and booked the cattery and the car was removed to god knows where. We made our own way to the airport and left thanking God we had managed to escape without having to deal with the inevitable arguments that were to come, as we had no intention of paying anything that we had not agreed to.

A housesit goes bad International Housesitting Nightmares

Since that time we have received numerous emails threatening us, demanding to know why we expected to stay “free” accusing us of all sorts of things like neglecting the dog and cat, costing them huge sums of money on damage to the house, car and gardens, leaving a filthy house that was badly damaged and a garden that was a disaster.

We have been accused of running up the electric bills, using the phone to call all over the planet, hijacking their WiFi and costing them a fortune in wifi charges and the list goes on. Yet for 6 weeks the house has sat empty, the car was with someone else and the filthy house had supposedly been cleaned twice by the cleaners.

A housesit goes bad International Housesitting Nightmares

This homeowner continues to stalk us on social media joining SM channels like LinkedIn and Facebook to try to harass us. They have reported us to every housesitting platform they can think off, which we have successfully dealt with and have not been “blacklisted” as threatened.

We have been threatened with being reported to the Police in Canada, blacklisting on housesitting websites and all SM channels and literally called every name under the sun. The most recent communication from them via LinkedIn was that we owed them over £600 Euros for the cost of putting the dog and cat into the kennels. Rather ironic given the fact that we were supposed to do this for free saving them well over £1800 euros over the course of the housesit, but now we owe them?

A housesit goes bad International Housesitting Nightmares

I decided to tell this story as a cautionary tale to all housesitters and homeowners and to put down in writing some ideas and thoughts about housesitting that may help others in future. As for us, we are letting it roll off our backs – we know there are horrible, nasty grasping people in this world and we are not going to let this stop us or prevent us from housesitting. Mr and Mrs Nasty can threaten, attempt extortion and wail all they want.

The one thing I made damn sure of before we left is that I documented everything, photographed everything (including the car the first day we were there). I time stamped all my photos. I may be stupid enough not to listen to my gut before but I learned well and will be prepared in the future.

Since that particular sit, we have had a couple of others that were by no means as bad as this one but had some downsides. We believe in housesitting and we know that you have to be extremely adaptable. Not everyone’s house will be as clean as yours so learn to live with it. Not every homeowner will be your “friend” so get over it. Not every location is ideal but hey it’s an experience you have never had before.  Oh, and if you have to deal with allergies or are a vegan do not expect a homeowner to accommodate you by removing everything scented, or ensuring that the house is veganized remember you are sitting for them and it is their home NOT yours. 

A housesit goes bad International Housesitting Nightmares

These are the rules we live by as International Housesitters:

  1. Choose a reputable platform you can find our favourites listed here in Housesitting for Newbies
  2. Since this particular sit came through a reputable platform the platform did send us a notice asking us to clarify the situation. We understood that if the platform had any doubts about our credibility we could be removed from the platform and unable to apply for sits in future. Since we had documented everything we could prove our story and meet the requirements of the platform.
  3. Other resources include:

    House Sitting World

    Housesitting Academy

    House Sitting – The Ultimate Lifestyle Magazine

    Housesitting Magazine Group

A housesit goes bad International Housesitting Nightmares

10 Tips for House Sitting

  1. Ask for a written copy of the house rules. Make sure you know what the homeowner’s expectations are, be they cleaning, about the car or financial responsibilities.
  2. Don’t forget to get the WI-FI password, and make sure you ask if there is good wi-fi before the sit. If that Skype conversation cuts out you know you may have wi-fi issues.
  3. Leave the house exactly as you found it. If need be take photos to ensure that you put things back and clean the way the homeowners likes. It is critical to leave the house in better condition than you found it. If you kill a plant – replace it, break a glass – replace it.
  4. Do what you say you are going to do or what the homeowners requests. If they say to water the plants every two days make sure it is done. If you are asked to mow the lawn get it mowed. If they ask you to pick up the mail every day at 4 pm go and get the mail.
  5. Replace anything you have used or eaten. Make sure that the homeowner comes home to some basics in the fridge. Bread, butter, tea or coffee, sugar and milk and things that they had in their fridge should be waiting for them. There is nothing worse than returning from a long trip and no cup of tea to be had.
  6. Treat the homeowner’s home and property like your own if not better.
  7. Keep in touch with the homeowner as requested or simply make sure you send photos of the pets or property to ensure the homeowner is kept up to date and can see their beloved pets are well taken care of and loved in their absence.
  8. Introduce yourself to the neighbours, or ask the homeowner to introduce you. You want to establish the fact that you are an invited guest and housesitter.
  9. Make sure you wash all the linens and towels that you used and that they are clean and fresh for the homeowners’ return.
  10. We always try to leave a small gift for the homeowner, whether it be fresh flowers, a small thank you card or some home-baked bread. We want them to know that we cared for and enjoyed our stay.

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A housesit goes bad International Housesitting Nightmares
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