Choosing a Housesitter in Las Tablas, Panama

WyzerA few months back, I wrote about our search for someone to stay with our dogs while we traveled back to the US this spring.

After uploading our request to the Trusted Housesitters site, I was astonished to see 30 applications slam into my inbox in the same number of hours.

It seems like a lot of people wanted the chance to visit Panama and Las Tablas!

48 hours later, I had to turn off the stream. I wasn’t sure how I’d pick through the applications I’d already received.

It was not an easy task!

Make a List

First, I sat down with my husband and we made a list of the most important criteria we were looking for. Yours will be different, but we wanted a non-smoker with:

  • Excellent references
  • A background check
  • Some experience living in Central America already
  • Some Spanish
  • A valid driver’s license

First, we eliminated people who applied but noted they weren’t available for the dates we needed. We had a half dozen like that, people who wanted us to consider them for future gigs but were already committed for the time slot.

Next, we eliminated everyone who didn’t meet the guidelines outlined above.

That brought our list to seven candidates, a much more manageable number.

One of those candidates was a husband and wife that I already knew online. She maintains a blog of their travels through Central America, but I didn’t know they were available for housesitting. Because I already knew them, and because Trusted Housesitters had given me a free pass to check them out and write about them, I felt it wouldn’t be right to select this couple.

Note to expat/travel bloggers: If you want housesitting gigs, feature that information prominently on your site!

Review the Information

We looked over the six remaining candidates, read their bios, references and emails again, and knocked two more off the list.

One was extremely well qualified with superb references, but he needed a decision faster than I felt we’d be able to make one because he was pursuing another gig with overlapping dates.

The other never responded to my email asking for more information.

Face to Face Interviews

I contacted the four remaining candidates and arranged for Skype interviews with each of them. Just as you need boots on the ground to explore a new country, you need some face-to-face interaction with someone before you entrust them with your pets and your home.

Before the interviews, I was leaning strongly toward one candidate, who looked really good on paper. When it came to the interview, though, we just didn’t click. I also felt she was bossy and a bit demanding and might require a lot of extra work on my part.

Another candidate was fine, and well qualified with glowing recommendations. We’d included him in the final round because he’s traveled extensively all over the world. In the end, we knocked him off the finals list because he had no prior experience with Central America.

The last two were both Americans, both were already in Central America, and came well recommended.

We were coming into the home stretch.

With only two candidates left on the list, it was time for my husband to play a more active role. We set up a time for him to interview the first candidate.

Why didn’t we do it together? you may be wondering. . . Because he was actually traveling at the time I was doing the first round of interviews, so it wasn’t possible.

After his first Skype chat, my husband called me and said, “I like her, I don’t see any reason to talk to this other person. Let’s go ahead with her.”

Bingo!

Another Round of Emails

I sent a quick email to tell Ashley that we would love to have her housesit for us, and she accepted right away.

After that, I contacted the remaining candidates to let them know how much we appreciated their interest, but we’d made another choice.

Staying in Touch

I stayed in touch with Ashley pretty regularly between that time and our departure date. We each had questions for the other, and at some point we wanted to extend our US stay and had to be sure the new dates would work for her. (Fortunately, they did!)

She had plenty of questions for us, too.

The Trusted Housesitters site recommends that you enter into a contract with your chosen housesitter. (They even provide a sample contract.)

We didn’t feel it was necessary to do that, but we did exchange emails where we outlined our expectations pretty clearly, along with what we would provide and what we expected her to take care of. A contract is only as effective as the goodwill of the people involved, after all.

Preparing for Departure

We asked Ashley to arrive several days before our departure so we could show her around the area, introduce her to some of our friends, and give the dogs a chance to get to know her. That worked out well for all of us.

In the next installment, I’ll tell you what we found when we arrived home . . .

Comments

  1. How terrific to have such an overwhelming response to your ad and a good pool of candidates to select from. As occasional housesitters ourselves it’s important to have an opportunity to get acquainted with the house and pets a day or two before departure and also some contact numbers in case of emergencies. You can also make sure your animal is comfortable with the person you’ve selected and it all contributes to a worry-free vacation!

  2. Excellent advice. As an expat home owner and house sitter I know how overwhelming the response to a listing can be, especially to the first time home owner and particularly if your home is in a “wish list location using this practical and logical review process will take the pain (and panic) out of the whole selection process. Another important point some applicants overlook is visa/travel requirements, they only “see” the opportunity to visit an exotic and “sexy” location. I once had a couple apply for my six month assignment who could only remain in the country for a max of three months when I pointed this out they were very surprised ….. “Oh hadn’t thought of that” In eight years of successfully engaging great sitters of across the globe the biggest problem I ever have, albeit a positive one (oxymoron) is choosing just one from the excellent caliber of applicants I really dislike disappointing anyone, especially great house sitters like myself:))

  3. Great post taking you through the process a home owner goes through. As a full-time house sitter myself, it is great to know how it is from the other side. We have shared this article in our Facebook group of house sitters and home owners, which you are very welcome to join at House Sitting World (group not page).

    My partner Jodie and I publish a mobile magazine ‘House Sitting World’ and I would love to publish this article in the magazine as I feel it is invaluable information for house sitters and home owners alike. Please email me if this is of interest to you 🙂

    Warm regards
    Nat

  4. Mike Carlson says:

    Suzanna, Just read your IL article about your Las Tablas experience; well done.

  5. My wife and I moved to Panama in January of this year. We rented a home for the first 5 months in the pueblo of Santa Fe, Veraguas, where we have purchased property to build on one day. In the meanwhile, I am working on building up my internet writing and illustration business and am always looking to save money where I can. For that reason, a month ago we accepted a housesitting opportunity on the outskirts of the village. We care for a beautiful new home and a dog and a cat. Because I am fairy fluent in Spanish and my wife loves animals, we seemed like a good fit to the owners of this home. As non-smokers, non-drinkers with language fluency, permanent residencies, and Panamanian drivers licenses, we actually think most folks would find us to be desirable housesitters. The family who left us to care for their home, had us spend a week in their guest home on the same property prior to their departure. This allowed the animals to gain a great level of comfort with us and it gave the family a chance to get to know us a little better. It now appears that until the day we are ready to build and move into our own home, we will have this housesitting gig for 6 months out of the year for as long as we want it. We are now thinking that we will explore other housesitting opportunities for the other 6 months out of the year. This will allow us to get to know other parts of Panama (and maybe Costa Rica) while keeping our costs down. If you or anyone reading this would like to consider us for housesitting, we’d be happy to check our future availability. At the moment, we are booked through the end of October. We can be contacted at mdrhoda@gmail.com.
    Thanks for another great article. We can’t wait to read “the rest of the story.”
    Take care – Mike & Julie Rhoda (Santa Fe, Veraguas, Panama)

  6. Wonderful guide to find a housesitter. Soon I will be starting the process of finding a person to housesit our house in AGUADULCE, Province of Cocle. Thank you for the valuable hints.
    Thank you and regards, Betty bmpf21@hotmail.com

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