What I Learned from Housesitting for the First Time

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There was a moment in the middle of our housesit, after the dogs got into the rat poison, one of the cows escaped, and a mouse fell victim to an unbaited trap in the kitchen, when I wondered if we’d taken on too much.

What I’d initially pictured when we signed up to Aussie House Sitters was landing a couple of cushy gigs on the beach, preferably with a fluffy cat or two. It would be an ideal break from tent life; almost a vacation.

Then we saw the advertisement for a 100-acre farm in the Nambucca Valley, and were intrigued. The owners were kind and open with a fascinating backstory (both spoke French and had lived in Africa for 12 years) so we went for it. Now that it’s over, I’m glad we did it, but the experience has given me insight on what steps to take when planning future house sits.

The Questions I Should Have Asked

Cows in the rain

My irrational fear of cows has lessened considerably.

Are the dogs on any medication?

Specifically, we should have asked about medication for fleas and ticks. The dogs went on regular adventures and they had plenty of land to explore; in the process they picked up ticks. We checked them regularly and pulled the ticks out with tweezers when possible, but had no idea if we were pulling out regular bush ticks or deadly paralysis ticks. Some dogs get their tick meds through the vet, but these dogs were treated at home; suspecting that the treatment had worn off, we ended up emailing the owners three weeks in, who advised us to go ahead and apply a fresh dose from the stash in the cupboard.

What is the cut-off amount for emergencies at the vet?

As housesitters, we hope that the vet’s number is on the fridge but that we won’t need to use it. I called the vet twice while we were there, and we also had to pick up emergency medication. Luckily the dogs were fine, but I hate to think what would have happened if we had been forced to make an on-the-spot decision about whether or not to go forward with a blood transfusion. It would have been useful to establish a benchmark with the owners before they left: how much is too much when it comes to an emergency procedure?

Do you have reliable internet/wifi?

On one hand I’m glad I didn’t ask this question, because it might have influenced our decision to take the job. On the other, it would have been good to know. According to the house profile on the website, we knew that there was internet, but that was all.

Due to the farm’s location, there was only access to satellite internet, which could be extremely slow at times. So slow, in fact, that I worried we’d exceeded the limit. There was no wifi, but we’d thrown our wireless modem in the car at the last minute and it came in handy.

I had hoped to work on pitching articles to online publications while we were there, which was made difficult by the limited access to internet. There was also no mobile service so I couldn’t access my data as a backup. Not the end of the world, but it would have changed the way I approached the month from the outset in terms of work.

The Things I Should Have Considered

Town Hall NSW

Missabotti’s town hall, for all your rural gathering needs.

Isolation
In retrospect, it’s reasonable that we couldn’t access the internet at normal speeds or use our mobile phones. No one I talked to had even heard of Missabotti; it definitely qualified as rural. The location was beautiful, but as recent city-dwellers it did take some getting used to when the nearest town was fifteen minutes away. We became good at making detailed lists to ensure we didn’t forget anything from the supermarket, because once we got home there was no going out again.

Wildlife
Everyone knows Australia is chock full of things that can kill you, eat you, maim you, etc. It’s also common knowledge that farms attract all manner of vermin. Put two and two together and it’s a given that we might be encountering mice, rats, wild dogs, snakes and bandicoots during our month, but I was not mentally prepared for it. At all.

Duration

This housesit lasted for just over a month. It’s a long time, especially when combined with the other factors unique to this location. In future I’d want to make sure the location more closely met our needs before staying in one place for so long.

What Went Right

Man and dog

Jared was the dogs’ clear favorite.

Arriving early

The owners asked us to come a day early so they could show us the ropes and introduce us to the neighbors. It was an invaluable afternoon – we got to know the people behind the house, plus get insights into the dogs and the community we’d be living in. When they left the next morning, it didn’t feel like we were complete strangers anymore. Bonus points to the owners for preparing a house sitter information manual.

Farm Living

Where there’s a farm, there’s fresh produce. We collected more eggs than we could keep up with, which meant I had an excuse to experiment with all manner of baked goods (thanks to Food Network’s Farmhouse Rules for the daily inspiration). There were mandarin trees along the creek, a lime tree in the garden, and a lemonade tree behind the house – citrus that tastes just like lemonade. Did you know such a fruit existed? I didn’t.

Dogs

Gus and Mack made the house sit so much more entertaining. They were half-brothers who looked nothing alike and had distinct personalities. Gus was the explorer, returning with leeches between his toes and ticks on his body, while Mack was the protector, always making sure we were in sight before taking off. For the first week we were woken every morning by the dogs scratching at our door, bursting through as soon as it opened. I miss pets!

Fireplace

If there’s one thing I hate, it’s being cold. Houses in Australia are usually not well-insulated, but this one was. On top of that, there was a wood-burning fire in the center of the living room. Jared made a fire every night, and it was bliss.

Books

These people were readers, and there were plenty of books to choose from. I read over ten books in our time there, spending more time with my nose buried in a book than I have since I was a kid.

My favorites:

  • Goodbye Sarajevo by Atka Reid & Hana Schofield
  • Someone Knows My Name by Lawrence Hill
  • Emma’s War by Deborah Scroggins

Endorsements

Aussie House Sitters sent us an email after the completion of our sit, encouraging us to leave an endorsement for the home owners. I left positive feedback for them and they did the same for us. These endorsements now appear on our respective profiles, putting us in good stead for the next sit.

It was a restorative month, one that left us ready to hit the road again. We haven’t yet organized another house sit, but only because we’ve learned not to plan too far in advance – pretty soon we’ll be looking to pick up work so flexibility is key.

We use and can recommend Aussie House Sitters, which is free for homeowners but incurs a $65 AUD yearly fee for sitters. I am not affiliated with the company and this is not a sponsored post!

Have you done any housesitting? What are your tips?

2 Responses to “What I Learned from Housesitting for the First Time”

  1. Seems like there’s so much more to it than I realized!

    Also, Goodbye, Sarajevo is my NEXT book. I am really excited to read.

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