Spotting red flags on a housesit listing
We had a long talk about what to include in this post! Ultimately, deciding whether a housesit is right for you is a judgement call and something that we consider a red flag may not be so serious for you. Since thinking about this, we’ve decided to include our red flags (total deal-breakers), orange flags (cause for concern, maybe proceed with caution), and our green flags (can’t hit that Apply Now button fast enough) – to give a well-rounded overview!
We’ve read through hundreds of housesit listings over the years, and our top piece of advice will always be: MAKE SURE YOU GO THROUGH THE WHOLE LISTING THOROUGHLY!
We’ve been burnt a couple of times over the course of our travels and as a result we’ve become adept picking up on red flags in housesit listings – little details that are causes for concern, or just give us a weird vibe. We no longer only read the information given, we take into account when things feel off with the homeowner. While it’s not always possible to avoid difficult housesits we’re sure that thoroughly reading the listing through, instead of excitedly diving in to apply, has saved us from a lot of stressful situations.
It should also go without saying that the red flags we’ll go through here aren’t necessarily conducive to a bad housesit! They are simply things we look out for to reduce the amount of bad times we experience while housesitting. If a listing has three or more red flags from our list, however, we’d highly recommend proceeding with caution or cutting your losses and not applying at all. We’ve made this list with Trusted Housesitters listings as the template, as homeowners create a listing on the site for sitters to apply to. Other sites don’t require homeowners to make a listing, as they are the ones who search through profiles of sitters to contact for a housesitting gig.
This page will take you from the rosiest of red flags to the most glimmering green ones, to end on a positive note. So buckle up and stay with us for the whole ride! Let’s get started:
Red Flag 1: Limited written information / An overwhelming amount of written information
It’s understandable that too little information on a listing is a red flag, but is too much information really a bad thing…? To explain our thinking on this one, you have to understand some of the borderline neurotic listings we’ve seen over the years.
We recently read a cat sit listing with paragraph, upon paragraph, upon paragraph of information; about their security camera system, repeated statements about the sitter needing to answer daily phone calls to update the homeowner while they’re away, and a requirement for the sitter to own an iPad or tablet in order to use their cats’ tracking devices, amongst many, many other things. It’s fair enough to lay out specific sitter responsibilities in a listing, but it was the sheer volume and demanding tone in their writing that made us say YIKES. They did have one review, from a single woman who gave them 5 stars, but the whole vibe was incredibly intense to us.
Too little information on a listing, e.g. one vague sentence for each section: ‘Walk the dogs, feed the cat’, is another instant red flag to us. It may be that the homeowner doesn’t want to put too much information out there for security reasons, but in our opinion it’s a simple courtesy to explain some basic details. If the homeowner hasn’t bothered to write out a simple daily routine, we worry that they won’t be bothered about our needs as sitters. You need to feel that you can trust and rely on the homeowner to give you all the information you’ll need – it’s a two-way street.
Red Flag 2: Limited photos, not showing the house and/or pets
Again, we understand that homeowners might not want to show the front of their house, or the inside contents of their home. But time and time again we come across listings that only have one random photograph (is it your garden? Is it a local park?) which makes it impossible to know what we’re applying for. We like to imagine what we would do at a housesit, as well as wanting to know what our accommodation will be like.
We also give a listing an immediate pass if there are no photographs of their pets. Countless times we’ve seen listings that have e.g. five dogs, and there are no pictures of them at all. In these instances we hope that the homeowner has at least filled in their breeds and ages, but it’s not always the case!
Red Flag 3: Missing information about the pets
Along the same lines as having no photos of them, we don’t consider listings that give no information about the pets. The homeowner might have written that their dog is big, but big is a subjective term! Are we talking about a Greyhound or a Great Dane? Their needs and temperaments differ wildly and you need to know exactly what you’re getting yourself into. We’ve also completed a housesit where the owner had used puppy photos on their listing and, when we arrived, the dog was much chunkier and stronger! Make sure you check the age of the dog – if all the photos show him or her as a puppy, judge whether the info matches up.
We’ve also seen many listings with the livestock icon or reptile icon, only to read the listing and find no information about what that pet is. Livestock could mean sheep, alpacas, cows, pigs, etc. while a reptile could be anything from a teeny gecko to a room full of snakes. Listings that only give you the name of the pet and don’t tell you what it is equal a DEFINITE red flag.
Red Flag 4: Negative reviews from previous housesitters, or many previous housesitters who haven’t given reviews
This one is a judgement call as opinions are subjective, and you have to decide for yourself if the reviews are ones you can trust – we’ve all read a super harsh review on a website that has said more about the person than what they reviewed. We once saw a 4 star review on a housesit because the guest bed was firmer than the housesitter was used to. But those aren’t the kind of negative reviews we mean – we’re talking about those super long essays that are so juicy you can’t help but get sucked into reading all the drama. If a listing has more than one of these, or even a few 5 star reviews that still bring up some issues, proceed with caution and decide for yourself if you’re still happy to give it a shot.
It’s also worth mentioning that, on the Trusted Housesitters desktop site, you can only see previous housesitters who have left a review. It’s only by using the site on their app that you can see all previous housesitters for a listing, whether they’ve left a review or not. Recently we’ve gotten into the habit of checking out listings on the app – there may be a reason that housesitters are choosing not to review the sit.
It’s one of our ultimate pet peeves about the Trusted Housesitters site that reviews go public immediately, leaving homeowners and housesitters alike with the possibility of a ‘retaliation’ review after writing negative feedback. We’re always grateful when sitters choose to post feedback about a bad housesit at the risk of damaging their own profile, but we also understand why a lot of sitters choose not to take that risk.
Red Flag 5: Lots of applicants but the listing stays active for weeks
Trusted Housesitters has a number range on each listing to let you know how many applicants a sit has received, starting with 0-3, 4-7, etc. I think the highest we’ve seen on a listing was 60+, for a listing in London. For housesits in popular places, such as London or New York, it’s safe to assume that the homeowner has received that high number of applicants in a short space of time, and hasn’t yet sifted through them.
A high number of applicants can be a red flag for us when we see it on a listing in a nondescript area, or for a house that doesn’t look extraordinary. These seemingly average housesits with a high applicant number are the kind of listings that show up in search for WEEKS, even if the date is fast approaching. Eventually the listing disappears and we wonder: Did they just have a super hard time choosing a sitter? Or did they forget about their listing, find a friend to housesit for them, and ignore all the applicants?
We’re inclined to go with the latter purely because homeowners always have the option to pause their listing to prevent new sitters from applying, or take their dates off the site completely. Either way, the smooth-running of our full time travels often relies on booking a sit quickly, especially if the sit begins within the next couple of weeks. A slow and disorganised approach to confirming a sitter puts us off applying for those listings.
Now we’ve got through the worst offenders, let’s move onto our orange flags. These might not necessarily spell a bad situation, but they’re worth taking note of:
Orange Flag 1: No message with an invitation from a homeowner
This is the top orange flag because it rubs us the wrong way every time. We’ve classified it as an orange flag as it doesn’t always mean it’s a bad situation, or that the homeowner doesn’t care about their sitter. They may have read our entire profile six times and decided that we’re the best people to take care of their house, but it honestly only takes thirty seconds to type: ‘Hi Chris and Suze, we’ve read through your profile and we’d love you to housesit for us. Please have a look at our listing and let us know what you think. Thanks’. Actually, I just timed myself while typing that sentence and it took twenty seconds. It may be as simple as a homeowner not understanding how the site works – that it’s more of an exchange than a job opportunity – but to us, a short invitation message is a small courtesy.
We put a lot of care and effort into tailoring our housesit application to each homeowner, personalising the message and making sure they get to know us a little better before they make their decision. The least a homeowner can do when inviting us is include both our names and say hi. Last year in the thick of a particularly busy time, when we were receiving at least one invitation every day, we added a short paragraph to the end of our profile to ask homeowners to write a message when they send us an invitation. It’s a good way to tell if a homeowner has actually read our profile, or whether they’re sending a blanket invite to dozens of housesitters.
Orange Flag 2: Asking you to pay for something on the sit up front
Again, this one is dependent on how you feel. For us, if we’re agreeing to travel to a home and care for pets for free for a couple of weeks, we expect things like utilities to be included. The only time we’ve been asked to pay for anything along those lines was at a month-long housesit, where we agreed to pay for firewood to heat the house. (The only regret we have with doing so was the fact that the home was freezing cold with or without a roaring fire!) Usually, if it’s stated on a listing that you’ll have to cover costs at the house, we give it a miss. If a housesit spans several months, however, we understand that homeowners might like to come to an arrangement with the sitter for the cost of utilities.
If you’re required to pay for something for the pets on a sit – dog food, cat litter – make sure you receive the cost back. This has always worked perfectly for us, whether we keep receipts to be reimbursed upon our departure, or the homeowner will often provide a cash float for anything that comes up while we’re housesitting. Don’t be afraid to ask for the money back, as it is stated in the Trusted Housesitters Code of Conduct that sitters must be reimbursed for any pet-related charges while on a sit. The homeowner may have simply forgotten to leave emergency cash for you!
Orange Flag 3: Not arranging a call before confirming a housesit
Having a video/phone call with the homeowner isn’t 100% necessary, but we request one before every housesit we book in. It helps us to get a clearer understanding of what our on-sit responsibilities will be, and lets us get a vibe for the homeowner. A couple of times we’ve agreed to housesits even when the homeowners have a spiky disposition on a call, and in hindsight we shouldn’t have as they just weren’t our people, and we encountered issues on the housesits or the situations that weren’t for us. Other times we’ve booked in without a call and it’s been a fantastic sit – you have to decide if it feels right for you.
We recommend trying to arrange a call even if you’re extremely keen to do the housesit based on the information you already have. You can always message the homeowner to arrange a call after you’ve confirmed the housesit – just ten minutes over the phone will tell you a lot more about the owner and their expectations of you.
Onto our more positive green flags! YAY! This section is shorter because most things that give you that good feeling on a listing are obvious, but nonetheless, let’s end this on a high!
Green Flag 1: A good amount of information and various photos of their pets and home
A listing with a decent overview of the responsibilities, that mentions all the pets and their names, AND they’ve written a little bit about themselves: We love to see it. Bonus points for captioning each photo to let sitters know what they’re looking at, such as ‘The guest bedroom available to sitters’, ‘Rover and Rex, July 2019’ or ‘The view from the garden’. We also LOVE an updated opening paragraph with recent information, such as where they’re going away or if the dates are flexible. It shows the owner has put thought into their listing and wants to be as transparent as possible.
These are the kind of homeowners who send us fantastic, complete and thorough Welcome Guides upon confirmation, and we love them.
Green Flag 2: Positive feedback from a number of other sitters
You know those nice-looking listings, where everything seems lovely but you think ‘Let me just check the reviews…’, only to find thirty previous sitters who all describe it as the best sit they’ve ever done? Totally dreamy.
Green Flag 3: Communication with the homeowner is easy, friendly and welcoming
We love it when we genuinely click with homeowners! We’ve stayed in touch with a lot of owners we’ve sat for and love it when they ask us to come back for another sit. When they address you by name on correspondence, conversation flows on your call, and they’re happy to provide you with any information you might need, grab that housesit with both hands and enjoy it!
We hope this page helps you to avoid some stressful housesits and demanding homeowners! Of course, if you’re unsure about anything in a listing you could ask the homeowner for more details before you apply – that way you’ll get more of a feel for the housesit as a whole and ask them questions about what they’ll expect from you.