Among digital nomads and freelancers who work remotely, housesitting is touted as the miracle solution that allows you to live anywhere, have a fully equipped home and kitchen at your disposal, animals for company. All for free.
We have now housesat in three countries: the Netherlands, Sweden and Malaysia. In the Netherlands, we looked after two cats in a cute terraced house in Delft for a month for a couple while they went to Brazil to get married. In Sweden, we looked after three cats for two weeks in two consecutive summers for a family in the suburbs of Stockholm. In Malaysia, we looked after a dog in a luxury compound while his owners visited Sri Lanka over Christmas and New Year.
Indeed, in our limited experience, I can confirm that it does grant those things, but something happened I haven’t talked about before on the blog earlier this year that has made is much less likely that we will housesit again any time soon.
Back after the housesit we did in December 2015 in Penang, Malaysia, we had an unfortunate experience with the homeowners. It still upsets me to think about it, but basically, I think we were subject to indirect homophobia. Let me explain.
The housesit itself went fine from our point of view. The homeowners were friendly and welcoming when we arrived, and their pug was no trouble at all. We enjoyed our time there, taking advantage of the facilities in the complex where they lived, and enjoying what Georgetown had to offer. When they came home, everything was great, and we stayed an extra night after they arrived and left on good terms.
A couple of weeks later, however, I received a long email from the homeowners explaining that they would not be able to leave us a review on Trusted Housesitters, as they did not want to leave a negative review and since they couldn’t give us a positive review, they’d rather not say anything at all. The email went on to explain some things their cleaner, who we’d never met during the two weeks we housesat, had told them.
The specifics of what the cleaner had told them are not so important, but they centred around how we had apparently mistreated their pug, neglected to walk him and left him outside on the balcony while we went out, none of which was true. The homeowners went on to explain that they had trusted us with their home and pet and expected us to treat it with respect and look after their pug in the way they had showed us to, even if we didn’t agree with it exactly.
It really upset me that they thought this of us, and believed that we would mistreat their pug and not respect their home in the way the cleaner claimed we had. Zab and I talked about how and why this might have come up, and indeed made us question if we had in fact done something that could’ve been seen as inappropriate, disrespectful or malicious. As far as we could tell, we had been perfectly good housesitters. We walked the dog twice a day as they asked, played and cuddled with him, sent them pictures of him to show them he was happy and even cleaned parts of the apartment that the cleaner missed.
After some talking (and even a few tears), Zab suggested that perhaps the cleaner had disapproved of their being a same-sex couple in the house and wanted to disparage us somehow. At first, that seemed ridiculous, I guess simply because it was unimaginable to me. But then we considered how before the housesit, the homeowners had told us how friendly the cleaner was and that she had even cooked with previous housesitters, who were a heterosexual couple. Given what we knew about how conservative Malaysian culture can be when it comes to homosexuality, this started to make a little more sense. Now we understood why she had possibly tried to avoid meeting us, and had clearly spent as little time as possible in the apartment.
Eventually, I wrote a long email back to the homeowners explaining how everything their cleaner had told them was not true, backing it up with counter evidence. I also explained what we thought had been the reason for her saying such things about us.
I never heard back from them. Either they simply don’t believe me and still believe that we did all the things the cleaner says we did, or they realise that perhaps we were right about her, and are too embarrassed to reply and apologise. I suspect that, as a straight couple, they were just quite oblivious to the fact that someone’s homophobia could be strong enough to make them act so maliciously. Or maybe we’ve read the whole situation incorrectly and it’s something else I haven’t even considered.
Either way, it was a very unpleasant experience, and one which we’re not keen to repeat. Besides that, while we did certainly enjoy the few times we housesat, but we have realised that, at the moment at least, renting apartments or staying with friends or in hotels are better options for us.
But we’ll see. Maybe we’ll want to housesit again at some point, just not right now.