What to do when Disasters Occur while Housesitting

What can go wrong with house sitting? Murphy’s Law – if it can go wrong, it will! This isn’t as bad as it sounds. We have many housesits under our belt with very few horror stories. In fact, I can’t say we have really had any, just minor inconveniences that probably could have been avoided.

So, what can go wrong and how can you avoid them or prepare for them?

MINOR DISASTERS

Who Let the Dogs Out?!

Dogs running away

I remember this one house sit we had in the Beaches Toronto. My husband and I were getting ready to go out and had taken some things to the car. We didn’t notice that the door did not shut properly. That was all it took! Both dogs wasted no time sneaking out the door. We didn’t notice right away but once we did, off we both went, me on foot and hubby in the car. I found Pippa, the female in a few minutes and scooped her up and carried her back. She was a small dog but still heavy; however, there was no way I was putting her down!

My husband found Chapman down the road and brought him home. We were lucky as this could have turned into a disaster. It also made us more aware of making sure doors are shut tightly.

Even though everything worked out, we still felt we should be honest and notify the owner of the situation. She said it happened to her before so she understood. As soon as we had both dogs back in our possession, we notified her immediately so she wouldn’t worry.

How Do We Cook Breakfast?

Induction Frying Pan, eggs

This incident was more of an inconvenience and rather funny. We had just arrived for a four-month house sit in Ottawa. The owner had a beautiful new induction stove. She did ask us not to use the cast iron pans sitting in the oven because they weren’t quite ‘cured’ yet – whatever that means.

I couldn’t find any other frying pans so decided to go buy one. How hard could that be? I found a perfect size one for eggs and proudly brought it back to the house. Imagine my surprise when all the burners kept shutting off.

I knew Vivian most likely had a manual somewhere as she is very organized but I just looked online. Apparently, pots and pans have to be magnetic. Who knew?! So I tested the pan and it wasn’t magnetic. Then I tested her pots; sure enough, they were! We eventually got the correct pan and life resumed.

A New Puppy in the Mix

Golden Retriever puppy

Just a couple of months before a repeat house sit in St. Catharines, Ontario the owners contacted us and told us they were getting a new puppy. On our previous housesit, they had two dogs but since then, the older one died.

In all fairness, they told us that if we thought it was too much, they would leave it at a kennel. My husband says ‘No, don’t do that, we can manage just fine.’ When we arrived, Tucker was 11 weeks old at that point, full of energy, and rearing to go.

It could have been a real chore, looking after and training a new pup, but it was actually fun. Tucker provided many hours of entertainment for us and he has grown into a beautiful dog.

Tucker’s First Taste of Snow!

Let’s Chase Some Geese

In Burlington, our housesit included two dogs – Skye, a beautiful white Samoy and Cane, an energetic Treeing Walker Coonhound.

There was also a beautiful pool where some geese decided to land. Cane spotted them and crashed through the closed screen door and gave them chase.

Hubby patched the door as best he could and we contacted the owner. They gave us instructions on what to do in the meantime.

As you can see, the unexpected can occur and for us, these were not real disasters but what do you do if something does happen and needs to be taken care of immediately?

BIG EMERGENCIES

Death of a Pet

Fortunately for us, this has never happened. In our later sits, we started asking the owners what provisions they had in place should one of their pets get seriously ill or die (who their vet is, have they made arrangements, and are there written instructions). This gives us a measure of comfort knowing that we discussed this ahead of time and that something is in place. Unfortunately, not all sitters or house owners do this.

Here are some things that you can do:

  • Discuss the possibility of this happening before the owner leaves and what they expect of you

  • Determine how they would like to be notified

  • Contact them right away if at all possible

  • Deal with your own emotions – try and stay calm and think about the pet owners

  • Try and provide a solution – talk to the vet, a close neighbour or a friend

  • Be gentle but direct when giving bad news

  • Be empathetic with the owners – they need time to process this information and how you react is important

  • Be prepared to answer the pet owners’ questions such as, When did it happen? Where were you? Did he/she suffer?

  • BE PATIENT! Owners may react with anger, blame, or have difficulty coping – be patient, understanding, and supportive

As mentioned earlier, if you don’t already, discuss the possibility of this happening during your interview with the owners. They may not even think of this so you are showing responsibility and being proactive. We had one house sit where the owners thanked us for bringing this up and recommended it to their friends.

Major Repairs

water pipe leaking

This can include almost anything – roof leak, broken water pump or no water, gas leak, broken appliances.

I would say that in the majority of our housesits, especially long term, owners leave a list of people to contact in case of emergencies. This list can include local emergency numbers such as fire, doctors, vets; contractors such as plumbers and electricians; handymen; family; friends; and neighbours.

Before you arrive, it would be a good idea to ask the owners to make such a list for you, including contact info for utilities such as gas, electric, internet, etc.

Sometimes owners have a property manager who takes care of all the utility bills, major repairs, etc. Make sure you have this person at the top of your contact list. We have a property manager at our current housesit and although we do contact her, we still let the owner know of any situation that we consider important. That way, we are all on the same page.

Homeowners should also leave a basic tool kit with essential tools. My husband has made many minor repairs while the owners were away and they always appreciated this.

In case of an emergency:

  • Contact the appropriate person on the list right away

  • Let the owners know as soon as possible and what steps you are taking to deal with the issue

  • Reassure them that you are on top of it

  • If you have to pay out of pocket for emergencies, keep all receipts

Car Damage

Sometimes house owners will leave a car for your use; this is a bonus. However, you need to be prepared that something could happen.

If you drive someone else’s car and are involved in an accident, what happens next depends on the insurance policy of the owner. For example, does the policy cover you as a driver or are you authorized to drive it?

Car insurance always follows the vehicle and not the driver so if you are driving and there is an accident, the owner’s insurance is the primary coverage.

When our current house sitter knew we would like to use her car, she immediately took us to her insurance agency to make them aware that my husband had a valid Mexico driver’s license.

She also drove us around and showed us where she got gas, had repairs done, the manual in the glove compartment, etc.

If you plan to use the owner’s car, make sure you do this as well.

You should know ahead of time what the laws are regarding driving someone else’s vehicle. For instance, in Mexico, it is suggested you have a letter of permission from the owner, which is what we did. A simple permission letter should have your full name, area, start and end dates and signatures. This should be sufficient if you are ever stopped as long as you have a valid license and the insurance and registration are in the vehicle.

If the accident was your fault you could end up in jail and the car can be impounded. The onus is on you to prove that the car has Mexican auto insurance and that you have permission to drive it.

Other Emergency Situations

Here are some other situations that could crop up:

  • An infestation of insects – this could easily happen in a foreign country such as Mexico

  • Hot tub/swimming pool issues

  • You get sick or injured or have an emergency back home

  • Owners are delayed (this could include bad weather, natural disasters, or airline cancellations) and you have to be somewhere else

  • Your flight has been cancelled at the last minute (this is why it is always a good idea to arrive a day or two earlier at the house sit)

Having a contingency plan in place BEFORE the housesit can save you and the owners a lot of grief.

Communication

At our current house sit in Mexico, we feel confident that we can handle most emergencies because the owner has gone out of her way to supply us with an extensive list of contacts should we need help. In addition, we email back and forth letting her know her furry pets are well and happy and that all is good. Communication between a house sitter and owner is important.

This doesn’t mean you should be bugging the owners with every little tiny situation that crops up. Common sense goes a long way.

Final Thoughts

It is important to remember that things can go wrong so being best prepared is the key.

Remember to:

  • stay calm

  • understand it (the situation) is not your fault

  • contact the owners immediately (unless they have given you other instructions)

  • try to find a solution

  • keep the owners aware of what is happening throughout the process

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I love to travel and my biggest regret is that I waited so long to do it, thinking I just couldn’t afford it. I have had some crazy fun, met some amazing people, and had some scary moments such as getting locked in a shower at a campsite. For our trip to Mexico, we were able to save money by house sitting, which was something completely new to us. If this is something that interests you, then check out TrustedHousesitters or HouseSitMexico We hope you visit often.

4 thoughts on “What Can Go Wrong House Sitting?”

  1. Hi Mary Ann, 

    I had to house sit for my aunt a few years ago. Let’s just say that things didn’t go quite as planned. They went away for 3 whole weeks and I was still studying back then. A few days before they got back I noticed her most prized plants have died off! I remember her telling me about them just before they left. She was not happy about it when she got back, I had to use the money they paid me to go buy her new plants.

    So yeah, next time I will go in with a little more experience.

    Reply
    • Hi Johnny. I can relate. We had this house sit in Ottawa, no pets but soooooo many plants inside and out! There was one area that I walked by all the time but for some reason, I just didn’t stay on top of it. It looked awful when the owner returned. She was so sweet though and said not to worry. I felt really bad so I know how you felt. As you said, though, lesson learned.

      Reply
  2. Actually first time I am reading about house sitting, I know about babysitting, but this was new to me.

    Where I live nobody does something like this unless if they are really trustable people and they don’t actually housesit, they just take care while the owners are away, and for free)

    This was something new to me, but it is really a good idea to save money and not to pay rent.

    Really informative article for me, Thanks. 

    Reply
    • House sitting has been around for a number of years. My husband and I have been doing it for almost 4 years. There is great satisfaction in looking after other people’s pets and their home so they can travel with peace of mind. 

      Reply

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