When Rachel and Robert were chosen for a housesitting assignment in southern Turkey, they were ecstatic. They would be looking after a house for three months in a coastal village located between popular tourist destinations of Marmaris and Fethiye. There would be no pets to take care of, either, which meant plenty of time to explore this beautiful region. A dream come true, they thought.
When they arrived in their new ‘home’ last month, they quickly realized that this assignment was not what they had envisioned. They confided in us all the trouble that ensued and have allowed us to share the story of their housesitting assignment gone wrong. Like all digital nomads, their only requirement for the housesit was a good Internet connection, preferably Wi-Fi, in order for Rachel to work on her freelance assignments.
The owner had assured them that a dongle (USB Wi-Fi stick) was inexpensive and would be more than enough for their needs. However, once they arrived in Turkey, they found out that it was in fact cheap to purchase a dongle but the internet usage was super expensive and became a major issue throughout the housesit – this is a nightmare of a problem for someone who relies exclusively on the internet for their income.
This would prove to be just the first trickle in a steady stream of small to medium-sized issues with the housesit, from a very basic kitchen with limited cooking supplies to missing garden tools, power outages, even water outages. The weather was extremely hot, and this subpar, rarely used home didn’t even have fans to help them cool off, except for one old fan that was falling apart. So they were stuck in the sweltering heat, at times with no water or power. Theoretically, these are all issues related to remote living and could have been handled with cooperation by the homeowner.
But the woman never replied to their emails, and when she did, it was after weeks and weeks of delay. This is often the issue when homeowners are on holiday, possibly on a cruise, in flight, or somewhere off the grid. But this woman simply lives overseas and could easily have replied to their needs at any time. Plus, she was not even there to greet them and give them a tour of the house and get them settled in, leaving Rachel and Robert guessing from the start to the finish.
The question for the couple immediately became whether or not to even finish the housesit. On the one hand, they felt obligated to fulfill their promise of looking after the house for three months. They had also planned all their onward travels around the dates of this assignment and would have to scramble to arrange alternative accommodation. They had also invested in buying appliances, fans, cell phones and even a DSL line in order to have decent internet to work.
On the other hand, even once they committed to the assignment and made adjustments to create a more positive situation – things somehow managed to get even worse. New nuisances just kept coming up, including nosy neighbors, more outages, insect infestations and the stress and tension that would build after being ignored by the homeowner with each email.
Their dream summer evaporated, and the stress was causing fights between Rachel and Robert as well. Instead of the glorious three months they had envisioned, they were battling the housesit from hell and it was hard not to take their frustrations out on each other. On top of everything there was a bitter feeling of disappointment – the couple has housesat in several places around the world, and the assignments had all gone well; this one which they had been looking so forward to had them feeling trapped, instead.
They went back and forth – to leave or not to leave. What would happen if they left the house? But if they stayed, how would they handle the situation?
We talk all the time about how housesitting is a Win-Win Situation for everyone, so if the tables turn and it becomes a win-lose, you might also consider whether or not to leave your housesit. What is the breaking point where you say enough is enough? Is it ever okay to actually leave in the middle of a housesit?
The short answer is yes. If you reach your breaking point and feel that the housesit is more than you can handle, you have the right to walk away. However, there are steps you should take and things to consider before ever leaving in the middle of a housesit.
Communicate with the homeowners
First of all, before you even think about leaving, communicate your issues to the owner. Express your concerns, and don’t be afraid to ask for things to get fixed.
The last thing the homeowner wants to do is have to leave their vacation and return home, so in almost every case, they are going to want to accommodate your needs so you don’t leave.
If you have an unresponsive homeowner like Rachel and Robert did, then you need to make clear that the lack of communication is going to be the reason you leave. It is not a threat, but you must draw the line and make clear that the assignment is beyond what you are comfortable with, and if it is not fixed, you will leave.
Give them enough time to fix the situation, or to find a replacement, if you still decide you need to leave.
The most important consideration for any housesit is always going to be the pets. Are there pets involved? We would personally never leave a pet alone, no matter how bad the situation is and recommend that if there are pets involved that you make their safety and happiness your number one task if you do decide to leave a housesit. If you decide to leave while the owners are vacationing halfway around the world, make sure to arrange for the pet to be looked after before leaving.
How much would you have to invest to improve the situation? If there are only a few appliances missing, you might be able to make the home more livable with little money. A few cozy pillows, a blender, and a fan might make a huge difference already.
How much will it cost to leave the housesit vs making the best out of a bad situation? What do flights cost to return home or to fly somewhere else? Are there other potential housesits nearby?
If you are housesitting by yourself, it is much harder to make a bad housesitting experience into something you can endure. If there is no internet for example, even though it had been promised to you, and you are all by yourself with no local connections, you’d probably make yourself miserable for the duration of the housesit. Remember: there is no need to do this. It is supposed to be an enjoyable experience for you, too, especially as the odds are you are not being paid for this.
Rachel and Robert decided to stay because they invested a lot of money to fly to Turkey specifically for the housesit, and because they made travel arrangements in the region for after the assignment. How do you handle a housesit gone wrong when you decide to stay?
Ask the owner for assistance
Again, communicating your discomfort and dissatisfaction with the owners is key. Most owners are understanding and will offer to fix certain things. We had a housesit with an insufficient internet data package once and when we told the owner we couldn’t run our business with so little data, they upgraded to a better data package in order to ensure that we stayed.
Enjoy the surroundings
You most likely chose a housesit not only for the home, but also for the surrounding area. So get out and explore – in Mica and Mike’s case, they had enough beaches nearby, Lycian ruins, hamams and other sights. Make the travel experience as positive as possible, so you get the most out of it
Improve the living situation
Like Rachel and Robert did, buy or repair things in the house that are subpar or non-existent. We always buy a coffee pot when there isn’t one (we need our coffee!), but even installing internet or purchasing other appliances to make the most of the housesit can radically improve the situation. You might be thinking that you shouldn’t have to make these purchases, and in a way, you are right. But when you weigh the costs of leaving, rearranging your travel plans and then of course paying for accommodation – which you are not as a housesitter – you can see that most of these costs are far less than leaving the housesit.
If you have communicated all the issues and your needs to the homeowner and things have not improved to a point that you can live with, then give the owner advanced notice that you are leaving. Even if that is just five days or so, give them a chance to find a new housesitter. Make sure that a caretaker or a friendly neighbor also know you are leaving, but be cautious of who you tell. You don’t want the neighborhood to all know that the house is being left vacant. We advise this not only because it is the right thing to do, but you don’t want to be held responsible should a break-in occur in your absence.
Again, the most important thing to do is make sure the pets are cared for in the best way possible. Don’t let the pets suffer just because of an issue between humans!
Lastly, leave the house in as good a condition as possible. Even if you are angry, kill them with kindness. Clean up, make sure everything is put back exactly the way it was before you arrived. That way you leave looking as professional as possible and have done so covering all the bases in the appropriate way.
Have you experienced a bad housesit? What did you do to improve the situation, or did you leave?