I’d love to rename this article “How to manage Murphy’s Law” after the old adage “if anything can go wrong, it will go wrong,” which applies to pretty much everything in life, including house sitting. Luckily the things that we’ve encountered with house sitting are pretty easy to fix. Here are the main issues we’ve encountered and what we’ve learned in dealing with them:
Arriving at your host’s home to find it’s not as represented.
This is something for an entire section but we mention it here as something you need to be prepared for. We’ve learned how to avoid this situation, but any newbie house sitter will probably encounter a house like this in their time and it’s handy to know what to do. Our ways of dealing with a sit like this are as follows:
If the house is unsafe due to environmental factors like black mould, water damage, asbestos, visible animal faeces around the home or an aggressive animal you weren’t informed about, you have every right to cancel the sit. This is a safety issue and comes above your host’s disappointment in having their time away inconvenienced. Make sure you take pictures of the property and evidence of the issue and contact the housesitting site you’re using, explaining why you’ve cancelled the sit.
If you’ve decided you’d still like to continue the sit and the issue is your hosts’ idea of “clean” versus yours, the issue you need to consider how long you’ve been staying. If it’s less than four days we tend to clean one living space as much as possible for our own use, the kitchen where we’ll be cooking, the bathroom—for obvious reasons—and where we’ll be sleeping. We leave the rest as our hosts have left it. This isn’t for them, this is for us to enjoy our time in their home as much as possible. If it’s for more than four days, we tend to give the entire house a thorough clean to the standard we expect to live in. There is no point being unhappy for days or weeks when a bit of elbow grease will leave you feeling much better in a short amount of time. As with our previous point, take pictures! The last thing you want is your host saying you didn’t care for their property when you spent three days out of a week cleaning it so you could stay there.
An anxious or noisy animal.
If you were warned the critter was consistently noisy or usually anxious before the sit, then you would have gone in eyes wide open and may just have to tough it out with ear plugs at night and by doing your best to match its routine so it’s as calm as possible. If it’s distressed due to separation anxiety or another reason, there are a whole lot of things you can do depending on the type of critter you’re dealing with. A handy trip to Youtube or some Googling may help. It may be a case of spending more time with the animal, taking them off for a long walk to tire them out, working out if they’ve lost their favourite toy or checking that their litter tray is clean and their food bowls are full. All this sounds common sense but if you’re dealing with a howling dog who can’t communicate or a loudly meowing cat, sometimes the most basic solutions are the ones to try first. For us, the golden rule is that if you’ve agreed to a routine for the critter, stick to it. Fido may just be howling because he always goes for a walk at six and it’s now eight.
Household Appliances Malfunctioning or Breaking
Anyone who has owned their own property will know that toilets and washing machines are the most likely things to go wrong. As house sitters we tend to do the following.
For Toilets: There’s a wide range of things that can go wrong with the average loo, but in general the first thing we do is head to YouTube, looking up the problem and how to fix it. (In general you’ll even find tutorials for every make and model of toilet.) Make sure the tutorial is either by a plumber or check a couple of videos to make sure the solution is a good one. If there is only one toilet in the home and the problem is an extremely easy fix—a blockage for example—that won’t risk breaking any parts, we do it. If it’s a complex fix involving the flush or a cistern leak, that’s when it’s time to contact the home owner.
If there are other toilets in the home, and the problem is a complex one, we turn off the water supply to the cistern, close the loo door and leave it for when the home owners get home. They won’t be able to fix it while away and there may be a way for them to fix it without calling out a plumber at extra expense.
Washing machines and dishwashers: For these we rely on the trusty users’ manual if there’s one, or again on Youtube. In general we try and do everything we can before bothering home owners on their holiday. With dishwashers, if it looks like a complex issue, we isolate the water supply and hand-wash the dishes for the duration of the stay unless the homeowners want us to call out a technician. With washing machines, we contact the owner if there is no other recourse. Luckily this has only happened once and the owner was absolutely brilliant in getting someone in to fix the machine straight away.
Critters getting out of their pens/cages
We always make a point of asking people if their pets are prone to escaping and if so, where they go and how to get them back. At one of our sits, we found out the hamster was an escape artist who could always be found in her food bin. She stayed in her cage while we were there, but at least we knew where she would be if she Houdini’d!
This one is tricksy as anyone who has ever tried to puzzle out someone else’s home-done irrigation system to work out why half a garden is being inundated twice a day but the other half is getting no water whatsoever. Our usual practice is to make sure our hosts walk us through their irrigation system in detail before they leave, including letting us know where any spare sprinkler heads are just in case. If none of their information helps and if they’re uncontactable, the only solution we’ve come up for this one is hand-watering the garden until we can get in touch with them or until their return. YouTube can be your friend again with simpler fixes but in general, meditating in the garden holding a water hose is the solution that wins out every time.
Breakage of Items in the Home
Everyone has a clumsy moment and sometimes either you or the critters in the home knock items of counters or shelves. It’s awful when it happens, but we do our best to make sure nothing treasured or valuable gets damaged by doing the following:
We always ask our host if there is any item in the home that they treasure to the point they don’t want us touching it or going near it. If it’s something valuable in a highly conspicuous place (I.e. a vase in an entry way that’s about the same height your shopping bags would be when you walk through the front door), we ask that they remove it to somewhere safe.
If our sit is longer than a few days, we make a point of storing any photographs or other valuable items that are in conspicuous, easy-to-knock-over positions. We always take a picture before we do this so we can pop the things back exactly where they’re meant to be before our host comes home.
We try as much as possible not to use any valuable looking baking dishes, serving wear and glasses. It doesn’t serve to tempt fate! In addition to this, if anything looks valuable, we’ll hand wash it.
If something does break, we always offer to replace it or to pay for its replacement.
Hosts who claim you’ve not done a good job
Note: The assumption here is that you’ve looked after the critters and cleaned the home to the same—or higher standard—than it was left to you.
Sometimes, on a very, very rare occasion, you’ll come across someone who is super hard to please and would be able to find a fault in the cleaning job done on Buckingham Palace. You should be able to weed these people out by keeping an eye out for red flags before the sit, but sometimes people don’t show their true colours until afterwards. What to do?
Take pictures of the house when you arrive! If there’s anything not working, anything messy, anything that’s out of whack, take a picture of it and if possible get the owner to admit that anything broken or untidy is such before they leave for their trip.
That said, if you’ve cleaned their home top to bottom, don’t tell them you have by insisting it was a tip before hand. No one wants to feel insulted and it can bring out the worst in an otherwise calm and sensible person.
If they do leave you a super unfair negative review, I’d contact the house sitting site with the evidence you’ve got of the work you’ve done. If that doesn’t help, you may have the option of responding to their review. If you can, Leave a considered, calm and brief reply stating the situation so that anyone reading the review can get an idea of what’s gone awry. If their review is particularly nasty and aggressive, just remember most people will be able to see through it to the type of person who’d post it. No matter what you do, don’t let your upset mar your reply. If you can’t keep your cool, maybe it’s best to leave it. Take it from seasoned fiction authors—negative reviews are never as bad as you think they are in the moment. You can’t please everyone and as long as you do the best job you can, you’ll know you’re in the right.