The true and simple rules for house-sitting.

E-mails you don’t want to get from your house-sitter:

“I’m leaving a month early.”

“Do you have a plunger?”

Since  the end of May I’ve made two long trips, to Alaska and New Jersey, spending about 14 weeks away from home in all. During that time I had two house-sitters and two dismaying communiqués.

One caretaker was a friend of a friend. The other was someone I know slightly. Both were looking for a place to stay; all I asked in return for the free flop was that they bring in my mail.

What I didn’t ask for:

  • A nearly dead potted tree in the living room
  • Many of that tree’s leaves on the carpet
  • An oven floor covered with grease
  • The relocation of a stepladder, floor lamp, straight chair, shopping cart and the contents of two dresser drawers
  • My kitchen nightlight removed and plugged in under the dining table (still trying to figure that one out)

Books were moved around. The bath towels rearranged in order of size, even though the house-sitter didn’t actually use them. (More later on why that bugged me.)

The dining table and desk was entirely cleared off (I never did find the little container I use for scratch paper). Dishes and pans were rearranged in the cupboards. And I came home to a big pile of dirty towels and sheets on my bedroom floor.

When asked about that last one, via e-mail, here was the house-sitter’s response: “I didn’t have the time or money to wash them.”

But…you used them. And you make more money than I do!

At least there were clean sheets on the bed.

Why’d he mess with that?

I will be the first to admit that my place is kind of cluttered. But I like having my vitamin bottles on the breakfast bar. I like having a piggy bank there, too, and an egg-shaped teapot, and the salt and pepper shakers that resemble pots on a stove – all three were gifts from friends, and they are cheerful.

Yes, I need to organize my bookshelves. Yes, I need to do something about the clutch of paperwork on the dining table. Yes, I need to find homes for a few tchotchkes.

But here’s what I don’t need: People to move things around the way they like and then to leave it that way – which, in turn, leaves me trying to figure out where my paperwork went.

Why move the shopping cart? It wasn’t in the way. Folded up and tucked between the couch and the cedar chest, it was barely even visible.

My bath towels are stored in a small plant rack in the bathroom. I put them in small-large, small-large order so that I can pull out one for my hair and one for my body. When I got home I had to take them all out because the sitter had put the small ones all at the bottom. But he’d brought his own towels – why’d he mess with mine?

The worst part was finding the two dresser drawers emptied, presumably so the house-sitter could use them. Some of the items in the drawers were deeply personal, including letters from old friends and from my mother. After a few minutes of frantic searching, I realized that the extra suitcase the house-sitter had set on my bed probably held the items. It did.

Whose comfort?

This rant may sound a bit querulous. But it’s my place. I have things the way I want them.

No, the caretakers weren’t paid – but neither did they have to worry about rent or utilities for a month or more. I live within walking distance of shopping, two movie theaters and a transit center. There was Internet access. I let one of them use my library card.

Yes, I told them to make themselves comfortable. The result, though, was that I was uncomfortable when I got home from my trips.

During that Alaska visit, incidentally, I house-sat for two different people – and I neither moved furniture nor left dirty linens lying around. (I did, however, pick up tree branches that came down in a windstorm, deadhead flowers, brush matted hair from around the cat’s backside and wrangle a couple of escaped stick-bugs back into the terrarium.)

Ditto for the place I’ll be watching for a few days in January: When the owners return, things will be as they left them.

It’s not my house, that’s why. I don’t get to decide that a stack of charitable requests shouldn’t be on the kitchen table. Even if it were in my way, you know what? I’d either live with it, or I’d move it temporarily and then put it back when it was time for me to leave.

A few simple rules

I’m planning a trip to England and Wales in early spring. Because I’ll be gone fewer than 30 days I can just have the post office hold my mail. However, I proposed the following deal to an upstairs neighbor: I’ll care for her cat while she’s away for long weekends if she’ll pick up my mail should I decide to take a trip lasting more than a month.

She’s happy because in the past she’s paid me to watch Kitty. Now I’m willing to do it for free and she may never have to reciprocate. Or she may move by the time I take another four-weeks-plus journey.

I’m willing to take that chance. No more house-sitters for me. My place is a mess, but it’s my mess. I don’t want people to mess with my mess. (And for extra credit: Hey, you kids, get off my lawn!)

Do I sound impossibly cranky? (I mean it, you kids – stop cutting across my yard!) That’s because I am, sort of. But you will benefit from my persnicketiness, because it has resulted in my creating the True And Simple Rules For House-Sitting. If you decide to market yourself as a caretaker, follow these few rules and you’ll have all the business you want:

  • If you move it, put it back.
  • If you make a mess, clean it up.
  • If you bring a tree – and why would you? – take it with you when you leave.
  • If there’s no compelling reason to touch someone else’s belongings, don’t.

Make yourself comfortable, but not at the expense of the homeowner. Leave your OCD tendencies back at your own place. Bring quarters for the laundry. And for heaven’s sake, leave the nightlights alone.


50 Comments

  1. Mollymouser

    If you ever come and house-sit for me, you’d be completely welcome to rearrange our towels! (giggle!) And dusting ~ that would be fair game, too!

    • Donna Freedman

      @Molly: Yes, but would I be allowed to comb matted hair away from the cat’s butt?

  2. No cat butts here , but you could detangle the dog’s beard! And of course all 3 of the dogs love to sleep in the bed with you. . .

  3. And don’t rent out a room should be on the list too. I learned that lesson quite well after our roommate asked me to put her laundry away and there was a loaded hand gun in her drawer. It was a good thing that my kids were not allowed to set foot in her room. Oh and did I mention that she was a RN and was using our insurance to fill prescriptions cheap for her family.
    I think that just having someone get your mail and stop over to check things is the way to go from now on.
    Have a great week!

  4. Well wow. As a full-time, longterm housesitter, I’m flabbergasted! I definitely agree with the “if you move it, put it back”, no matter what. I take detailed photos so I can make sure I put things back where they belong.

    I have to say I’m surprised that you wouldn’t have left empty drawers for your housesitter. Wouldn’t you have done that for a houseguest? Or am I missing something? Regardless of course, if they emptied out drawers they should have refilled them.

    Sorry you had such a bad experience!

    • Donna Freedman

      @SimplyForties: I pushed stuff in my closet aside to make room for them to hang stuff up, but clearing out drawers honestly didn’t occur to me.
      It’s probably because I’m accustomed to living out of a suitcase when I make long trips; the friend with whom I stay most often doesn’t have a dresser in the spare room, and at my dad’s the dresser is already filled with stuff. So I just hang up what needs hanging up, and leave the T-shirts and unmentionables folded in the suitcase.
      Very smart of you to take photos. You are a true professional!
      Thanks for your comment.

    • Hi Simply Forties… I ask this of you because you seem experienced in this world. Is it reasonable for a home owner to request the house sitter has “no visitors” during a THREE MONTH house sitting stint? (I should also mention that she chose me to stay at her place b/c I work from home and prefers that I do not spent the night out. Also, she is not paying me.) Kinda feels like solitary confinement to me.

      What say you?

  5. Donna Freedman

    @SonyaAnn: Will you put MY laundry away, too?

  6. “If you bring a tree, take it with you when you leave.”

    Snort.

    I’m only slightly sorry for your not so great house sitter experiences–mainly because reading about them gave me a good laugh.

    Ah, idiots and @$$#%*$–fodder for blog posts, Donna. Fodder for the blog…

  7. This reminds me of when I was a kid and went away with my parents for a trip I can’t remember now. When we got back my mom was boiling mad because the relative who was supposed to stop by and watch the place messed with just a few things. There were two metal baskets with orange plastic flowers in them. The relative yanked all the flowers out and washed them and then dumped them back in the basket haphazardly. Then there was the time my brother in law used the fancy just- for- show bath towels that were hanging on the “towel rack.” That was a major offense in my mom’s eyes.

    Your rant was totally justified. Why rearrange someone’s home? Leaving anything dirty is uncalled for. I wonder why the person didn’t use a bit of the money they were saving by not having to pay rent to clean the laundry.

  8. Oh something like that would have driven me crazy! ESPECIALLY the taking things out of the drawers… I probably would have cried over something like that!

    I don’t blame you for being annoyed.

  9. Maybe having a Pet Tree is the newest fad. And, when it died, he could not bear to touch anything so precious and dead.

    I rescued a college professor friend and allowed her to be a houseguest when she was homeless. I cleared out closet space, drawers, counter space, and kitchen cabinets. She brought a dog and tied it to my neighbor’s fence, the links in a chain link fence, my swing, the supports in my basement, support to my house near basement, and to the back porch rail. When you live in my house, even a pet tree would be offensive…lol. Yes, I asked her to leave.

    When I went away for a month, I asked another friend to look for and forward a check to me, walk though the house and around the house. No problems. But, she never is. I have no pets to tend. Well, now someone could chicken sit and protect them from raccoons.

  10. In general, when I house sat, I would clean the apartment head to toe before I left, so it would usually be cleaner than when I got there.

    I can’t say I paid particular attention though to the location of salt and pepper shakers on the counter. Some things might have been moved around some and I wouldn’t have even realized I did it.

    Lesson learned. Make a list of expectations and hopefully they will be followed. Sorry you didn’t have a good experience.

    • Donna Freedman

      @First Gen American: You’re right. I should have discussed their expectations as well as my own. Had the one house-sitter said, “I expect to use a couple of dresser drawers,” I would have cleared them out myself. Had the other asked me to take everything off the desktop so he could work, I would now know where that little scratch-paper container is. And had I said, “I want to find the place the way I left it,” maybe the oven would have been cleaned and the laundry done.
      Or maybe not. And some of it I couldn’t have anticipated anyway. The nightlight, for example. When I first noticed it was gone I was mad, thinking that the first house-sitter had taken it with him. It’s an amusing little gadget that I bought at an art gallery. The front has a photograph of a hand-lettered sign that says, “For your safety, and the safety of others, please — NO POETRY.” As soon as I saw it in the gallery I laughed out loud, and bought it.
      So why move it into the main room and plug it in under the dining table? Beats me. But maybe I should have put it in writing: “For your safety, and for my peace of mind, please — LEAVE MY SHIT ALONE.”
      Lesson learned.
      Thanks for reading, and for leaving a comment.

  11. I don’t even want to think about our current freeloader. Counting the days until the semester ends…

  12. Sandra Gonzales

    Oh my goodness.. I didn’t catch that the potted tree wasn’t yours until the end. You know it makes me think that those kind of people have some audacity or are just plain idiots. I have in-laws like that. I know they’re family but I don’t think it gives them the right to get into every nook and cranny of my home.

  13. Your rant is well warranted! I can’t believe people would leave your place in that kind of condition when they were getting way more out of it than you were. The excuse of “I didn’t have enough money” is a HORRIBLE one. Still amazed to read this story and it bothers me as though it happened to my own home! There needs to be way more respect and etiquette than that.

  14. Argha! Don’t get me started on house-sitters. Just be glad they didn’t steal you blind and then later send their sh!thead boyfriends around to burglarize your house!

    Ever since my last adventure in house-sitting, I also have relied on friends and neighbors to watch the Funny Farm and feed the pets. Many neighbors are happy to watch your place, in return for knowing you’ll watch theirs.

    They brought a tree? Maybe it was their idea of a house gift. Too bad it croaked. :-D

  15. Well, this is the second time I’ve heard this rant, since I heard it over the phone the first time. And I’m still just as appalled.

    When you housesit, you are expected to leave the place as you found it. At least, that’s my understanding. I’ve always done my best to leave no trace of myself whenever I watched someone’s place. And if I ever moved paperwork — which is doubtful to begin with — I would either put it back or leave a note saying specifically where I put it and why.

    The nightlight thing is weird. I think maybe he wanted to use the outlet for something, but just put it on the counter — don’t move it somewhere random. And who the heck doesn’t plan ahead enough to have money to do laundry? Let alone do laundry that’s someone else’s stuff you were using???

    I think this is why you really miss me since I moved to AZ: I never messed with your stuff.

  16. FranticWoman

    I think it is wise you do no use housesitters again.

    I house sat for years – for pay – and come clients I would not work for again. I had a client go to Florida for the winter – and turned off the gas in the house. Um…how can I live there like that? She also expected me to be a real house cleaner – as in deep clean – and to not even use her toilet paper. It wasn’t like she was paying me to be a house cleaner. I was paid to house sit/pet sit only. I house sat once for friends – for no pay – to take care of her three large dogs. I saved her hundreds of dollars by doing so. What did I hear upon their return? How furious she was I drank her three cans of soda, how incredibly rude that was and how I was a big mooch. (??) I drank them for convenience I agree, I could have bought my own but they were there and I helped myself. Sigh.

    Anyway, I had a lot of clients. Perception on both sides is interesting.
    And, just so you know, I do not recall 30 days later every single exact square inch placement of a person’s belongings. I could easily forget to move something as minute as a nightlight. Most likely it worked better for them in a different room. I might forget how you stack your towels (if I moved yours to make room for my own). If they truly LIVED there, one cannot go 30 days with no individualized preferences enacted.

    I can only assume you didnt leave them available drawer space or they would not have had to make their own. Your post comes off as ridiculous – as in there should be zero trace of their existance and that it is completely unacceptable how obvious they had been there. In a perfect world, that would be nice. Frankly, I find it odd you would leave some (messy?) piles around but of course it is your house so you can do as you please. For my stay-in pet sitter I go out of my way to have things organized, clean and tidy for a “guest”. I know how frustrating it is not to be able to find things, obvious things you would think you could find with ease. (such as my clients who “hid” the toilet paper in a toy chest in their guest room. Really. I wouldnt think to look there). Mostly I want my sitter to take good care of my pet, keep my belongings safe and have the mail and newspaper brought in. If she forgets to take the trash out it really is OK.

    I do think moving such personal belongings as old letters out of the drawers was going a bit too far. I would have refrained from that. I do the best to leave things as if I were never that, but really, it isn’t that easy to do 100% – esp. in some cluttered/packed with stuff places I’ve stayed in. I always do wash the towels and sheets though,that is a standard rule.

    • Donna Freedman

      @FranticWoman: Your friend with the three dogs sounds like a real treat. My reaction would have been to remind her — in a style that Miss Manners calls “coldly correct” — that having saved her several hundred dollars, I perhaps unwisely assumed it would be all right to enjoy a bit of refreshment. I would then have handed her the cost of three cans of soda and said, “Now that we are even, I would like to announce my retirement from the pet-sitting business. Perhaps the next person you pay will be able to afford her own sodas from the large fee you will be required to pay for her services.”
      And then I would make it stick.
      As to my own situation, maybe you missed the part that said he brought his own towels and didn’t actually use mine. He just rearranged mine for no reason that I can discern. Ditto the nightlight: If he wanted to use that particular electrical outlet (which is in a somewhat awkward place, so I can’t imagine why he would), he could simply have set the light on the breakfast bar that’s six inches away.
      In a previous comment I acknowledged that it never occurred to me to set aside drawer space. Closet space, yes, but not drawer space because I’m so accustomed to leaving things in a suitcase. My mistake.
      The piles of stuff in my life (mostly books) definitely should be more organized. But I’m chronically pressed for time and more to the point, it’s my house. If I decide to leave a stack of new PF books next to my desk, then that’s my business.
      And the moving of items wasn’t really necessary to be able to function. For example, the (short) pile of paperwork was set at the very back of the dining table. In the space that remains there is room for two place mats and the salt-and-pepper shakers. Surely if he wanted to write a letter or eat his dinner he could have done so without clearing off the back of the table. Heck, he could have had a dinner guest and still had enough room (see “two placemats,” above). Apparently he moved the paperwork because it offended his sense of what a table should look like.
      He can have his own table any way he likes. I prefer to have mine this way.
      Finally: All I wanted was my mail brought in. In return, they each saved many hundreds of dollars on rent and utilities. (Seattle’s not a cheap place to live.) In fact, the first housesitter was saved from having to stay with a very unpleasant relative, his only other option at the time. This deal was heavily weighted in their favor, not mine.
      We’ll have to agree to disagree on this one. I wish you better luck with house-sitting clients in the future. Seriously: That (former?) friend with the three dogs was way out of line.
      Thanks for reading, and for leaving a comment.

    • Kcharbs

      Thank you, thank you, thank you for that response. I couldn’t have said it better myself. It sounds like the author’s home is a tad unorganized, cluttered and messy. Heaven forbid if someone attempts to actually live there for several weeks and not remember where all of your “stuff” belongs. Did you expect your house to not be lived in? SMH…some people aren’t meant to have house sitters. And they need to figure out what their priorities are…and protect your valuables/keepsakes/personal “stuff.”

      • Donna Freedman

        Yet it’s still *my* house, not theirs. I don’t mind if people live in it — as a housesitter, I live in the space I’m watching, but I make sure everything is as it was when I leave.

  17. LovesACat

    I once paid the neighbor girl to take care of my cats while I was on vacation. (She came over with her mother.) Apparently every time she came she SHUT THE DOOR to the room where their litter box was placed forcing the cats to pee in the dining room and elsewhere. (My son would stop by and open it.)

    I not only can’t figure out why she did this, I REALLY can’t figure out what in the heck her mother was thinking. My dining room carpet was absolutely ruined and I have never forgotten it.

    • Donna Freedman

      @LovesACat: You’d think that after the first time the smell might have clued them in…? Wow.
      Thanks for reading, and for leaving a comment.

  18. Wow, what broad feedback you’ve gotten!

    We happily house and pet-say for some people who have been a huge positive impact in our lives. We made sure to do as we were told, and not let anything rot in the fridge (we made the best hamburger soup we have ever had!) took care of three confused cats (who are these people!?!?!) and made it a point to let it look better than when we had arrived – cutting the grass even though we weren’t asked (it wouldn’t have been pleasant to return home to a jungle of a yard!) and making sure to put things back where we found them in the kitchen. We had a great time actually, and would happily do it again for them if the opportunity arose.

    Just my experience, hope there was no confusion like you had when they returned home – I’m pretty sure we didn’t move anything unnecessarily, well except the one kitty when he went on the counter where he wasn’t allowed. ;)

  19. Shorty Britches

    I find it amazing, I also had someone in my house last summer. A little longer, about 4 months. It was suppose to be one single guy and he ended up moving in his girlfriend and her two boys! Needless to say when I got back in my house my REAL wood floors had seveal dents and scratches that they tried to hide. The main bath tub was absolutely disgusting!!! I had to use bleach and vinegar to get the mold cleaned out of the grout and tile around the tub. The bathroom had been remodeled no more that a year or so ago so I was not happy. My niece came and helped clean, poor thing. She spent about 6 hours cleaning two bathrooms. I can’t believe someone would shower in that, much less let their kids! Then I have trees that were ‘trimmed’ and others that were cut down! One difference they were renting and suppose to buy the house. I will NEVER do that again! It took me about one month to get everything clean and feel like I was back at home. It seems there are a lot of people out there that just do not take consideration for others property. If you want to really ‘know’ someone, let them stay in your house. You will be surprised. Oh, and by the way my husband and I rented a condo in Florida and the owner was shocked. She couldn’t even tell we had been there. People listen, that is the way it should be. And if something happens, like an accident damaging something, admit it. Don’t think it won’t be discovered, it will and if you are friends it can destroy relationships. I know all about it.

  20. Tracey H

    LOL about the dead tree. Are you sure it wasn’t a marijuana bush/tree? A dead marijuana tree could definitely be considered a gift!

    • Donna Freedman

      @Tracey: Nope, it was a ficus. Although the marijuana explanation would make sense as to why she forgot to take it with her…. ;-)

  21. I’m considering the opportunity to house-sit. I’m middle-aged and I’ve had my own place for many years now. I’ve pretty much always maintained it to be relatively clean (being perfectly clean is no longer a option I wish to pursue). This is basically how I would go about my business as a house-sitter; though, I would probably be a little bit more cautious because, for example, I might very well forget to move that candy dish back to its original location before the home owner’s return.

    As for rules when house-sitting, I would keep it simple and ask that the house-sitters follow the simple rule: “Be respectful.” At that point, I might present hypothetical situations and ask the sitter to explain how she might respond to it; here I would get a feel for the sitter’s ability to ‘be respectful’. But of course, those of us who know how to be generally respectful understand that directive; issues arise when we are forced to try to explain it. It is at that time when we are explaining, we then get into the trap of trying to be a bit more descriptive without sacrificing the original directive. As such, the result of that usually turns out in one of 2 ways: a) you become too descriptive and inadvertently fail to cover all your bases, or b) the sitter finds nothing wrong in remodeling the kitchen with paper and glue because the owner never specifically said s/he couldn’t do that.

    I suppose I could be a bit more descriptive than simply, ‘be respectful’, and that is: ‘Return the property to the condition it was in before you (the sitter) arrived’. But even that directive can be problematic; eg, some wear and tear should probably be expected for extended sittings.

    Still, I am interested in house-sitting. Though, I would have to speak with the owner to get a feel for what s/he expects and what s/he could/should expect from me.

    Dom.

    • Probably a good idea in retrospect to establish some rules in your house. You assume that most people would have some basic commonsense, but there are some people who are out for themselves.

  22. cheapcat

    We have 4 cats and have had professional petsitters and friends take care of the cats. We couldn’t tell that the petsitters had been there, except for the happy cats with clean litterboxes, food and water. A friend who is really good with animals was having some financial troubles, so we asked her to watch the cats & we would pay her the cat sitter rate. Not the best idea…

    We came home & she had also vacuumed the house, which was nice, but had jammed an attachment onto the vacuum hose so hard that it took 2 of us to pry it apart. She rearranged end tables & chairs, which was annoying because we had to move a lot of stuff to fit the dog crates & beds back where they normally go. There is a reason we had big empty spots, it’s where all the giant dog stuff goes!

    We asked other neighbors to watch the cats & came home early to them sitting on the couch giving the cats treats & playing with them. They also vacuumed our house, but brought their own vacuum! They wouldn’t take money, so we took them out to dinner – & they still tried to pay. I think they’re keepers – we watch their cats when they go away too.

  23. My brother in law house sits (dog watches/upkeep) while we travel (often) for work. It’s been over a year and little things are starting to bug me. His new girlfriend sleeps over every night and throws her cigarette butts in my gutter. When we get home, my husband and I just want our privacy. Neither of us are very social so I’m sure they think we are just rude. I do want him to keep house sitting but when we are home I’d rather he wasn’t staying here. Any ideas on how to gently ask him? Hell, I’d pay him double if he did stay when we are gone what we ask (which he does do as best he can) and then go whe we are back. We are leaving for about 12 days on Wednesday. I want to ask him before we go. I’d be glad of any suggestions.

    • Donna Freedman

      Does he not have his own place? If he does, or if he could stay at his girlfriend’s, try telling him, “I’m glad to have a relative as a housesitter instead of having to go through an agency. But once we return we need our privacy so we can decompress from the trip and get ready to go back to work. In the future, we need for you to go home once we’ve checked with you about anything that happened in our absence.”
      As for the girlfriend, maybe you could leave a can of sand out back. Say, “I appreciate your not smoking in the house. You probably don’t notice the litter that cigarette butts make, but it bothers me. Please put all the cigarette butts in the can.” If she ignores you, then you have to make a choice: Do you want to alienate BIL or do you want a clean landscape?
      I don’t envy you, having that conversation. And by the way, I don’t think you’re rude for wanting your house back. Nor do I think you should pay double just to get him to clear out. Make “going home” part of the job!
      Thanks for reading, and for leaving a comment.

  24. While I totally get that it’s annoying – you didn’t pay these people and you said they were acquaintances at best, so what do you expect? As much as you feel you did them a favor by letting them say – they are doing you a favour too so you should consider not being so anal.
    I’m with you and I would be irked too I mean I don’t get why people would rearrange your house – and you would hope they would have enough common sense/respect to leave your house as they found it… however if you want a professional – hire a professional. If you want someone to do it for free… you’ll have to lower your expectations

    • Donna Freedman

      I guess I expected that my favor to them was greater than their favor to me: All they had to do was pick up the mail. I don’t have pets or plants. In return, they got a free flop vs. having to pay rent. In Seattle, that’s quite a decent savings.
      Contrast that with my most recent house-sit, in New York City: The apartment owner e-mailed to say the place was cleaner than when they left, and that I should stay at their place more often. (All I really did was empty the dishwasher, do up the few dishes from the lunch we had before they left, wash out the cat dishes and scoop the litter boxes.)
      Thanks for reading, and for leaving a comment.

    • It’s a mutually beneficial situation, especially in a big city where rents can be extremely high. I’ve known many people who have done housesits to save for a deposit or are doing renovations on their own home. I even had a friend who housesit for a year when she couldn’t afford the mortgage repayments on her place and had to rent it. My recent housesitters saved around $2,000 in rent, utility and food bills for the three weeks we were away. Why should I have to pay them on top of this?

      • Donna Freedman

        I just house-sat for free in Manhattan. It was just for a few days and “mutually beneficial” indeed: They got someone to feed and pet their cats and I didn’t have to pay for a NYC hotel.

      • I’m not saying you should have to pay them… my point is just that if you leave your house with someone you hardly know – it comes with the risk that they could be they type who won’t respect your home. If you don’t want to worry about that kinda of thing then hire a professional.
        I’ve had friends house sit and came home to a mess and I could tell the cats never got any attention. So next time I hired someone and the house was cleaner than I left it and the cats were happy.

        • After my house sitters from hell experience (just discovered that they broke the brand new dryer as well) I have investigated some of the sites where house sitters and house owners can connect. Most of them charge a fee for house sitters (but not for home owners), so that in itself screens out the irresponsible types. Many of the sitters provide police checks (great idea)and references. I will probably go down this route again if my neighbour was unavailable to check up on the house and feed the cat. Hiring and paying someone is not financially feasible for some people – some of us have the added expense of children.

  25. I’ve just come back from 3 weeks holiday overseas. I arranged for a friend and her partner to housesit for the duration and look after the cat – a mutually beneficial arrangement considering they can’t afford to rent after moving interstate. I left detailed instructions for them, a set of keys, plenty of cat food, cleared out room in the closet to hang their clothing, and completely cleaned the house. A few days before we left the partner requested I provide him with internet access as he is running his own business – impossible at such short notice and with so much to do.I returned to find a almost spartanly tidy house. Only problem was they had chopped out a large part of my jade plant by the front door, rearranged furniture; helped themselves to all my non-perishable food in the freezer and cupboards; cut additional keys; broken one of my lead crystal wine glasses (there were plenty of cheapies they could have used); there was a film of grease all over the countertops, back splash, stove, microwave, and all down the wall, and none of the sinks or toilet had been cleaned. And the worst thing is I’m missing a pair of casual, orthotic shoes that were pretty pricey. I’ve never had this experience with housesitters before. Not even an apology for any of the damage, and I’m still waiting to get my keys back because they weren’t there when we returned.

    • Donna Freedman

      Hmmm….given that they cut additional keys, you might want to consider changing the locks. If they can’t afford to rent, they might get broke enough to come in when you’re not home and help themselves to more food. Desperate times may call for desperate measures.
      Sorry about the shoes, especially.

      • The keys were finally returned – deposited in the post box. Changing the front door locks is on the agenda. Just found out from a neighbour that the cat practically lived and was fed at their place for the 3 weeks duration of our holiday. I have since found out that having a written contract is quite common for housesitting in Australia, and templates are available on house sitting sites. However I don’t think it would have made any difference to these freeloaders.

  26. I get your point and sympathize with you, but…

    I am a long-time house sitter since 1990; took a break and am now returning to the business. I freely admit up-front that I have a little touch of OCD. I can not handle clutter,( I also, can not do animals who mess the house). I am sorry to say, I would have cleared off your table. However, with proper notice, I request 72 hours,I would certainly have put it all back. I have never to my knowledge had a dissatisfied customer.

    Interestingly, I love to travel and went to house sit for a elderly woman who was afraid someone would steal her treasures, she had many and I had to walk gingerly about. But did I hire a house sitter for my own home—umm, no. I came home to a completely empty house. The thieves even stole the shower curtains and emptied the pantry.

    I cried for weeks. I would have traded that experience for a dead ficus any day.

    Hire a house sitter,the peace of mind is worth it. But do ask about their disposition with regard to clutter. I know many sitters who will happily live “on top” of your stuff.

    And, thank your for sharing your experience.

    • Donna Freedman

      @Tonjia: That’s awful! I’m sorry you were burglarized. I agree that having a housesitter is worth the aggravation. However, I still think that people who do this for a living should put things back in their places, or at least leave things alone. Some of the commenters who house-sit seem to do just that.
      I just did a house-sit in New York City and the only thing different about the place when I left is that the dishwasher was emptied and the dishes in the sink were washed and put away.
      Thanks for reading, and for leaving a comment.

  27. So I have a problem of etiquette that I really can’t seem to find an answer for. My husband and I just got married and for our second living situation together, we are house-sitting. The house was the bachelorette pad of an old church friend of my husbands parents, and she and her husband have since moved to their own place out of state. She just doesn’t want to give up her house, for the occasional visits they make back to our town. We are paying rent and utilities, and plan to be there for at least 10 months. Aside from a room cleaned out to fit a bed and our clothes, there is next to no space for any of our toiletries or cooking supplies. Since this is such a long-term stay, and we are paying rent, would I be out of line for moving things to make space for personal items? I did clean off a desk to make space for my computer, since I will simultaneously be working on a masters thesis. We do fully intend to return things back to where we found them when we arrived. I’m just not sure what etiquette dictates for this situation.

    • Donna Freedman

      I don’t see why not, since you’re renting the place and since you plan to return everything to where it was. Another reader suggested taking pictures of each area you plan to alter; I think that’s a great idea.
      Good luck with your thesis.

  28. I’ve been wanting a chance to vent myself. Because of a new life partner, my house would be vacant several years until he retires, at which time we will live here. I’ve had 3 housesitters over 4 years, with imperfect results. I figure it’s unwise to leave a place vacant for long periods for security reasons. In addition, there’s houseplants to consider. And without a cat, the place would be overrun with mice – that’s why I got a cat in the first place.

    I come back for 2-3 weeks, 2-3 times per year. For that reason, I didn’t want to rent the place out. So someone gets a free place to live for most of the year, only needing to clear out for 2 months or less. The only utilities not covered are propane and firewood. Covered: electric, phone including long distance (in country), high-speed internet, satellite TV, trash service. The well’s covered in the electric, and I pay for septic pumping.

    What do I expect? You stay in my house for a year, you owe me a deep cleaning. I want my cat and plants alive. I need the yard mowed, and I have a riding mower to do it with. I have a property manager to handle needed repairs that arise.

    What do I not expect?

    Repairs: I don’t want to come home to plumbing problems and a broken picture window. If you break stuff irresponsibly, not routine maintenance, just get it fixed so I never know about it. If it is routine maintenance, let me know and we’ll make arrangements so I don’t have to come home to a pile of unpleasant “surprises.” So I don’t have to spend my limited time at home waiting for plumbers and other repairmen.

    I don’t really expect to have stuff missing: blanket, crockpot, ladle, whatever. Though I know you can’t expect perfection in such matters. It would be nice if you’d replace light bulbs that burn out, without presenting me with a receipt for reimbursement. You’d never do that with a landlord you’re paying rent to, so why do so when you’re staying for free for a year or more?

    You’re responsible for propane and firewood. I left the tank full and maybe half a cord or more of firewood when you moved in last summer. I returned to almost NO wood, and the propane’s down to 25%; if I’m not careful, I’ll have to fill it. NOT our agreement. By the time I leave next week, the wood will be down to nothing, and I had someone gift me with some from an apricot tree they had to cut, or there wouldn’t have been enough for this visit.

    I definitely do not want to come home to a house full of baby stuff, and find that you’ve been using my home as a day care center for hire. People leave their kids off for you to care for them, they pay you for it. NO NO NO NO NO! My house is not childproofed and the liability issues boggle the mind.

    About your stuff: Keep some sense of boundaries about it. It almost seems as if a hoarder has moved in. I get that you like your coffee maker, but do you really need to bring FIVE of them into my house? I get that you like your refrigerator magnets and little ceramic knickknacks, but please pack them away when I come home. I want to be able to find and get at my own belongings when I’m home. This housesitter’s “re-organizing” is not crazy like the last guy, who went through every last thing I owned and rearranged everything. It was horrifying. He couldn’t stop even after I gave very explicit instructions: Stay out of that closet! Again, you’ve got to expect some of it, it’s unavoidable. But even while reorganizing everything, he didn’t dust. Pulling a book off the shelf brought up a cloud of dust. Maybe I’m unreasonable, but if I only have a couple weeks at home, and I pay almost all the bills, I don’t want to feel like I spend all my time cleaning and fixing the place up to make it nice for the housesitter.

    Don’t kill my dog!! The dog that stays with me, and is only in the house when I am. In this case, the housesitter was experimenting with creating a skin scrub with sesame oil and coffee grounds as primary ingredients. She abandoned the project, leaving the vile concoction in a zip-lock bag on the pantry floor. The dog got into it, and the blood pressure spike from the caffeine triggered a stroke. The dog, aging anyhow, likely will never fully recover, though he’s well enough after a couple weeks so we didn’t have to put him down. However, he vomited the stuff up, twice, requiring extensive repeat laundering to clean up, trips to the dry cleaner, special extra laundry supplements, and having to live with some stains forever. That and $200 of vet bills along the way.

    Maybe you couldn’t help letting the indoor cat out in the dead of winter. In these parts, the coyotes get them fast. The cat’s gone, so I had to expend time and energy to locate a new one. Then there’s the matter of vet bills for spaying, coming in at around $150.

    With broken glass ($500 for picture window and gas heater), extra laundry and dry cleaning, vet bills ($350) and misc., it’s closing in on $1000 of needless expense for a period of 5 months occupancy. That’s above and beyond mortgage, taxes, insurance, utilities and routine maintenance. Is this the best I can expect? Sigh!!

    And then there’s the matter of cleaning. I’ve been working on cleaning shelves and drawers. I won’t get it all done during my 2 weeks at home, and it’s been my primary pastime. In the process, I found a crockpot in the pantry (not mine, which went missing) with thick encrustment of the horrid, rancid substance that almost killed my dog. With all my cleaning, I do refuse to clean the housesitter’s abundant stuff.

    House plants: The succulents look pretty good, but the three plants requiring more water are iffy. The ficus, a big one nearly 8 ft. tall, lost about 75% if its leaves, ditto on the angel wing begonia. They might be salvageable, maybe. The Boston fern’s a longer shot. I guess you’ve got to expect they won’t all make it, but sometimes I can’t help but wonder if it’s worth the headaches.

    I suppose I could be glad that more than $500 worth of glass wasn’t broken. My booze wasn’t all gone, and at least the counters, sink and bathroom were reasonably clean. The plumbing repair was minor, coming in under $100, though it’s too bad it was left for me to deal with.

    I could go on, but these are the main points. Like I said, you can’t be too picky about stuff like putting books or videos back in exact order, or the occasional dish broken or cast iron pot left with thick rust encrustment. Annoying, but probably unavoidable.

    I guess my rant’s somewhat spent now. I need to do some work on the kindling before it gets dark.

    • Donna Freedman

      Wow. Just….Wow. I wish you luck in finding someone who realizes what a good deal this is and will leave your place spotless.

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