A House Sitting Bad Experience

on Monday, 15 February 2016. Posted in Blog

It could happen to you!

 I am just home from my only bad housesitting experience in Scotland's Capital. The house was a perfect candidate for those programmes you see on UK tv - 'Clean My House' and 'Hoarders'. Below is a copy of an email I sent home -


My 1st mistake was not thinking to ask if the houseowner was a smoker. She is a very heavy smoker, so the whole
place reeked of smoke, and overflowing ashtrays in every room didn’t add much to the ambience. I guess it’s easy to ask someone if they smoke. How do you ask someone what their standard of housecleaning is? This house doesn’t seem to have been cleaned for a very long time, probably not this milleneum. I’m not a particularly tidy person, but do keep things reasonably clean. She seems to be unable to throw anything away, so every surface is covered in piles of ‘stuff’ – papers, magazines, knick knacks, junk. The car doesn’t get put into the garage, as it’s full! However it’s the filthy condition of the house that is the real turn-off. The kitchen was disgusting, the bathrooms worse, the toilets .......use your imagination. How somebody can live in this state, with a 16 year old, is amazing. To expect a stranger to come in and live in it without cleaning it up at least superficially .... well, what can you say. Even the room I was to use hadn’t been dusted or vacuumed in living memory. Though I was 2 hours late arriving, the bed and room hadn’t been cleared off or made! I spent 2 days cleaning the place, using up a pack of disposable gloves, and a pack of antiseptic wipes - anything I had to touch got disinfected! After emptying all the overflowing ashtrays, and opening up the place to air, it was much better. The fridge was also emptied of lots of fungating food stuffs. Of course my other mistake was not getting some reverese references. There had been housesitters only 6 months earlier. However, I'm not sure that would have helped, as they had obviously not done any cleaning either, even of the 'guest' room we both would have used. The houseowner sent her 16 year-old back for the last 2 weeks of the housesit as he had to start the school year. I had agreed to this, on an 'all care, no responsibility' basis, and agreed to cook main meals for him. I had a night away,(that ended up 2 nights due to plane trouble) and came back to -

So back to Edinburgh and to the housesit. The 1st thing I saw was all the dishes and pans the kid had used, lined up on the sink, unrinsed and waiting for someone else to put in dishwasher and clean up. Then in the bathroom, I saw evidence that the toilet hadn't been cleaned, even though before I left, I'd asked him if he knew how to use a toilet brush, and told him that I wouldn't be cleaning toilets after anyone else again, having done it all once already. As it was still shitty, that was the last straw for me. I got online, booked my last 4 nights in Scotland in this very nice hotel, tried to phone the houseowner in Botswana but she was no longer at her other son's place, emailed her that I wasn't staying any longer and why, left a note for the kid with same info, waved goodbye to the sad-eyed dog and indifferent cats, and caught the train to Glasgow! And how good it felt! I also called the neighbour to let her know that the 16 year-old would be on his own for 4 nights. I wish I'd talked to her earlier, as she confirmed my opinion that the houseowner had serious mental health problems. Quote – “I dinna how ye stayed so long – she’s mad!” 

Since then, she has not replied to my emails, but did ring my husband and told him that there was damage to the car! I certainly didn't have any accidents, and if there was damage, it was done after I left. I've heard nothing more since then. So altogether, 'an experience'! My favourite quote at the moment is "Bad decisions make for good stories" and I'll certainly be dining out on this one.

I've learned 2 things from this -

1. ask if the OWNER is a smoker if you loathe cigarette smoke

2. get reverse references, with phone numbers so you can talk to the previous housesitters. After so many great, and several wonderful, housesitting adventures, I guess I got a little complaisant. I'm sending you these details, as a warning to other housesitters, to do your homework!


(Editor/Admin comment - This happened to my sister who has been house sitting in numerious locations around the world for longer than I can remember.A sitters agreement could have helped as well as her recommendations.Images are not actual ones surprise)

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Comments (1)

  • Eleanor


    12 January 2018 at 20:08 |
    Hi Frances

    I really like this blog. I’m glad someone is also writing about the downsides of house sitting and some cautionary steps one could take. Because I feel a lot of what I have read online is one-sided, promotional, ‘travel-the-world-for-free’ sort of stuff.

    I wanted to share some of my experiences in case they are helpful to anyone. I have been house sitting for just over a year. I’ve completed 15 house sits in that time – 9 of them were either great or fine and 6 of them were pretty bad.

    2 house sits in New Zealand had pretty severe flea infestations that required fumigation, one of them I left early as a result.

    One home owner, an organic farmer, didn’t believe in conventional flea treatments (i.e. using chemicals) and just scattered some weird natural substance on the pets’ food, which did nothing to protect them against fleas. I got bitten so badly on both sits – I counted 36 bites on one of them.

    The other house sit involving fleas was one with 3 cats, and the home owner hadn’t deflead them in a while but did it the day she left. I saw fleas leaping off the cats onto me! Lots of them. When I stroked the cats I got black stuff under my fingernails (flea poo). That house sit was also very dirty and smelt strongly of cat urine. The hot water didn’t work either so I had to find somewhere else to shower for the duration of the sit.

    Another house sit, in New Zealand was absolutely filthy and took about 2 days to clean a tiny kitchen and bathroom from top to bottom.

    One was for a dog that had a multitude of behavioural issues -barked all night and growled at me when I was eating – it was like looking after a baby. Not much sleep was had. The owner was in hospital having an operation but wanted me to be there in the house to look after the dog while she recovered. It was awful – she was bad-tempered after her operation. As a result, I now never share the space with the home owner or anyone in their family for longer than one night.

    The house sit that I’m currently in was also very dirty and the cat (which the owner hardly saw because it was scared of their dog and never visited) is essentially a stray cat – half starved and neglected. It was in such poor shape that within 10 days of the sit starting it was in the vet hospital. The home owner texted me to say not to spend money on its food and to feed it rice. The cat was so hungry and starved it stole meat off my plate. I’ve been feeding it properly, paid for out of my own pocket and it is now better. But I am worried about what will happen to it when I leave, as the owners clearly are not bothered about it. I’ve bought a big pile of tinned food for it which I hope it will get fed after I leave.

    Here are my tips for house sitting:

    1. Don’t share a home with a returning home owner, or their family members at any time

    2. Do ask if the home owner treats their pets for fleas (don’t assume everyone does)

    3. Get photos of the bathroom and kitchen to see if it looks clean

    4. Do ask if animals have any behavioural issues before accepting a house sit

    Don’t expect house sitting to be all plain sailing – it’s a lot of hard work and if you’re not careful and take lots of short sits or pick dirty ones by accident that requires heaps of cleaning, you can burn out after a year or two of doing it full time. People sometimes think you are receiving free accommodation, but it isn’t really free, and don’t let home owners make you feel it is either – you will be earning your keep through the responsibility you take on, and all the tasks that come with that.


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