trendysomething in somo
House sitting becomes the twentysomething's timeshare — outrageous pet dutiesincluded
The real estate landscape for the fresh-out-of-college set can be, at best, bleak. Having over a year between commencement and CultureMap, I've endured the gamut of real estate woes: two rejections from parents in an attempt to move home while unemployed, a pet eviction, a rent hike and a landlady who's just not that into me.
In this quagmire of a market, in which vomit-stained carpet, swiped bottles of Tito's and passive aggressive tweets from roommates are par for the course, the occasional escape becomes necessary. But with limited funds, the "non voyage" has taken the place of tequila-drenched weekends in Cabo and soul-searching jaunts through southeast Asia.
So what's the stir-crazy frugalista to do? When bed and breakfasts are beyond your budget and timeshares won't be in reach until after the Great Recesh, the best option is to go back to your roots, and house sit — that tradition of bartering simple domestic responsibilities in exchange for temporary access to a slice of refreshing real estate.
It always comes as a surprise how quickly a simple weekend spent protecting an elder's property can rapidly unravel into a descent into high school-style behavior. Before you know it, you have a rager on your hands, in which peers entitle themselves to hot tubs, impromptu DJs and breaking into the parents' stash of (fill in the blank).
Like a strong Pimm's Cup or hot stone massage, sticking it out in an unfamiliar house can sometimes relieve inhibitions. Whereas making small talk at a local coffee shop may normally be far out of character, suddenly you find yourself picking up strangers with lines like, "Want to meet a really mean cat that's not mine?" and luring them back to your ad-hoc home with such stunners as, "For a limited time, I have access to over 300 TV channels."
And then the antics ensue. Recently, a friend was keeping track of a kitten at a prominent Houston family's penthouse, in which after 11:45 p.m., one has to locate a security guard to be granted entrance — a potentially awkward experience when you arrive disheveled after an "ill-advised hookup situation" at 5:30 a.m.
Pampering pets is often on the to-do list in these situations. While house sitting for her sorority's chapter advisor, another friend had to take care of two ancient Boston terriers, an 85-pound boxer mutt and two cats. "The requirements were outlandish," she explains, "I had to sleep in their bed, crush up various medications and mix them with vanilla pudding."
Another friend was the victim of a sting operation conducted by a friend of the family whose house she was watching: "I hadn't cleaned the litter box that morning and the cat was throwing up all over the house. I received a two-page letter about how I was not doing my job.
"We're still not speaking," she concludes.
Being "checked up on" can be a sticky situation indeed. On Saturday night, I volunteered to fill in for an otherwise-distracted friend's house-sitting obligations. I made the experience more manageable by making it into a small-scale slumber party, which was interrupted the following morning at about a quarter past fellatio'clock by the friend's older sister, who proceeded to search under the bed for knitting supplies to create a baby blanket.
House sitting doesn't have to be this complicated. I recently devised a formula for determining how your experience will play out:
∫h2 = c^3 ± a ⋇ (⊥b - ∞d)
It's a practice in cribs calculus, with "h" standing for "house sitting happiness quotient;" "c," "number of champagne corks caught in the pool filter;" "a," "bottles of host's alcohol consumed;" "b," "number of beds utilized;" and "d," "number of house pets deceased."
The Vespa Invasion
My most egregious experience in keeping an eye on a home occurred while studying abroad in Barcelona, on the weekend that my host mother took a pleasure trip to San Sebastian for the weekend, Hemingway-style, leaving me in control of the casa. Even I impressed myself with how many bottles of cava I was able to cram into our modestly sized European fridge (46), but the champagne blow out that ensued found a slew of partiers descending upon the flat, which was nestled in a quiet, elite 18th-century suburb that cringed at the sight of hordes of Vespas parking at their doorsteps.
Before I knew it, strangers were breaking into my señora's Tanqueray and rolling up 100 Euro notes for all the wrong reasons. By sunrise, the guests had passed out all over the house — including my host mom's bed.
It was a dark, rainy night when I returned late from class on Monday. I thought I'd left the house spotless, but apparently a clue — a single olive under a coffee table — revealed that I'd entertained a crowd. A dramatic conversation — the kind that could only be exchanged in a medieval language like Catalan — ensued, heightened by a lightening strike and a power outage.
I was told that I would have to go.
After an official appearance before the Cort d'Honor at the Universitat de Barcelona (in which I signed a document admitting to my bash), I was relocated to another home in a gritty part of town — the final clue that I needed my own place, which I promptly located.
And so the true lesson of real estate was learned the hard way: No matter how momentarily freeing or glamorous house sitting is, it doesn't beat the freedom of a room of one's own.