Should I apply for this housesitting gig that is also a housemate gig?
August 4, 2013 8:59 PM   Subscribe

There's a housesitter-type ad on craigslist that I'd like to apply for. What's the safest way to go about it? Or should I?

It's phrased as free rent in exchange for watching the house, collecting mail, and scheduling/overseeing professional services like landscaping and cleaners and such. No pets. I would be expected to keep the areas I use tidy. It would be a long-term situation, and so I would be perfectly fine with having no additional compensation. Currently, I live with four guys and am the one who has to chase them down each month for their share of the rent and bills, and do extra cleaning so that I can stand to use the kitchen and bathroom. So this would be an improvement, besides the opportunity to live in a nice place and the money I could save. Money is currently a major source of stress, as most of my (very small) extra income goes to paying for classes.

The owner of the house is a mid-fifties man who says he travels the significant majority of the time, but would be home some of the time. If I were a man, I'd have sent an email already, but I'm a woman in my early thirties. The house is in a very good area that I know well, and I have friends and family who live nearby. This is in the US, in a low-crime (and low sex-crime, I guess) city. I've always lived with strangers, usually male ones at that, sometimes older, but always for equal shares of the rent and never just two of us.

I do not get an unpleasant vibe from the tone of his post- no hinting he'd prefer a woman, or an "arrangement", no request for pictures, none of the familiar gross help-for-$truggling-college-$tudent wording, or anything suggestive. But what steps should I take to ensure everything's above board, if I decide to go for it?

He wants the sitter to have a background check/be bonded. Should I ask for/do a background check on him, besides heavy googling and checking the database? Ask for references? Obviously, a detailed schedule for travel in advance would be nice. What else? And do you have any suggestions or templates for a contract that would cover this type of situation?

Or should I put away my 10-foot-pole and go back to trying to find something more conventional?
posted by grar to Human Relations (15 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Does he have references of past housesitter-tenants? Will you have an easy place to crash if you need to bail on short/no notice? And friends/family in conspicuously frequent contact?

Yes, do a background check on him (though know that the range of data they'll uncover will be surprisingly narrow). Also, for me it'd be helpful to know that he has family or evidence of a community (or other folks he's accountable to) nearby.

I (woman in my early thirties) think this sounds excellent, and would absolutely pursue it provided everything seems completely, unequivocally above board.
posted by tapir-whorf at 9:13 PM on August 4, 2013 [3 favorites]

I don't understand the hesitation - apply for the job and meet him. If he appears genuine and professional, take the position (assuming you're offered it). Continue paying rent on your current residence for a few weeks, and if he behaves in an appropriate manner, pack your belongings and return, "home". A few weeks of daily interaction should provide you sufficient insight to make an informed long-term decision.
posted by Nibiru at 9:25 PM on August 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

I have never seen an advert like this on CL that wasn't sketchy.

Where is this unique unicorn you are referencing?

Yes go ahead and meet him, but please don't expect too much.

Bring a friend!!

If he's legit, he'll respect your strategy. If not, you'll be passed over for the gig.

As long as you don't meet him alone at his house for the first time, I think it is safe enough to evaluate the offer closer up.

Be safe.
posted by jbenben at 10:20 PM on August 4, 2013 [2 favorites]

Yeah - ask to do a background check and for him to provide a reference, in return for you doing the same.

"Oh of course, a background check sounds fine, and I can provide references as well if you'd like. Due to the nature of the arrangement, I'd like to also ask for a reference and a background check as due diligence. How does that sound?"

If he's taken aback or offended by the request, then 1) either he is sketchy and had ulterior motives, or 2) you wouldn't want to be working for/living with someone who would be overly offended by it anyways. If they can't understand that request, what other million issues will they not be understanding about?
posted by suedehead at 10:31 PM on August 4, 2013

Have a male friend with similar credentials answer the ad and see if he gets any response from the owner (or just do it yourself using an email address with a guy's name).
posted by Wordwoman at 10:31 PM on August 4, 2013 [7 favorites]

Also. I am not a lawyer. But:

The situation sounds like a sublease. I would definitely write up a contract that emphasizes that you are a sublessee -- but that for the duration of your sublease, the rent will be waived in exchange for employment as a live-in housesitter/caretaker/etc. To me, that would emphasize your status as a subletter first, housesitter second, so that you would still have rights as a tenant. You may want to run this by a lawyer.

I'd also want to clarify the scope of your employment. You're scheduling services, receiving packages. Will you be mowing the lawn (if there is one)? Will you be cleaning the house -- dusting a little, or cleaning everything? Cooking meals? Are you doing his laundry?

Also, I'd want the contract to cover a notice for moveout -- at least one month, maybe even two months' notice, since not only would you need to find a new place to move to, you'd also have to find a new job to cover your rent.
posted by suedehead at 10:48 PM on August 4, 2013 [4 favorites]

If you do go visit the house, please take someone with you. Not to scare you, but this is one way people find victims for human trafficking. Take a friend, maybe one of your current roommates, and be sure others know where you are and will look for you if you don't come home. Don't accept any food or drinks.

I actually replied to a similar ad when I was just out of college. It was hard to tell if the guy wanted more or not, but I wasn't comfortable and so that was it. I've also have multiple conversations with men seeking nannies that were terribly sketchy. Don't let the lure of free housing put you in a situation that is dangerous or uncomfortable.
posted by mrfuga0 at 1:26 AM on August 5, 2013

Not to scare you, but this is one way people find victims for human trafficking.

What?!? Is it also a way to end up in a bathtub with iting on your heat that says "call 911, you are missing a kidney"?

I agree with suede head. The consideration you are receiving is room. What he is receiving is your labor. This is a contract. If this is SUCH an awesome deal, go to a lawyer, have him draw up the contract to the details you and him agree to, and have both parties sign both copies.

That's all. That way BOTH parties are protected from the other person doing something to take advantage of the other's situation.

That's all; just a simple business transaction.
posted by hal_c_on at 1:49 AM on August 5, 2013

Not to get off-topic, but:

No, actually, it's not an urban legend. It's not unusual for people (often young women) to enter into business contracts as nannies or domestics, only to find they are unable to leave at will, that they end up working a full time job with no payment, that they are expected to provide sex. About 27% of trafficking in the US comes from domestic labor situations. Even "safe" cities in the US can have trafficking hubs -- St Louis and Kansas City come to mind.

I don't mean to be sensationalist, but I do advocate that the OP take someone with her when she interviews the guy and makes sure she doesn't put herself in a situation where she might be exploited. As a former nanny, I saw hundreds (literally) of ads that looked somewhat legit (work in exchange for housing) and also knew of several women who ended up without resources and without the ability to get out of situations where they were expected to have sex and to work without payment. All human trafficking is not like Taken or some Hollywood version where people are dragged off the street and injected with drugs, but is most likely to revolve around the promise of employment, opportunities, and situations that then place the receiver into a debt they cannot repay.
posted by mrfuga0 at 2:00 AM on August 5, 2013 [11 favorites]

I have the impression that your current situation ("live with four guys and am the one who has to chase them down each month for their share of the rent and bills, and do extra cleaning") is clouding your judgement a little.

Could you explore other options in your area to get more perspective? Is there a local network for house sitters? Would an other, less stressful, sublet/roommate situation be an option?

Here is an example agreement form for house sitting gigs from a pet/house sitter website (.doc file) to give you an idea what things to cover.

Hope all works out well! Best of luck with school!
posted by travelwithcats at 3:32 AM on August 5, 2013

If I was legitimately seeking a house-sitter/manager while I was away, I certainly wouldn't be advertising the position on Craigslist. There are much more logical ways to find a trustworthy person. Why would anyone take the time to sort through all the freaks (not an attack on you) such a posting would attract? Can you imagine what his inbox must look like?
posted by 99percentfake at 3:59 AM on August 5, 2013 [2 favorites]

Someone offering a legit long term "free rent" situation in exchange for what sounds like very modest duties is going to have his pick of people begging for the gig in this day and age.

He's unlikely to submit to a "background check" from one of dozens of potential candidates.

I think the whole thing sounds sketchy. A nice house in a nice neighborhood for free and to yourself most of the time in exchange for a few hours of labor a week, huh? You would hardly need to advertise, and you would certainly not need to let your potential house sitters dictate the terms of the deal as some are blithely suggesting above.

If it sounds too good to be true, remember it almost always is. That goes triple for Craigslist. There have been more than a few really serious crimes in recent years where victims were lured by too good to be true ads on CL. And if it is legit you'll be one of dozens of suitors. I'd skip it for a more realistic and conventional alternative. This is either a job, a baited trap, or a scam, not a free house.
posted by spitbull at 5:03 AM on August 5, 2013 [3 favorites]

I have no idea where someone would advertise this kind of arrangement if not on Craigslist. If I was single, I'd probably have to find a housemate who would take care of all this crap when I'm forced to travel for work, and I don't know where I'd advertise that other than Craigslist.

I think most of the useful advice here is useful: don't go alone, plan to background check the homeowner, draw up an agreement regarding the tasks you're expected to perform. If any of those things are not agreeable to him, move on.
posted by Lyn Never at 5:54 AM on August 5, 2013

For another point of data, I would check out the guy on LinkedIn, if you can. Is he a consultant? Because that makes this totally plausible. In a reality with a different home lifestyle but same job, I could easily imagine myself posting something similar.
posted by emkelley at 6:06 AM on August 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

I think it's worth taking all the cautions listed here, but also that it's not necessarily sketchy. Rich, busy people need this kind of service. What's a little different here is that he doesn't seem to have a way to find it through his personal network, and that's what would raise my antennae. Everyone else I've known who hired home assistants/housesitters went through a personal services company, or worked their associations/relationships to find a suitable candidate.
posted by Miko at 6:49 AM on August 5, 2013 [5 favorites]

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