I really debated whether to write this post about our first negative experience house sitting.
What would be the point?
But then I thought that it’s important some of our readers know the responsibility that comes with house sitting and even though it might seem like a free vacation, the onus is still on you to be responsible and make sure you treat the house and animals with the same care you would your own.
We just had an amazing two months in Dominica.
It was perfect.
We stayed in a large mansion up in the hills which operates as a guest house normally. My parents joined us, and paid to stay there, but we spent a lovely Christmas and New Year together.
Learning the ropes
When we arrived, we spent a few days with the owners learning how to care for their home. This is normal with house sitting – usually you’ll arrive the day before so you can get to know the owners and learn how to clean and care for their home and animals.
Because the ‘mansion’ was so large – a three story house with four bedrooms, five bathrooms, four kitchens and a large garden – we arrived three days in advance of the house sitters’ departure.
It was spotlessly clean and we took note – we would need to make sure it was ship-shape for their return.
Dave also spent awhile with one of the owners learning how to ‘strim’ the grass with what we call a whippersnipper back in Australia. This job alone would take around five hours and he was to do it three times before they returned.
Breaking the crystal
We had a marvellous time staying in the house. Although the design meant it was rather dark during the day, we would swing open all the doors and watch the clouds fly past the mountains, and have drinks on the porch as the sun went down.
It was perfect.
One day, Dave wanted to show my dad these cannon shots from an old fort on the island that were housed in a crystal basket. He picked up the crystal by its handle and to our dismay the handle snapped clean off and the bowl crashed to the floor, smashing into thousands of pieces. The weight of the balls was obviously far too heavy for the crystal.
Upset, we went to the store but we couldn’t find anything of the sort to replace it on the island (it’s very difficult to purchase goods in Dominica because of the import tax and the fact it’s so remote – there aren’t any department stores) and so we had to settle with buying a glass bowl instead.
Preparing for their return
The three days leading up to the owners’ return, we scrubbed the house from top to bottom. Dave spent hours on end in the garden and I mopped and wiped down the two wrap-around balconies that surrounded the house.
It was sparkling clean.
Let me note – this is not unusual. This is (obviously) what you should do every time you care for somebody’s home. It’s almost part of the unwritten agreement… leave the house the way you found it. Sometimes it is in a written agreement, although we’ve never experienced that.
Aside from the crystal bowl, everything was in its place.
Dave went to pick the pair of them up from the airport at 9pm at night, driving for two hours in the dark over pot hole-filled roads. When he picked them up they were ill and didn’t seem to have enjoyed their time in England (they went back home) complaining that they were sick for most of it.
Dave didn’t mind going out of his way to pick them up although he was a little miffed they didn’t say thank you. But hey, we lived in their mansion for six weeks – we weren’t about to complain.
When the home owners found the crystal was broken the wife was upset and said it was a silver wedding anniversary present from her now deceased sister.
We felt so bad! This is not what we wanted to happen.
The next night, we cooked them a lovely meal with roast chicken and potatoes. They weren’t all that into food but we knew this was something that they liked so we thought we could at least do them that favour.
They didn’t say thank you for the meal we prepared and we tried to brush it off once more. It was getting more and more difficult to do.
Since they’d returned they hadn’t said anything nice about our cleaning and I guess I wouldn’t mind so much but the day after they returned I went downstairs into the kitched and found her re-cleaning the entire kitchen from top to bottom.
I was a little hurt – I thought I’d done a good job.
Later that evening, they brought out their printer that we’d used while they were away – which they’d given us permission to do. To our dismay it wouldn’t turn on. I spent an hour fiddling with it, wondering why the hell it didn’t work, before saying we’d take it into the repair shop the following day.
We try to make amends
The next morning, we set off early, driving 40 minutes down the mountain. In the car we agreed the printer was very old and that it was probably better just to buy a new one rather than waste money on getting it fixed, only to possibly have it break again.
We purchased a good HP model that had both a scanner and a copier, as their old model had the same. The only difference was that it didn’t have a fax machine. Because the wife had told us previously that they’ve never used this function, we didn’t even consider hunting around for one that did.
I’m not even sure they exist any more!
Our attempts to be kind backfire
Early the next morning (we didn’t stay at the house but with friends instead, as we were beginning to feel increasingly uncomfortable) we drove back up the mountain with the printer in the back seat.
Just before we reached the house, I told Dave I felt nauseous. He made a comment about the winding roads but what was truely knotting up my stomach was the thought of having to go back into the house and see the wife scowl at me once more.
I took a deep breath and calmed myself. We’d bought them the best model printer we could find – surely she would have no reason to be mad at us.
I was wrong.
We brought the printer up and she began screaming at us that there was no fax.
“It’s not like-for-like! You should’ve bought us the same printer! You should never have used the printer in the first place!” she screamed.
A million thoughts raced through my mind. That we didn’t break the printer anyway, it just didn’t work when they went to use it. That the model we bought them is much better than their ancient machine. That we’d just driven one and a half hours and spent a lot of money from our measly travel budget to make amends because we felt it was the right thing to do.
But I suck at confrontation.
Instead, Dave calmly replied. “You said we could use the printer, which is why we did. And we’ve now bought you a new one.”
She screamed some more – at this point I wasn’t even taking the words in, as I was on the verge of tears.
I quickly mumbled that we were going hiking and made a swift exit out the door.
Dave – thankfully – followed me. I was worried he was seriously about to lose his cool and begin yelling back at her.
We power walked down the driveway and were getting in the car when we noticed her husband was following us.
He asked if we were ok and then said, “It’s the crystal bowl she’s really upset about.”
I apologised once more, we shook his hand quickly and we sped off down the mountain and away from our fond memories of the past two months that had come to a very sour end.
As the tears pooled in my lap, Dave apologised to me again for breaking the crystal.
“People make mistakes and accidents happen – so do not apologise again,” I replied.
What we’ve learned
It was an upsetting way to end our house sit. We’ve never before had someone disapprove the way we cared for their home – as we take great pride in looking after their house and pets as if they were our own. We’d never before had a negative experience house sitting.
So I think I was so upset because I was disappointed that we couldn’t resolve everything and that the homeowners weren’t happy with what we’d done.
We learned that we should keep trying our best and always seek to make amends, even if it doesn’t go the way you hope.
It was so easy to not replace the printer at all, or to buy a cheaper version that didn’t have a copier and a scanner. But we did the best we could and although they still weren’t happy, we felt we could walk away with our heads held high.
The biggest lesson we learned was that house sitting is a very large responsibility.
You are caring for the objects and animals that people love for the most so you don’t want to stuff it up.
So although most times everything runs smoothly – this was our sixth house sit and all of the previous ones ended fabulously – it’s important to keep in mind that it’s not a walk in the park or a ‘free holiday’.
There are responsibilities involved that shouldn’t be taken lightly.