How to make housesitting a great experience for the housesitter
April 4, 2013 6:39 PM   Subscribe

I have a friend who has volunteered to housesit/catsit for five days while I am away. She lives on the poverty line, but she won't accept payment for this. My house is much less convenient to her workplace than her house is, and she doesn't drive. I really want to do everything possible to show her my appreciation for her kindness. Ideas?

I already plan to do the following:
  • leave a couple of hundred dollars in case of emergency (vet, or having to hire a tradesperson for e.g. burst water pipe). She doesn't have a credit card, and lives hand to mouth, so I don't think she'd be able to cover any upfront payment for this sort of thing until we got back.
  • leave money for bus and taxi fares (but I don't think she'll use it. I can't buy her bus tickets in advance, because our city uses personal cards that the user has to top up).
  • leave a bottle of her favourite liquor, with a note that she is to enjoy it
  • stock the fridge with her favourite foods, perishable, and tell her she has to eat them or they will go off before we get back.
  • stock the bathroom with nice soaps and bubble bath
  • make sure the house is sparkling clean before she arrives
  • show her how everything works, where everything is, and leave notes with instructions for various eventualities (if the alarm goes off, if the cat gets sick) and contact numbers for us and for the neighbours.
  • bring her a gift back from my holiday.
Am I missing anything? I'm soliciting both nice things I can do for her and general things to think of when one has a housesitter. I've never had one before and in this case I am extra especially grateful (and a bit guilty for making her life harder. I asked her assuming she'd like the extra cash, and she agreed to do it and now says she won't accept the money.)
posted by lollusc to Human Relations (21 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
When you get back, give her a wrapped gift box with instructions to take it and not open it until she gets home. In it, include a card explaining (or re-explaining) how grateful you are and include the money she doesn't want to accept.

Unless you think she'd be honestly offended by payment, it's pretty common for people to refuse to accept arranged payment but be grateful for it if you force it upon them.
posted by smoq at 6:46 PM on April 4, 2013 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Hmmm, I don't know.

I'm a poor(ish) student, and I often have friends try to force money on me for things like babysitting, for which I refuse to take payment. I have my own reasons for this, and I'd be kind of pissed off if they 'tricked' me into accepting it.

I think everything you have listed is perfect, and sufficient. At most, I'd give her a thank-you card with a gift-card enclosed for somewhere you know she patronizes. (I realize the lack of logic here, but a GC feels less like money than, well, money). Let her open it in front of you, though.

Also, all the nice stuff you're leaving for her? Just make sure she knows it's for her (maybe attach post-it notes saying 'Use me! :)'). I've house-sat before and not eaten/drunk/used things out of politeness, then found out they were intended for me.

You're a nice and thoughtful friend.
posted by Salamander at 7:06 PM on April 4, 2013 [14 favorites]

Maybe your gift on your return could be food from where you've been, or send a Harry & David type fruit basket, so at least you'd be taking a bite out of her next grocery bill.
posted by lakeroon at 7:08 PM on April 4, 2013

Response by poster: A gift card is genius. For some reason I didn't think of that, but then it's much less like payment and more like a, well, gift. I know she has a guilty coffee habit that takes more of a bite out of her income than she would like, so a gift card for coffee would help her out just as much as actual payment for house sitting would. Thanks!

Still open to other ideas too, of course.
posted by lollusc at 7:14 PM on April 4, 2013 [2 favorites]

I am also pretty broke all of the time but I'm also uncomfortable explicitly taking money from friends, even if I did them a favor. If they buy me food/liquor when I'm house-sitting, that's cool. If they offer takeout because I gave them a ride, that's cool. So yes, I think you're doing all the right things there.

I think you have a good plan, but make it explicitly clear she's welcome to anything (I assume) in the house. She still may be uncomfortable with it, but if you say "all of this is for you so please enjoy it," I think she will.

I wouldn't make the place too clean -- she may feel like she's not allowed to mess anything up. So make it neat but still homey and comfortable.

Other than just perishable foods in the fridge, I'd stock the freezer with pizzas & such (frozen dinners/etc.) and say "help yourself." This kind of follows from being more comfortable taking "things" than "money." But also make it seem like -- if you can -- that you have more than enough and you're probably not even going to care if she take a pizza because you have three others.

Emergency money is great -- and indicate that if she needs to run out for some household supply or whatever, that's what it's there for (not just "emergency" emergencies).

You're a good friend to even think about any of this.

(And yes, showing how the entertainment system/etc. works is always helpful! I've been stuck at too many friends' houses and had to send insane text messages begging for help!)
posted by darksong at 7:19 PM on April 4, 2013 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Your existing ideas sound fantastic! If a friend does me a favour I'll usually take them out for dinner. It saves them some money, and also reinforces the point that I love spending time with them.

Other things - does she have any chores you can help out with in return? If you drive and she doesn't, helping her run some errands can save valuable time.

Do you have netflix or itunes something similar? If so let her know she's welcome to rent a couple of films on your account if that's something she'd enjoy.
posted by Jon Mitchell at 7:21 PM on April 4, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Extra pillows/blankets/towels and show her how to work the heating system. Sleeping in strange beds can be hard so it's nice to have that stuff even if you don't use it. Nothing is worse than being cold and not wanting to poke through strangers closets for extra bedding.
posted by SpaceWarp13 at 7:23 PM on April 4, 2013 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Make sure to write down the Wi-Fi log-on info in a conspicuous place (if applicable)
posted by Fig at 7:32 PM on April 4, 2013 [10 favorites]

Make sure any "emergency" numbers are posted somewhere conspicuous (the fridge works great) and tell a trusted neighbor or two that you'll have a housesitter. Also show her where the emergency supplies, flashlights, fuse box, etc are.
posted by radioamy at 7:40 PM on April 4, 2013 [2 favorites]

You have a great list going. Stocking the house with food, toiletries and her favorite beverages along with anticipating anything that can go wrong and a solution for it are the basics. As other mentioned, a nice thank you note and a gift card to her favorite grocery store and a favorite food item of hers. Remember to verbally say thank you and how much you appreciate her time doing you a favor.
posted by i_wear_boots at 7:49 PM on April 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

I once house sat for my boss during a time when I still had to schlep my laundry to a laundromat. He encouraged me to do as much laundry as I wished while staying in his home. That was a great perk! So nice to do laundry while relaxing, not having to watch the dryer and getting to fold in a clean place.

You could encourage her to use your laundry set up if you have one.
posted by dottiechang at 8:06 PM on April 4, 2013 [6 favorites]

I'm a grad student and so have a pretty limited budget. I probably would take money but would feel a little uncomfortable about it, but would feel way way better about taking a gift card. Maybe do two, one to whatever grocery store she patronizes or Target or something and then one to the coffee place in question.
posted by naturalog at 8:06 PM on April 4, 2013

Prepay for some cab rides to and from work? Arrange for a car to pick her up at your house at some time?
posted by JohnnyGunn at 8:06 PM on April 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

Six pack of craft beer from there. Buy a huge bar-style bottle opener from the brewery for her.
posted by Ironmouth at 8:27 PM on April 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

For people in your friend's position, it can be a comforting thing to help other people and refuse reciprocation for it. In part, it can give you a sense of security like if you were ever in a seriously dire emergency and needed help, then you might be able to ask those people for help at that time. They might be more likely to help you and you also wouldn't feel like a leech/bum because you had already helped them many times before. So you wouldn't want to get reciprocation right away because something unexpected might happen when you were really desperate for it.

So when you get back you could just say to her, "Thank you for doing me such a great favor. If there's anything I can do for you in turn, let me know."
posted by cairdeas at 9:05 PM on April 4, 2013 [8 favorites]

What you are doing is great. I mean that. A gift card for coffee as a thank you also sounds great. But maybe one thing you can do is focus a little less on her financial status and more on her human qualities. I am currently homeless. It is a really awful experience to have people view me solely through that lens and define me solely based on that one thing. It is incredibly dehumanizing and suffocating to be reduced to the detail of my financial troubles.

So instead of trying so hard to slip some money under the door over her protest, try to frame the gift card in terms of what a relief it is to have someone you trust enough to leave your cat and home in their care. Gush, gush, and please have some coffee on us. You totally deserve it.
posted by Michele in California at 9:07 PM on April 4, 2013 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Ask her if you can top off her bus pass since you'd feel bad if it cost her more money to get to work because she's doing the favor of pet/house sitting for her. Get a grocery gift card and tell her it's for anything she might need or you forgot to get for the pets.
Telling her she's welcome to do laundry is great. Maybe offer to give her and her stuff a ride to your place right before you leave. If she has much in the way of laundry, trying to carry it on the bus or walking it over to your place could be a pain. Don't go to overboard on trying to give her money. I think it would make her feel self conscious. I think a small coffee gift card or telling her to keep the left over money on the grocery one would be really nice.
posted by stray thoughts at 9:24 PM on April 4, 2013

As a house sitter during my college years, I always greatly appreciated fresh produce! The lady I worked for always left me a bounty of fruits and veggies, with the request to not let them go to waste. She also told me to help myself to whatever I liked or needed, although I could always tell that she stocked the cupboards for me beforehand (and, mysteriously, there was always a box of my favorite tea...). So, maybe something like that would be nice for your friend?
posted by Happydaz at 11:23 PM on April 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

Paid up delivery credits for pizza, chinese food, etc.
posted by buzzman at 8:41 AM on April 5, 2013

I think a few items sound a little pushy and place some pressure on her, she might feel bad if you hasn't drunk all the alcohol or eaten everything.
I would make food available and say she should help herself to anything at all, you are not saving anything for later, and the alcohol a Thank You gift to her (wrapped with ribbon and card).

Another fun list you can make is the cat(s) names and what odd things they do (examples: Max likes to lie upside down in the hallway for long periods, Fluff will try to put her huge fluffy tail in your mouth while you are asleep and sometimes bites, ShyCat was born with a limp and it doesn't hurt her). Watching other peoples cats can be a bit stressful because you don't know what weird stuff they might do and if its normal or not.
posted by meepmeow at 9:13 AM on April 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

Instructions on how to use the TV and DVD player, and remote control if it's difficult. DVDs.

When I house-sat for my brother he left a towel with a turned-back corner and a chocolate on my bed like I was staying at a hotel. (He also left instructions for the media centre and internet and so on on a piece of paper like you'd find in a hotel room.) It made me laugh.

Big vase of pretty flowers (at a stage of opening up where they'll be nice the whole time she's there) for her to enjoy.

Timetables for nearby public transport options.
posted by springbound at 1:22 PM on April 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

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