Our first house sit was a six-month assignment in a semi-remote mountain community 45 minutes from Panama City, Panama. We were so excited to get the job! Six months in the lush green mountains of tropical Panama was just what we needed after traveling around every four weeks or so in Colombia and Ecuador. We looked forward to settling down for a while, taking care of a couple of sweet doggies. We had done everything right to land the assignment and when we arrived in Panama we were happy to find our homeowners had done a great job detailing everything we needed to do to take care of in their house and pets in their absence.
They prepared files for the home and property and for the care of the dogs with important dates and phone numbers so it seemed we had all of the information we needed to take care of things while they were away. We spent one evening with them before their departure, asked a few questions but felt they had covered everything we needed to know and if something came up we didn’t know how to handle we had names and numbers of people we could reach out to. We dropped them at the airport the next day and our first housesitting job was underway.
The homeowners did an outstanding job setting us up for success. But when we did run into trouble, we quickly realized some of the problems we encountered could have been avoided had we asked the right questions before our homeowners’ departure. The issues we had were those that homeowners may not even consider mentioning because their perception of life in a particular part of the world is business as usual not necessarily newsworthy. In addition, there were emotional side effects that are part of a long-term house sit that we hadn’t considered. Here are some important house sitting lessons we learned on our first long term assignment in Panama.
Find Out Problems Due to Weather
We knew our job house sitting in Panama would be during the rainy season. What we neglected to do was ask the homeowners what their biggest challenges were at home because of weather during this time of year (storms, property maintenance, pet issues) Asking this one question would have helped the homeowner remember to share important tips and tricks to prepare us to deal with certain situations.
Where we did expect a lot of rain during our stay, we were not aware of the violent thunderstorms and wild lightning that could occur as a result. The only casualty of the lightning was a fried router, but it could have been a lot worse. It was literally time to baton down the hatches, unplug everything and huddle away from the windows when the storms would roll in.
Dig Deeper to Uncover Answers that may not occur to homeowners
The homeowners for this housesit prepared us to take the reins at their place. Where we could have done better was digging deeper when they mentioned certain things about maintenance of the house. They had shown us the humidity control products they used in the home and talked about replacing them as needed. We should have asked what were the biggest challenges with humidity in the home and how could we best protect against it.
After our first month in the home, we started to notice small patches of dark stuff on the ceiling. The paint on the walls and the ceilings were all mold resistant paint so we weren’t overly concerned. The days were cloudy and dark and the ceilings were very high. This kept the patches out of site out of mind so to speak. When the sun started to show more the patches did too, they were mold and they were all over the ceilings in every room. We contacted the homeowners to find out how to deal with it and they advised us on the best products to use to get rid of it. It ended up being a big job because we weren’t doing regular maintenance to control it.
Ask About worse case scenarios
The homeowners did tell us how to deal with worse case scenarios for the house, pets, and property. Termites were a big problem in the community they lived in and they had had trouble with termites in the past year. They made sure we knew what to check for and who to contact should any evidence that the termites had returned appear. They were covered by warranty for a termite treatment they had done before the house sit. Our job was to make sure we reported any new activity to the treatment company immediately as their warranty coverage would lapse before they returned home.
They also educated us on what to do if any of us were bit by a snake or stung by a scorpion. All things that were possible but not likely to happen if we were careful and vigilant. The termites did come back and we knew what to do right away, saving the homeowners another bill for another treatment because the warranty was still in effect. We encountered 10 scorpions and several snakes during our stay and none of us were hurt because the homeowners had prepared so well. Now we ask homeowners to tell us what to do in the event of worse case scenarios for the home, pets, and property to ensure we are as prepared on every job as we were in Panama.
The Hardest Part Nothing Could have Prepared us For
As we prepared for our first housesitting assignment, we focused on learning about Panama and how to be good house sitters but there was one important thing that never crossed our minds. How much we would come to love the pets. Six months is a long time to build bonds with dogs! The homeowners did have a concern about one of their dogs, he was a fear biter and they were worried how he would be with Mak (he had never been around kids before). He had a bit of an adjustment period, but it didn’t take long for him to make friends with all of us and especially Makai. Maks favorite place we have visited so far is Panama because of that little dog.
We really enjoyed our time house sitting in Panama. Being our first house sitting experience and also, a long term assignment we knew it would be a great learning experience as well. We were lucky that our homeowners prepared us with so much detailed information to refer to if we needed during our stay. Here is some of the useful information they set us up with:
A file containing important information about the house and property
- Names and numbers for friends who could help us in the community and emergency contacts for a doctor, and dentist.
- Detailed account of the gardeners responsibilities
- A clear definition of our responsibilities for the property, home, and maintenance of certain machinery.
- Maps of the community including places to find supplies for the home and dispose of garbage.
- Maps of town showing grocery stores, local hospital, hardware stores, and post office. There were copies of the maps in the vehicle we were insured to use as well.
- Warranties for termites treatment and important machines (generator) with maintenance and usage instructions.
- Wi-Fi passwords and contact information for cable and wireless company.
A file for the dogs
- Emergency contact numbers including vets name and number.
- A calendar with important dates for vaccinations, vet appointments, grooming, and flea and tick medication.
- A list of medications and things to monitor about the dogs.
- Maps showing the vet and where to buy food and medications.
A file for the Vehicle
- Schedule for routine maintenance and maps to the appropriate dealership.
- warranty and insurance information (copies in the vehicle as well).
- Legal documents entitling us to use the vehicle.
Now we ask long term house sit homeowners to prepare this information for us before they leave us in charge of their home. With long term house sitting assignments, it is hard to prepare for every eventuality. Having information like the homeowners in Panama had ready for us will make you feel more prepared to deal important dates, emergencies, and regular maintenance. Asking any and all questions you have to dig deeper to find out more about the weather, persistent issues in the home that need routine maintenance and worse case scenarios will help you avoid some surprises as well.
If you have more questions about house sitting, I wrote a detailed post with answers to 20 of the most popular questions we are asked on the subject. You can check it out here.
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