Let’s Get Real about Housesitting in Nicaragua


“Whenever you go on a trip to visit foreign lands or distant places, remember that they are all someone’s home and backyard.”
― Vera Nazarian

our houseHonestly, we have never had a problem finding housesitters. Who wouldn’t want to stay on a tropical island in the middle of a sweet sea, in the middle of Nicaragua, in the middle of Central America?

In fact, as you read this, we are in the United States and we have another awesome housesitter. We travel often and because we have a dog and two cats and a home in a developing country, we always have a need for responsible sitters.

After several years of planning for housesitters, I have the housesitting routine down pat. So, let me share with you some of the things I have learned when preparing for sitters.

Let’s Get Real about Housesitting in Nicaragua

1. Where do we find housesitters?

Housesitting has become an industry. Books have been written, new housesitting websites pop up daily, housesitters diligently prepare blogs and websites to advertise their services, and internet forums have been created to discuss problems and successes.

The Housesitting Directory

I joined Housecarers.com when we were newbies looking for housesitters mainly because it was free for homeowners. Within ten hours of posting, I had over 50 responses on this website. We were specifically looking for a couple who had traveled though Central America and could communicate in Spanish.

Out of the 50 responses, only two were couples and neither of them could speak Spanish. The competition was fierce and they hounded me to consider them, even though I had listed specific requirements to meet our needs.

So, although the housesitting websites may be useful for most homeowners, I found them to be time-consuming and irritating because I had to respond to each unqualified person who applied to housesit for us. They begged and pleaded for me to give them this opportunity. “I am a responsible 20 year-old.” “I don’t speak Spanish, but I am a fast learner.” “I’ve never been to Central America, but I know I can do this if you give me a chance.”  Then I closed my housesitting page and my blogging friend from Panama and her husband stayed at our house.

Now, we find housesitters through recommendations of our friends that live in Nicaragua. We’ve had some housesitters who post on expat Facebook forums that they are in Nicaragua and looking for housesitting positions in the area. And, we have a network of friends that have stayed with us as guests and are willing to return to sit for us.

2. Questions to ask housesitters

Every housesitting gig is different. We live in the country on the shores of a huge lake in an all-Spanish speaking community. Nothing is routine and we live expecting the unexpected. Our electricity blinks off at least once a day, and sometimes for several hours if there is a fiesta in the next village. Utilities are not reliable, the climate is harsh, and language can be a barrier to a successful stay at our house. Below is a list of things I initially ask potential housesitters.

Do you speak a little Spanish?
Can I contact your references?
Do you have experience traveling in a developing country?
Do you like bugs, geckos, scorpions, and mosquitoes?
Do you like hot and humid weather?

If they answer no to the initial questions, especially if they aren’t currently housesitting in Nicaragua, then they are crossed off the list.

If they answer yes to all of the questions, we Skype. Then, we can show them around our house, they can meet our cats and dog virtually, and we can discuss the job in more detail.

3. Preplanning

I am a detailed planner. I made a booklet with all of the important things housesitters need to know about staying in our house and update it . Included in the booklet:
a. Telephone and email addresses of our SKY satellite TV technicians, our internet provider, our closest friends, the veterinarian, the U.S. Embassy, our emergency family contacts, our information and ways to contact us, and local doctors, police, and hospital.

b. Everything they need to know about the care of our cats and dogs including their schedules, food, and even the names of our stray dog friends who come to visit.

c. Where to buy stuff. I have a list of the best places to buy veggies, meat, seafood, cleaning supplies, etc.

d. A list of our bills that need to be paid and how and where to find the bills (usually hanging on our front gate) and pay them. I attach envelopes with the money and last month’s receipts.

e. Vendors who regularly come to our house, and the times and days that they come. Included in the list is our vegetable truck vendor, the ice-cream man, and the weekly nacatamale maker. Depending on the season, we also have an Avon boy, a pots and pan vendor, an herb vendor, a seafood vendor, and even a mattress vendor.

f. A list of not-to-miss places to visit on the island. Part of the fun of being a housesitter is visiting a new and unique place. I don’t expect our housesitters to sit in our house all day. I want them to enjoy their time and see what Ometepe Island has to offer.

g. All about utilities section. I include spaces for them to take notes as we walk them around our house and show them the electric meter and box, the water meter, our gravity fed water tank, etc.

h. All about the neighbors, including their names.

i. Where to find our hidden keys and what doors they go to. I have all the locks and keys color-coded with fingernail polish.

j. Workers. Currently, we have one yard worker and my librarian at my children’s library. I include envelopes with their weekly pay and tell them the days they work and how and when to pay them.

k. Troubleshooting. This is an important section because there is always something to troubleshoot at our house. We’ve had housesitters who had to repair a broken pipe that burst under the sink, or mop up the water when our washing machine overflowed, or fix our toilet handle because it wouldn’t flush, or repair the front gate because the cows rammed through it to get to our green grass. Of course, we can’t anticipate every problem, but we have a list of things to watch for that could be a problem.

l. Miscellaneous: A calendar of our itinerary, where we plan to be on which days, flight numbers, return date, the ferry schedule, and if they are licensed and experienced drivers we leave our documents for our motorcycle and our dune buggy, so they can get around the island.

4. When our housesitters arrive

We have a guest house for our sitters and we like them to arrive at least two days before we leave. That gives us time to walk them through our house and property, answer questions they may have, take them on a tour of the town, as well as get acquainted with our cats and dog.  Then when we leave, they simply move into our house.

5. What we ask our housesitters not to do

We are easygoing people, but there are a couple of things we ask our housesitters not to do.

a. Don’t give our internet password to anyone.
Once our housesitters gave our password to a teenage neighbor so he could do his homework on our porch. They didn’t think anything was wrong with that because they were supervising his internet usage. However the evening we returned, I noticed lots of little lights at our front gate. The next night there were more lights. I discovered that our teenage neighbor had given our password to every teenager in our neighborhood and they were standing at our gate at night on their phones…doing who knows what.

b. Don’t download anything illegal on our internet server.
Once a guest downloaded Game of Thrones illegally. The next day I got a message from my VPN service provider that stated the exact day and time Game of Thrones was downloaded and warned that I could lose my VPN service if it happened again.

c. Don’t complain about the conditions of your housesit on a public Facebook forum.
This irks me. We haven’t had any of our housesitters complain about our house, but here are a few examples on a public forum:

I take an anti-bacterial spray cleaner – amazing how many sits do not seem well-equipped with cleaning materials – and these are handy to do all the worktops and prep areas (inside the microwave – I have seen some real humdingers) if the house does not seem all that sparkling.

We are currently house and pet sitting in UK (we are UK residents anyway) and turned up to find the home stank of dog and was dusty and really grimy. We started cleaning as soon as the owners left as we found we couldn’t live like that. I am allergic to dust and would not leave my home in this state if I knew someone was coming to care for my dogs/home for free. This is not the first time it has happened. I know that pets inevitably means hair as we have had our own dogs in the past, but grimy kitchens/bathrooms etc is just not called for. I would advise that you clean the house to a level you are comfortable with, otherwise it will ruin your stay and don’t buy a gift if you have had to do a lot of housework.

One thing that has made a HUGE difference for us is that we travel with an essential oil diffuser. It cleans the air and removes bad odors. It can make a place feel really clean. We also smudge most places because we’re really sensitive to negative energy.

My response:

As a homeowner living on a tropical island in a developing country, I would like to remind housesitters that sometimes cleaning supplies are not available. I know that I have to make most of my cleaning supplies. Vinegar is fantastic. The other thing that concerns me is the number of housesitters that complain about the lack of cleanliness in their housesits. I could spend all my life trying to clean my house and make it spotless…but it is useless. Living in the tropics in a house that is open to the elements is a challenge. Geckos climb the walls and leave their droppings everywhere. During the dry and windy season, a layer of dust and dirt covers the house several times a day. During the rainy season, the bugs infiltrate every crack inside the house. The dog sheds like crazy…the tile floors have to be swept and mopped several times a day.
So, my advice to newbie housesitters is to consider the location of your housesits. I try to warn the housesitters about tropical living and I don’t expect the house to be spotless when we return because it is impossible. Please be gentle and caring when you complain online about the condition of the housesits. There are many circumstances that are beyond our control.

And another response from a homeowner:

Our house is one of 4 on our 35+ acre farm in Costa Rica. We’ve had a couple of sitters tell us or other people that the houses weren’t clean enough and that they had to do some cleaning upon arrival. We live in the jungle, basically. We have dust in the summers, and mud in the rainy season. Wood around doors and windows shrinks during the summer and swells during the rains. No way to keep insects out (or even birds and lizards for that matter), but we have gotten people who think they’ll love the tropics because they spent 2 weeks here on vacation (hotel, maids, sunshine, restaurants) and enjoyed it. I try hard to get ex-Peace Corps volunteers who’ve spent 2 years in a developing country:) The other point is that some sitters seem to think that all hosts are wealthy, and they’re unhappy at finding a family home, minus many of the conveniences of modern industrialized countries…like TV, dishwashers, weed-wackers (!), Swiffers, clothes dryers, even hot water!. One of our sitters had never used clotheslines. I am a sitter as well as a host, and I get that many people have never lived, let alone tried to keep house, in a “foreign” country and, often, in a different language. Hopefully, they’re looking for adventure and a different experience, but what they’re imagining as picturesque may just be very labor-intensive and even upsetting at times.

d. If you break something, don’t hide it or throw it away. Instead, please tell us or try to replace it. We’ve been really fortunate that we have never had to tell our housesitters not to hide or throw away anything that breaks. They have replaced a blender and a glass Pyrex casserole dish. Stuff happens…we are very understanding.

e. Don’t invite strangers into our home. If you want to have visitors, ask us first. The temptation is too great. Please protect our space.

6. What are our expectations for housesitters?

First and foremost, we want our housesitters to feel comfortable in our home. If it is a long-term stay, I clean out a dresser drawer in our bedroom for their use. I stock the kitchen with all the usual spices and food they will need to prepare their meals. The dog and cat food buckets are filled to the brim and I leave money if they need to buy more pet food.

Second, I want them to experience our lives on Ometepe Island and enjoy their stay. That’s why I leave a list of not-to-be missed places to visit on the island.

IMG_1543I bought an ergonomic office chair and my cats love the box as much as I love my chair. I don’t have the heart to burn the box. Can you tell my pets are spoiled?

Third, we expect them to take loving care of our pets. Our cat, Ocho, doesn’t like strangers. Most of the time when new housesitters arrive, Ocho disappears and doesn’t come back home for several days. My housesitters have been frantic with worry, so I always mention this so that they understand it is not their fault. He always makes his way back home hungry and more affectionate.

Fourth, we don’t want them to spend all their time cleaning the house. I expect them to sweep the floor because it is blanketed with pet hair every morning. I have a new wet/dry vac that they can use now and it will make their lives so much easier.🙂

I think the quote for my post says it all.

“Whenever you go on a trip to visit foreign lands or distant places, remember that they are all someone’s home and backyard.”
― Vera Nazarian

What suggestions do you have if you are a homeowner or a housesitter?

 

 

20 thoughts on “Let’s Get Real about Housesitting in Nicaragua

  1. You are really organized and structured in your house sitter “manual” – I can just imagine how baffled some people might have been by totally unexpected situations. I often write a page full of instructions for whoever takes care of our animals and plants while we are away but haven’t had to deal with a live-in house sitter (yet).

  2. We had such a wonderful time house sitting for you! What a gift to be able to explore your beautiful island and get to know your neighbors. We appreciated you being so organized and prepared, but we were concerned about Ocho the first few days and happy to see him return. And, sorry about the internet password. He may look like a very serious boy trying his best to do his homework, but I won’t fall for that again. I’m glad I can speak Spanish and I love bugs. We saw some gorgeous ones, a few even in the house, and the trees, the plants, the lake, and the sunsets… talk about gorgeous! I hope you are having a great time on your trip, and say hi to Cappy when you return.

    • Haha. I hope you didn’t mind me mentioning about the Internet. It is the little things that we never think about. It is cool in the states, perfect 80 degree weather. We are spending a lot of money and things are so expensive here. I am looking forward to returning home soon.

      • Not at all. You should mention the internet, might help someone else avoid that one. Yes indeed you can go through the money so fast up there. It happened on my trip too. But, I hope you are having lots of fun as well. Happy Travels🙂

  3. After being full-time travelers and occasional housesitters for 3 plus years we’re going to have friends from your part of the world, Eden and Denny, housesit for us in Portugal when we make our annual visit back to the US in August. I’m not sure if we’re as efficient as you, Debbie, but we’re drafting our lists now with phone numbers, maps, places to go, etc. Great idea! Our experiences with housesitting were, for the most part, very positive and this month we’ll be playing host to Dutch sisters that we housesat for (one in Curacao and the other in Costa Rica) and showing them our area. We love the exchange economy and have met some lovely people. Anita

    • Eden and Denny are wonderful people. They have given us several recommendations for house sitters. As I write, they are cruising in your direction. I know you will have piece of mind with them watching over your house. Isn’t it great to be able to make friends with people from all over the world? Glad you can use one of my tips. Enjoy your trip to the states.

  4. Ometepe is an incredibly unique place…as is all of Nicaragua in our opinion🙂 You sound like the ideal home owners, realistic and organized ….not to mention the need to keep the box LOL😻
    Maybe one day our paths will cross as we definitely plan to return….the more we travel the more our heart strings keep pulling us back to Nicaragua ❤️ Have followed your blog for a while now…if you’re inclined check us out at our work in progress : wantingtowander.com
    All the best, Jeremy and Diana

  5. You’re a great resource, Deborah, and even though we wouldn’t qualify to house sit (no Spanish), I always enjoy reading your blog posts aimed at helping people understand expats and life in your area of the world.

    janet

  6. Great information as always Deborah. I house sat in Costa Rica a few years back in a lovely hilltop house with a pair of playful dogs. The Owner, a Belgian retired doctor, was extremely paranoid about being robbed… to excess it seemed to me. Had an electric fence surrounding the property, locks everywhere, and of course, the two very loud dogs.
    I found out half way through the house sit of 10 weeks… that the house was formerly occupied by a local drug dealer ! One of the neighbours kept warning me about how dangerous the area was. The sit became shortened after an unusually heavy rainfall… washed out his driveway and safe access to the house.

    • What a story, Mark! Did the owner know that the house had been occupied by a drug dealer previously? Aren’t you glad the house sit was cut short, even if it was a heavy rain? Thanks for sharing this. I love to hear others experiences when house sitting.

  7. Awesome post! We are not in the tropics — in city of Guanajuato in the mountains of the state of Guanajuato, Mexico — and are, for the first time, considering finding a house-sitter for two months. I really really REALLY appreciate your insights and tips. Gracias!

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