Many articles focus on house sitting as a way to travel at greatly reduced cost. And it’s true, we’ve saved over $15,000 in the past year! The important things to know about house sitting is that it is NOT a relaxing vacation and it’s NOT free. There are great house sitting opportunities and many of them are fantastic experiences, but be warned, things can and do go wrong.

House sitting comes with great responsibility and, to an extent, risk. There are hidden costs involved and that means “unexpected, unforeseen and necessary”. There’s also the cost or value of a house sitter’s time.

House sitting requires you put in the time to meet the expectations of the owner. If anything, house sitting is best defined as a working holiday with no days off that may require you to pay out of pocket from time to time. Sound like fun? If so, then house-sitting might be a great fit for you.

A House-sitter’s Responsibility:

When you agree to a house sitting assignment, you assume the responsibility of caring for both the family members (pets) and the family’s home.

Pets are considered, by many, as cherished members of the family.  As a house sitter, you are responsible for the health and welfare of the animal(s). Failing to follow the pet’s established routine can lead to the animal’s emotional and physical deterioration.  Owners, upon their return, know instantly if their pet(s) are healthy and happy. When the dog, cat, chickens or horse are not well, it leaves the owner upset and hurts the reputation of all house sitters. We’ve sat for several owners who, when asked, have expressed outright hostility toward those sitters who did not follow their directions. Taking care of the animals takes time, and in some cases, a lot of effort.

not-a-vacationA home is, in most cases, the greatest financial investment a family makes. The house sitter is 100% responsible for its upkeep and security – including all of the contents.  The home, upon the owners return, should be in better shape than when you found it. If, when you arrive, you see a home that is kept in immaculate condition, then that is the minimum expectation of the owner. If you find a home that is not well kept, the general consensus in the house sitting community is that you leave it better than you found it. While re-organizing the kitchen is not recommended, cleaning the home – or the parts you will use – is.  There is nothing wrong with making the house comfortable for you and return it to the owner in a condition that you are proud of.

Things Can and Do Go Wrong:

While preparing for a house sit in rural East Anglia, UK, we spent a few hours with the owner and discussed her expectations over tea. The tea was served in big mugs and each had a unique scene painted upon them. She made it clear that the mugs were used daily. What she did not make clear was that each mug was a collectible item.  When we broke one them a week later we discovered that its value was $90 USD! When the owner returned, the mug had been replaced (thank you E-Bay!). Now we travel with our own mugs that are basic and unlikely to break. But that was a coffee cup.  What if we broke the family pet or the car?

One house-sit we did was a rescue facility for Labrador Retrievers. There were 5 dogs, all over the age of 10 and each had special requirements for food, medicine and exercise. It was a fantastic experience marred only by the 5-labsexceptional escape skills of the two youngest dogs (9 and 10 years). On a property of several acres, well fenced (we thought) and in the Welsh countryside, these two could break out of kennels, crawl under the hedgerow or fencing and be gone in seconds.  Often, the escape would happen after night-fall and, as an added bonus, they loved to go into the neighboring fields where the bulls tolerated the dogs, but not us. We got them home every time but what if? We’ve been lucky. Wandering the Welsh country side in the dark, looking for dogs is not usually thought of as a normal vacation activity. Memorable yes. Good time? Not so much.

Our issues pale in comparison to the experiences of some house sitters. Vanessa and Ian and Betsy and Pete had to batten the hatches and ride out a cyclone in the South Pacific. Other sitters have cared for very sick dogs and cats only to have the pet pass away during the house sit.  Some sitters have had the home’s electricity supply cut off for non-payment of the bill, while others have chosen to pay the bill (let’s face it, electricity helps).  There are those who have had to deal with truly deplorable cleanliness issues, or owners who ask the sitter to care for ill family members or adult children. Others have been attacked by dogs (suffering severe wounds) and in one case, the police arriving to attend to complaints about the barking dogs.  Not a typical holiday.

Is House Sitting Right for You?

The questions one must ask are: Is this the kind of travel experience you’d enjoy? Further, how would you deal with these situations? Are you prepared and willing to handle these and other issues which may arise while you holiday for free? What would you do if, while driving the home owner’s car, there was a collision? Ask yourself if you actually have the skill to handle a large, powerful dog breed. What would you do if the home was burglarized or worse, damaged by fire? These are very real possibilities which you should consider before house sitting. There are, potentially, costs involved for house sitters that go well beyond your savings.

Josie Schneider has a fantastic blog that you should read (So You Want to Be a House Sitter) which asks important questions of potential house sitters. If you are thinking of house sitting and are wondering if it’s right for you, read her blog and answer the questions.

The saying is “with risk there is reward.”  When it comes to house sitting, we believe this is absolutely true. House sitting is not free and it requires you to invest time, energy and expertise beyond the cost of travel. In return, you will meet fantastic people, make excellent friends and collect some very precious memories.

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