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Passionate experience junkie. Lover of the arts and architecture. Want to see and share the world, one village at a time.

Should You Pay for Utilities While House Sitting?

I recently got an email from a customer, John, who had purchased THE HOUSE SITTING BOOK from me. (“A wonderful book,” he said. Thanks John!) (Editor’s note: The book is no longer available.)

After reading the book, he went through all the correct procedures to land a gig. He lost his desired house sitting assignment over failed negotiations about payment of the home’s utilities while the homeowner was away. The home owner insisted on an amount that John felt was too high.

Why are homeowners asking for payment of utilities?

I have seen this more and more lately – that homeowners are asking for a small payment, presumably to pay for utilities. I suspect that this practice is like an infection. In other words, Mrs. Homeowner wants to post a request for a house sitter. So before she does that, she reads over other posts to find out how it’s done, and sees that a bunch of folks are asking for payment of utilities. Then she wants to get on that bandwagon, too. Why not? If other homeowners are getting some money for utilities, why not me, too? So the practice grows.

This is just speculation on my part. I have no proof of how or why this practice of asking for payment of utilities is growing, but the fact is – it is growing.

House Sitting Travel

What do you do?

First of all, the world of house sitting is not a regulated one. John asked in his email if there were any civic ordinances regarding short-term rentals or any taxation involved. House sitting lives way outside of any regulations. And I say that’s a very good thing! That’s part of what I love about house sitting – that it’s impromptu, unexpected, and up to the wits of folks on opposite ends of the planet to come together in a way they see fit. It’s a bit scrappy at times, I fully admit, but I like it that way. Every assignment is so very different from the last – in every way imaginable.

Conrad and I have turned down assignments for a variety of reasons. One time, we knew we had to turn one down because each time we Skyped with the homeowner, we came away cringing at her flightiness and disorganization.

We’ve been rejected, too. We’ve gotten down to the homeowner’s short list of candidates and then they chose someone else for the assignment. It’s a personality thing.

Remote house sitting in Italy

My point is that the personal nature of house sitting is the great thing about it. We have met some of the coolest homeowners around the world and feel richer for it. We’ve met some kooky people too, and one unnamed one that we don’t care to meet again! House sitting is an experience full of real, enriching experiences.

You know darn well that putting regulations on house sitting would zap the life out of it, turning it into a sterile white room, wiped clean of any possible germs.

So, should you pay for utilities?

We have paid for utilities while house sitting. The situation was a long-term house sit in which the homeowners were setting up a new home in another country and not sure if they wanted to sell the original house. We liked them. We felt a kindred spirit with them. And we understood that the expense of their project must be huge, so we agreed to a monthly amount. While negotiating our amount, we brought them down from their original request by almost $100/month – to $150.

House sitting in Baltimore, Maryland

The nice family that moved to Italy, leaving us to care for their home in the States

The decision has to be up to you whether or not to consider house sitting assignments where they’re asking you to pay utilities. Conrad and I look at every house sitting assignment with new eyes. Is it in the right location? Good length of time? Close to public transportation? Do we like the homeowners?

Immersion travel picking olives in Italy

Olives in Romantic Tuscany

We do have a list of necessary criteria for every house sit and I have to say we’ve broken every one! Why? Because the other traits of the assignment were so desirable. Like the time we took a 10-day assignment in gorgeous Tuscany where there was no internet. Two of our criteria were broken – we don’t take any house sits less than six weeks and we must have internet. So why did we take it? Because the home was a 1,000 year-old renovated church, complete with a dome in the living room. And because the deal was this – that for three days work harvesting their olives, we could stay for free. Harvesting olives! How cool is that! We had a blast harvesting the olives and kept pinching ourselves as we looked out over the breathtaking Tuscan hills, feeling like we were locals. As the sun set across the rows of majestic cypress trees, we had wine while gazing out the arched brick doorway.

House sitting travel

Rake the olives with a “comb” and they fall off into nets on the ground.

Immersion house sitting in tuscany

The view out our door in Tuscany

Okay, back to utilities. I can’t tell you which way to go, only that the negotiation process should be part of the challenge – and even fun. My father always said, “Everything’s negotiable,” and I have found it to be true. The searching-out process, the back-and-forth negotiating, the adventure of it all, is all good in my estimation. You win some, you lose some.

Approach every house sitting assignment with a traveler’s spirit – you know – that attitude I see every day from all you bloggers out there. It goes something like this:

I love the unexpected. I’m willing to listen to any story from any person. I’m ready to be amazed by people and places I don’t yet know. Bring it on!

I wish you happy and safe travels

~JosieHouse sitting for immersion and remote travel

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22 Responses to “Should You Pay for Utilities While House Sitting?”

  1. I haven’t been exposed much to the world of house sitting, so this was an interesting post to read. I guess there is so much both parties have to agree on before committing to an assignment… Also, that view out the door in Tuscany is wonderful!
    Pola (@jettingaround) recently posted..Ticket Giveaway: On Location Tours [Ends 10/31/2012]My Profile

    October 11, 2012 at 1:38 am Reply
    • Thanks Pola!

      October 11, 2012 at 7:22 am Reply
  2. jan #

    I would weigh up all the variables before I would agree to pay utilities. How much work would they expect us to do, how expensive would transport be? If they left us their car I would probably entertain paying something toward utilities.

    How good are those olives – they look like luscious grapes – I want to eat them!
    jan recently posted..PragueMy Profile

    October 11, 2012 at 3:27 am Reply
    • Good advice Jan, and yes, there’s a lot to consider. And doing the due diligence up front ensures a successful house sit.
      The olives are beautiful but awful to taste at this stage — and hard as marbles! These are olives that will be pressed for their oil. We came away with yummy olive oil!

      October 11, 2012 at 7:27 am Reply
  3. Donald #

    If you are house sitting in an apartment in a bit city with only plants to water and nothing else to do then I think it is only reasonable to pay utilities and even cover part of the mortgage or maintenance fees as there are many HOA sticky rules that don’t allow rentals and this is often the only creative option that condo owners have if they have to go away and want to cover some of their expenses.
    Or course, if it involves a pet then there is more “work” involved and the house sitter should pay less accordingly.
    Both parties should be in agreement of the arrangement and be happy that both is benefitting.
    I am curious to see if any condo owners have had to opt for this solution.

    December 7, 2012 at 11:07 pm Reply
    • Hi Donald,
      Good point about the amount of work being done on a house sit. And you are right that a condo owner has more to consider, because of HOA rules, their maintenance fees, etc. Before we take an assignment, all parties sign contracts after we negotiate all these aspects. It’s a necessity when house sitting! Everybody’s happier when all those aspects are discussed and decided up front. Thanks for bringing up some good points.
      ~Josie

      December 8, 2012 at 6:55 am Reply
  4. Until recently we lived in a 3500 sq ft, 6 bedroom house in the hills overlooking San Francisco. When we traveled, our utilities ran about $50/mo. When we were home in the winter, they were closer to $450/mo.

    We had no pets and no plants. Landscaping was taken care of by a professional. We considered house swaps, but I can guarantee we would not have done it if we had to pay $400 for someone to stay in our house for free…

    As it happens, we decided to sell that house and move to Ecuador. Our utilities here are under $100 during the coldest months, so this isn’t as much of an issue now.

    October 20, 2014 at 12:14 pm Reply
    • Hi Burt,
      What a great point — and proves yet again that each person’s story is different. I certainly can’t blame you for not wanting to incur the extra utility charges. Especially when a house sitter was unnecessary!
      And now you’re in Ecuador! I hear great things about the country’s beauty, low-cost living and sweet people. Do you venture out now to house sit, and have house sitters stay in your home there?
      Good to meet you here, and welcome!
      Josie

      December 11, 2014 at 8:31 am Reply
  5. Great post Josie… yet again! We have never paid for utilities but that is about to change in Greece where the property is massive and utilities are just so expensive there. We have the property longer term (5-6 months) so I would expect to pay for them. Our feeling has been that on longer sits we would expect to pay of them. But I love how you have broken your own rules about taking sits along the journey… everything is negotiable… even you!! 😉 And having the opportunity to harvest olives in Tuscany… I would too!!
    Nat Smith recently posted..Saving with In-Country Flight Bookings – Peruvian Air & Star PeruMy Profile

    October 20, 2014 at 1:18 pm Reply
    • Thank you Girlfriend! Yes, part of what we love about house sitting is that each one is unique.
      Josie

      December 11, 2014 at 8:23 am Reply
  6. Here in Fiji, we’re paying for the extra internet bandwidth that we require beyond the owners’ basic plan. It’s a steal compared with what we paid in the U.S. – and only somewhat less reliable by comparison. It seemed reasonable when we discussed terms, and it has been. I think your recommendation to remain open-minded and willing to negotiate is the best alternative.
    Betsy Wuebker | PassingThru recently posted..Fiji and the Pursuit of HappinessMy Profile

    October 20, 2014 at 2:09 pm Reply
    • Hey Betsy,
      Thanks so much for adding your take on the “pay or not pay” issue. In your case, everybody wins. Open communication is always the key!
      Josie

      December 11, 2014 at 8:19 am Reply
  7. Hey Josie,

    In 4 years of House Pet Sitting we have never paid for any utilities. However thats not to say we wouldn’t if a sit arose that we felt was a great fit for us and it was a requirement. Personally I feel if animal care is involved then I would not pay any utilities. However if it was a long term sit with no animal care and not much property care in a place I desired then I would certainly consider it.

    April 12, 2015 at 10:59 pm Reply
    • Hi Gavin and Welcome!
      I agree with your assessment. And as you know from 4 years of house sitting, (congrats!), every assignment requires consideration of the situation!
      Josie

      April 13, 2015 at 7:36 am Reply
  8. As you’ve pointed out everything is negotiable and I totally agree with your comment that housesitting is “impromptu, unexpected, and up to the wits of folks on opposite ends of the planet to come together in a way they see fit”. The bottom line is there is no definitive answer re paying utilities as each assignment IS different and so too are the circumstances. (Great post!)
    Dianne Burns recently posted..Belfries & MarketsMy Profile

    April 13, 2015 at 2:10 am Reply
    • Hi Dianne,
      Thanks! I appreciate you!
      Josie

      April 13, 2015 at 7:39 am Reply
  9. Absolutely perfect answer! It totally depends on the house and the home owners. We don’t pay for bills on principle now – the home owners save so much on kennels and you’ve got to pay to actually get there. BUT there is such a massive spectrum of house sits – from ones where you do so much free labour and feel like they should pay you, to ones where you don’t have to do anything and feel like you should pay them!

    That tuscany olive house sit!! Looks amazing 🙂 very jealous
    Laura recently posted..Five Reasons to House Sit in ItalyMy Profile

    April 13, 2015 at 4:19 am Reply
    • Hi Laura and Welcome!
      Thanks! I love that there are so many people house sitting. It’s a movement that proves good things about everyone involved.
      Thank you for adding your voice and your experience.
      Josie

      April 13, 2015 at 7:42 am Reply
  10. Sounds like you’ve had some great experiences Josie and thank you for your interesting thoughts on paying utility bills whilst housesitting. I wholeheartedly agree with you that it is better not to set hard and fast rules and to treat each case on its individual merits.

    My wife and I have undertaken 7 house sits in the UK in the last 6 months and have another 9 booked up between now and next mid-July. It is a terrific way to explore, plus we get to stay in some fabulous homes and get to look after some wonderful pets.

    In my view, I wouldn’t expect to pay any contribution if the house sit/ pet sit was short term, say up to a month or six weeks. For longer term house sits, I think it gets more complicated. If we were looking after pets, I probably wouldn’t expect to pay towards utility bills on the basis the owner would be paying for kennelling or a cattery if we were not there, so us being present still saves them money.

    If it was just a house sit with no pets and long term, I would probably be happy paying a proportion of the utility bills but not the whole amount, as the owner would still incur some utility charges if the house sitters were not present. Personally, I wouldn’t be uncomfortable having a conversation with the homeowners about the benefits of having a house sitter present: reduced insurance bills; improved security with the house being clearly occupied; maintenance of the gardens – mowing lawns, watering prized plants; early intervention in the event of leaking pipes or other domestic crises; watering and care of indoor plants etc.

    As Josie says, each case is different but I hope my comments add to the discussion.

    August 3, 2015 at 4:53 am Reply
    • Hi Lynn and Brian,
      Thanks and Welcome! I appreciate your well-thought-out comment about paying/not paying utilities.
      Wishing you lots of happy house sits, and hope you find new pet friends, too!
      Josie

      August 3, 2015 at 7:01 am Reply
  11. I house sat a few times in Australia for 5 weeks the longest. I think it all depends on what you are expected to do with household and pet sitting. If there are pets to look after and other minor works I wouldn’t personally agree to pay for utilities. However it is always something that must be evalutated from case to case and see what are the benefits offered in exchange. I loved reading about your fanstastic experience in Tuscany and the insight about this topic, thanks for sharing!

    November 3, 2015 at 5:46 am Reply
    • Hi Michela — and Welcome!,

      House sitting is inherently a fluid thing, in my opinion. It is not a cookie-cutter room to rent for the night, but entering into other peoples’ lives. It’s a relationship, and as such means every one is different. That’s a beautiful thing!

      Thank you for illustrating this fact so well in your nice comment. So glad you stopped by.

      Warm regards,
      ~Josie

      November 3, 2015 at 7:24 am Reply

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