I confirmed 5 days into a 6 month stay as a housesitter that I was going to leave. I’d been looking forward to spending time in Bray, Co. Wicklow in the south of Ireland since August, when the owner confirmed me after numerous Skype calls as his chosen housesitter. I’d been a little uneasy with the lack of detail and photos on the owner’s profile on the Trusted Housesitters site, but he seemed friendly and open and sort of answered my questions. I did chase him for weeks for photos, and chased and chased for the Welcome Pack which he sent just days before I was due to fly in, and only a small percentage of it was filled in. According to the THS Code of Conduct he pledged “I will create a comprehensive and accurate home and pet owner listing, including photos and clear information about what I expect from a sitter, detailed information about my pet(s) and ensure this is kept up-to-date.”
If I hadn’t been so keen on settling for 6 months, I would have noticed the warning signs and should have backed out then. THS are very thorough in the checks for a housesitter but as an extra I’d sent him a copy of the police check I needed when I was chaperoning kids on film sets. In hindsight the information I had received wasn’t entirely honest. I had 3 deal breakers of which I was led to believe were ok. On arrival I found 0/3 were true.
The home owner picked me up from Dublin airport and wheeled my case to his car. Before getting in he warned that it would smell, but as he had no sense of smell he was unable to judge how bad it was. And it was. Another sign!
On arriving at his home just 5 minutes from Bray seafront, in an area I since found out was much sought after, the smell of the house hit me immediately as I walked in. Yet another sign.
I was shown to my room which was freezing and smelt musty. The radiator had been turned off by the previous sitter (a family member) many weeks before. It was explained that this particular radiator was the last to heat up in the house. Another sign. He suggested I moved into his room once he left as it was west facing and warmer. That night I slept in my clothes and gilet, with my winter coat over the bed for additional warmth but I was still really cold, so got up and dressed early. For the next 5 nights I continued to sleep in my clothes.
I sat in the kitchen looking out onto the stark paved area which was overlooked by a very unkempt overgrown garden area, which I later learnt was the poo area for one of the dogs and it was not necessary to clean up!
On the exchange day I was shown around the house. If I hadn’t asked questions I wouldn’t have had a clue how the running of the house worked as it wasn’t documented in the Welcome Pack. I was shown the medication for one of the dogs and just expected to remember. I insisted he wrote it down. Then out of the blue, by the large opened bag of dog food, I spotted some other medication. That was for the other dog. I was shown how to prepare it, but instantly forgot when and why to administer and again was unable to refer to the Welcome Pack. I would have thought this information was key to the house sit, and expecting a Housesitter to retain an overload of information was unrealistic which I had already stated in writing.
My tour continued into Bray town, and restaurants, cafes, supermarkets were pointed out to me. The owner was thoughtful enough to purchase a drier, as drying on the clothes line outside in winter was a deal breaker, and he presented me with a new packet of bed linen. We visited the supermarket where I was able to do a big shop, plus bought a local SIM for my mobile and he insisted on paying.
Sadly the housesit continued to go downhill. I thought I’d be able to clean but when I realised the enormity of the task I started looking for cleaning quotes. I also didn’t feel it was my job to make the house liveable. It should have been thoroughly cleaned in preparation for my arrival. On the first day of the sit after the owner had left I contacted Trusted Housesitters, for advice. They just kept repeating “try and sort something out amicably with the owner”, and “everyone lives differently” had I told the owner when he was there, yes, why hadn’t I left immediately? I had already composed an email so sent it.
The putrid rancid smell in the house was causing me to have headaches and I was beginning to feel ill. I threw open any window that wasn’t stuck by paint to air the house.
But before I’d even had chance to speak on Skype to the owner, more problems were rearing their head, so I sent a second email and told him I’d be leaving and he should make alternative arrangements for his dogs.
The fact that there appeared to be no preparation in the house made for my stay, which is a stipulation on THS Code of Conduct, (“I will create a clean, comfortable and secure environment for my sitter“) was enough to send me packing. I could no longer stay in the house with ingrained layers of grime, grease and dust, an inefficient central heating system, with no working thermostat, only a switch for on or off, and a clock which left the heating on 24 hours a day, the smell throughout the house, plus the dog smells as the dogs only go to the groomer in April, damp towels to dry the dogs after their walks left on a kitchen chair, open bags of dog food stored in the kitchen, the disarray of the laundry room, and more.
I agreed to cover another few days until some other help could be arranged. Not knowing what to do or where to go I posted on the local Bray Facebook page asking if anyone knew of any other local house sits. I didn’t think that people would go onto my private page, yes I’m a little naive, to see what was going on, but they did and I had numerous offers of help. Many people stated how ashamed they were that a fellow Bray resident could expect someone to live like that, and stressed that’s not how normal Irish people live. However the owner got wind of this, though I hadn’t named him, or the address or shown any photos that would make the house recognisable, and demanded I leave the next morning. Actually I packed my bags there and then and left immediately.
Since then I’ve had a number of contacts with Trusted Housesitters. I can’t say I’ve found them particularly helpful. The staff are very nice but ineffective and just spurt out set phrases. I have sent a timeline of information together with emails and copies of contents from Skype and photos as proof of what I was saying. I was promised a phone call on 8th November at 11am. At 11.52am I received an email saying due to meetings they couldn’t make the call. I’m still waiting and today is 14th November. I’m not holding my breath. I’ve paid my membership and once that’s taken, THS seem to back off.
I know that owners are cautious and need to choose a housesitter carefully, but there seems to be no checks in place for the safety of the housesitter. THS are basically an introduction agency, take your money, and have limited support staff to be able to offer constructive advice.
If you’d like to know more pm me on FB and I’ll fill you in.