Last updated on April 24th, 2018 at 12:00 pm
Our first long term house sitting job was a six-month assignment in Los Altos de Cerro Azul, a semi-remote mountain community 45 minutes from Panama City, Panama. We were so excited to get this house sitting 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 off at the airport the next day and our first house sitting 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 house sitting 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 batten 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 sight 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 of Long Term House Sitting
As we prepared for our first house sitting job, 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. Mak's 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 of friends who could help us in the community and emergency contacts for a doctor, and dentist.
- A detailed account of the gardener's 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 for 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 were in the vehicle as well).
- Legal documents entitling us to use the vehicle.
Now we ask the homeowners of all of our long term house sitting assignment to prepare this information for us before they leave us in charge of their home. Long term house sitting is very different than just a 2-week house sit and it is very 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 house sitting questions we are asked.
For a more detailed guide to house sitting please feel free to sign up for our free e-course.
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Emily in Ecuador
What a fun way to see the world, Tracey! I am an expat in Ecuador and I laughed when you mentioned neglecting to mention weather because it is business as usual. Where I live we are currently in our dry season. Tourists visiting now complain that it’s always cloudy and I reply that yes, it is always cloudy this time of year (but we get no rain). They ask when it is sunny and I explain that it is sunny during the rainy season (when it only rains overnight). This confuses people to no end.
Enjoy your house sitting travels!
Agness of eTramping
Detailed, informative and enlightening post, Tracey! Great read!
A very informative and entertaining story Tracey,
We’ve been housesitting mostly back to back in Australia, New Zealand, UK & Europe for around 10 months now and these have been the most brilliant, rewarding experiences we could have ever imagined. We talked about it for ages and now we are doing it. Currently we’re on a 2 month house sit in Brittany, France.
Your advice is very topical and well worth housesitters and homeowners keeping in mind. We always maintain solid connection with our homeowners prior to our arrival and have a check list of questions, which is a work in progress. We hadn’t considered weather conditions so we’ll keep that in mind.
6 months is indeed a long time to look after animals without falling in love with them. I struggle with that after just a week! And managing home maintenance issues is more significant over the longer term.
Thanks for sharing this post Tracey, and best wishes for your future house sitting adventures.
So glad you enjoyed the article Sue! Sounds like you guys are house sitting pros now with lots of fun experiences to your credit. You are so right when you say managing home maintenance issues are more significant over the long term. It was lucky that we encountered all the things we did on our first house sit! Great lessons learned early on. Best wishes for your future house sitting adventures as well.
Thanks for the tips! We will be housesitting in Panama next month, so I appreciate the advice.
No problem Linda! Enjoy your house sit and I hope the weather is good for you guys!
Grey World Nomads
Thanks for your list of questions to ask. It’s very helpful.
We are house sitting in Kenya at the moment and realize we should have asked more about the surroundings and how safe it is to move around. We didn’t get a car to use and moving by foot doesn’t seem a good idea as it doesn’t look safe at all. The house is a villa, but as you leave the door, you get into a township like environment. Luckily we wont be longer house sitting than six weeks … but that can feel veeeeery long.
Greetings from Kenya
You are so welcome. Sounds like a challenging sit in Kenya! I hope everything goes okay for you guys.
What an amazing experience, and so lucky to get it for six months! That must have felt amazing after travelling from one place to the next for so long, despite the challenges.
I’ve never done house-sitting before, but these are all good pointers about how to prepare for it if it comes up in the future, so thank you for sharing your experience 🙂
What awesome tips! This was quite the adventure, thanks for sharing what you learned! We are a worldschooling family, too, and looking at our first house sitting experience next year. We’ll definitely heed your advice.
Housesitting is such a rewarding way to travel. Doing so immerses you directly into local culture. We were so excited to land our first assignment we didn’t think of important questions to ask before our homeowners departure. Lucky for us the homeowners were so organized and prepared, they taught us so much about things we needed to know before accepting any assignment. I am glad you found the tips helpful!
Brian & Lynn Moore
Brilliant advice Tracey and very helpful. My wife and I run an online business, so we can work from anywhere with a decent WiFi connection and heard about house sitting and pet sitting in March. Since then we have used it to explore the UK looking after some fantastic houses and beautiful pets in Cornwall, Cheltenham, Surrey, Lancashire, Somerset and the Chilterns, and we are off to Hampshire next, then Essex.
So far, we have looked after a Pointer puppy, a lovely cat in Surrey for 3 weeks, a Bichon Frise/Shih Tzu cross breed dog, a beautiful black short haired cat in Lancashire for 3 weeks, a Wheaten Terrier, two mixed breed dogs and a variety of chickens, ducks, geese, fish, rabbits and even a giant African Land Snail.
We are now looking for some longer term house sitting assignments and have built our own house and pet sitting website, so it will be interesting to see if we get any enquiries via the new site over the coming months or have to keep relying on sites like trustedhousesitters.
I just wish we had started doing this years ago!!!
We wish we had started housesitting years sooner too, Brian. It sounds like you have been busy in the UK! That’s awesome, for you guys and the pets:) Having your own site is a great way to take advantage of referral opportunities. We have business cards for our site and make sure we leave a few with homeowners and pass them along in the communities we housesit. So many people have never heard of housesitting and its cool to see the lightbulb go on for some when Rob and I explain what we do as housesitters. Having a house sitter come to take care of things saves so much money in kennel fees and added insurance and homeowners recognize that.
I have been preparing to do some long term house sitting soon. This is helpful stuff to consider. I have done loads of short term house and pet sitting from 1 night to a couple weeks but there is a lot more to consider and go over when it’s for a long time like that! I’ll definitely save this information when I make a list of questions for the home owners
Hey Brittany, it is great you have some experience with shorter sits before doing anything more long term. With house sitting, it is hard to prepare for every eventuality but asking good questions can really help house sitters when problems arise.
Oh some very useful tips on what to look out for before starting a housesit. We are currently housesitting in New Zealand and indeed, there are a lot of unforeseen things that one would usually not think of. I also noticed how important it is to agree on ‘terms’ before starting.
Can’t wait to get over to Central – & Southamerica.
Have a lovely day 🙂
Agreeing on terms is definitely a must before starting a house sit. There are lots of housesits in central America! We really enjoyed our time in Panama and would definitely do more house sits in that area of the world.
Great article and I sincerely mean it. I am adding it to our list of helpful house sitting resources. Thanks!
Thanks so much Elena! I love it when readers can benefit from our experiences.
Awesome sauce! Way cool breakdown and how bout those scorpions!
We are on a 6 month sit in Bali now. Hill country in the Bukit. The homeowner was meticulous so we are well prepared but even at that, we had to face down a spitting cobra who killed chickens, a fun-loving but chicken killing dog – she’s a HUGE Rotty who’s killed 3 already – and also, we had a pet die on us, and 1 disappear, so yeah, even with tons of prep, crazy things may happen in snake/wildlife country in Bali.
We saw 2 scorpions inside so far, but they were tiny. Also, a possible krait siting a few months back, eating a frog while one of the house cats was 2 inches away…craziness! But we are having a blast and yep, the homeowner did an awesome job prepping us for every possible scenario. She’s a goodie!
Sounds like you’re having an exciting house sit Ryan!! You’re taking all of the challenges in stride as well, born to be a house sitter I would say:) Of course, it makes a huge difference if the homeowner has done enough due diligence e to prepare you for come what may, right? Bets of luck to you guys! Keep on staying safe:)
What a beautiful location!! It must have been quite an experience to live there. Very interesting article, too! My brother and his family will be living in France next year, so I will advice him of this article, since he will have to prepare his house-sitter. My blog is about home (an eclectic exploration of the idea of home), so I find your living arrangement especially fascinating. I wonder how this experience of house sitting has affected your idea of home, and what home means to you? Great post, and take care! 🙂
It was so beautiful Carina! We definitely learned a lot about housesitting and the challenges of life and maintaining a property in a tropical climate.I hope your brother finds the info helpful. A year in France sounds so exciting! Traveling continuously for a year has definitely helped us feel home is where the heart is, just us together although we really miss our dog. Housesitting has really cemented the home on the road feeling and helped with missing our pet as we have been caring for homeowners pets and homes over Christmas and for birthdays and holidays.
No problem Liz, glad you found the article helpful.