If you do your research and are sensible about safety and practice due diligence, your house-sitting experience should be extraordinarily positive. However, no matter how good the housesitting website you’re using, you may come across a potential sit that leaves your spidey senses tingling. After experiencing a few of those in our travels—and in some cases after ignoring said spidey senses and regretting it—we’ve come up with a list of red flags we keep an eye out for when applying for house sits, before the sit and on arrival. If you come across any of the following, you may want to think twice before accepting the sit:
No pictures in the housesit profile or poor quality, grainy pictures that don’t show the house or the pets in any detail. While this isn’t necessarily a reason to stop applying, (we’ve recently stayed at a gorgeous sit in Crete that didn’t have any pictures initially) make sure you ask to see pictures or better yet, request a Skype tour of the host’s home.
Numerous or particularly vitriolic complaints about previous sitters in the house sitting advert or during your video call. It’s the equivalent of someone complaining to their blind date about their ex. It’s not attractive and it’s a good indication that they’ll talk about you like that at some stage in the future, no matter how great a sitter you are.
The animals (or people) listed for the sit differing to the ones in the description. We’ve encountered this a bunch of times. The most loopy example was a sit asking for someone to look after a cat which turned out to be their elderly mother with Alzheimer’s.
An unwillingness to show you additional pictures of the home or to have a video call.
Standing you up without apology or with little reason when you’re due to video call or worse, when you arrive to the property.
Not replying to emails or there being a long delay. In our experience this is a pretty good indication of how long it will take them to get back to you during a sit, which can be a genuine issue if there’s an emergency.
Homeowners repeatedly talking about their high cleanliness standards. This one may sound reasonable, but we’ve found that anyone who repeatedly insists that we must meet their ‘extremely high standards’ are going to get out the white gloves and run their fingers over the tops of the doors even after a one day sit. They’ll find flaws in anything we do, even though we make a point of thoroughly cleaning any place we sit to a professional level. In general, great sits are ones where the homeowners just ask you to leave the place as they left it. And beware of 1 day/overnight sits where the home owner expressly states they expect their home mopped, vacuumed with all bathrooms thoroughly cleaned and the lawn mowed. They’re not looking for house sitters, they’re looking for a thorough home clean for free!
While we’re on the topic of cleanliness, beware of home owners who say they’re not fussed about cleaning or who post pictures showing they haven’t made much of an effort to tidy. This might not be a big deal and could just indicate they were in a hurry to post their sit . . . or it might indicate the nightmare we encountered a while ago that required three days of cleaning up puddles of new and dried cat pee (over thirty instances), cleaning out a primordial fridge, washing every single cooking utensil to get rid of sticky gunk, in addition to a whole lot of other horrors I’m still shuddering over. In short, always see if you can have that Skype tour and if a home owner ever says their cats pee in the house ‘more than they’d like’ ask how much that is specifically and whether or not it will be cleaned up before you arrive.
And unwillingness to fill out our housesitting questionnaire or vagueness in their answers. (See previous point about ‘more than we’d like.’)
Any vagueness over who will be coming to the property while you’re there. The last thing you want is people you don’t know unexpectedly turning up on a regular basis, claiming they’re just ‘collecting’ things they’d loaned your host or raiding the fridge, eating your food. If your hosts can’t be very clear about who will be coming to the property while they’re away and how often, we’d suggest you think twice.
Cameras in the house. In some countries it’s common for people to have pet cams inside their homes. If your host is unwilling to have you turn them off while you’re there (after you ask respectfully, explaining how it would impinge on your privacy), we’d suggest you think twice about the sit. That said, you could always reach a compromise where you’ll turn the cameras on when you leave the home for errands or have them on for an hour a day so they can see their pets. It’s down to your gut feel.
Last minute surprises. Anything sprung on you at the last minute is always a big red flag. A great example of this was when a host asked us on arrival whether or not we’d be fine with extensive renovations (re-roofing part of the property) taking place. We weren’t.
If you encounter any or more than one of these red flags, we’d encourage you to rethink taking the house-sit. If you’ve already agreed to the sit, feel free to contact the site it was arranged through and talk to them about how to disengage without any drama. Always take pictures of things that are a problem as evidence for the house sitting site and make sure you save all emails with the host so you’ve got a record for later.
With luck, you’ll never have a negative house sitting experience, but it does pay to make sure you take care of yourself out there. If you keep an eye out for and act on red flags, your house sitting adventure should be awesome!