Red flags to look for when when house sitting
House sitting is a great way to travel the world on a budget. In exchange for taking care of pets and a property, you get free accommodations in an exotic place. Alysa and I have done some wonderful housesits before. Unfortunately, we recently left a very bad one in Costa Rica. We really didn’t want to leave our four-month commitment early. However, it turned into a situation that we were very unhappy with. Looking back, there were many red flags that we should have seen. We are grateful now to know what to look for before accepting another house sit. We are telling you about those red flags here, so you can learn from our mistakes and avoid entering into a bad situation too.
During your initial and follow-up conversations with the owner, be sure that you get clear answers to your questions. Vague answers are a clear red flag. We should have caught on to this during our conversations with the owner, she couldn’t (read: wouldn’t) tell us exactly what our days would look like and how many hours we were required to be on the property. Your duties should be as clear as a description of a real job. You should even get it in writing. If you can’t get clear and detailed answers to what you are doing, then raise that red flag!
When we asked to see pictures of the property, we were referred to a website. We were wowed by beautiful images of immaculate living spaces. We found upon our arrival that these pictures are several years old. Our pristine living space had deteriorated long ago into an uncomfortable, partially dilapidated, mold filled space. Ask how recent the pictures are. Insist on current pictures of your living space. If they don’t provide these, raise a red-flag.
Unhappy previous sitters
Ask to speak to any previous sitters. If the owner won’t connect you, then this is a serious red flag. We should have done this, but didn’t. In fact, we first met the previous sitters when we arrived. It seemed that they couldn’t leave fast enough. In retrospect, we should have picked up on their eagerness to leave and left then as well.
Earning money for someone else
A house sitting/caretaking position is supposed to be a mutually beneficial arrangement between you and the owner. If your work is earning them money that you are not receiving, then this is not a fair deal. If you find yourself preparing rental rooms or doing other work that earns someone else money, then you are getting a raw deal. Remember: you are not free labor. Don’t do work that the owner should be hiring someone for. Also, as already stated, make sure the amount of work you will do is agreed to ahead of time. Think about it as if you were earning money for the work you were doing as part of a job. If you could afford your own housing for that amount of labor, then you are being taken advantage of. Do the math. See what feels good for you.
The facts don’t add up
In our initial Skype chat, we specifically asked the owner about transportation. We were told that there is ample public transportation in the area. We found that this is not the case when we arrived. Further research showed us that cars are highly recommended in the area. This was a good lesson to do ample research in advance. Read blogs and travel guides to the area. Get on expat Facebook groups and ask questions. Don’t let the owner get you there with incorrect information.
If your duties as a housesitter or caretaker aren’t clearly spelled out, you may be expected to do more than you bargained for. When the work assignments were left unspecified, we should have raised a skeptical eyebrow. When work hours were listed as “TBD” we should have said, “Smell you later!” As it happened, the owner would drop tasks in our lap with little or no warning. Think you’re going to the beach this afternoon? No. You’ll be filling in the ruts in the driveway! Be specific about your duties. As I said before, get everything in writing. Be wary if the owner is hesitant to do this.
The owner seems eager (read: desperate) to get you
A good house sit will get many qualified applicants. If the owner seems far too eager to get you to sign on, this may be a sign that something is amiss. They should be as discerning as you when it comes to making a good match. Be wary if you pick up on any desperation on the owner’s part. It is a good sign that they are more keen to tell you what they need to get you onboard than the true facts of the house sit.
Your spidey sense is tingling
In the end, if you get a bad feeling about accepting a house sit, there may be a reason for it. If your gut says “no”, listen to it. We had our reservations about accepting our house sit, but we overlooked them and heard what we wanted to hear. This was largely because the owner told us what we wanted us to hear, not whole truths. We should have listened to our intuition more. If we had, we would have avoided a bad situation that we would later need to leave.
Have you had a bad house sitting experience too? Are there other warning signs to watch out for? Let us know in the comments.