The Trouble With Caretakers

So are you “stuck” in the Big City? You make a great salary and can afford to buy a retreat, but you can’t telecommute. Finding a trustworthy caretaker for a retreat can be problematic. I have one close friend who has a large, very elaborately prepared retreat in the Inland Northwest: A big house, shop, springs, ponds, a year round creek with a micro-hydro generator, photovoltaics, diesel and gas storage, you name it. My friend found a man from the local church who agreed to be a renter/caretaker. He charged him just a nominal sum for rent, with the understanding that the difference would be made up in the effort required to keep up the property. Just watering and pruning the dozens of fruit and nut trees is a big chore.

He has had a live-in caretaker for four years. There was some confusion at first about whether the caretaker was a renter, with a renter’s expectations of privacy, or a house sitter, with no expectation of privacy. Late in the first year of their arrangement, the caretaker insisted that the owner give six months notice before taking a two-week vacation at his own retreat! This may sound comical, but it really happened. Finally, a year later, after eliminating the rent entirely, the owner came to an agreement whereby he can use his retreat with just 30-day notice. Don’t make the same mistake. Instead, make each party’s rights and responsibilities perfectly clear from the outset. And do not confuse the renter versus employee relationships. Your caretaker must be entirely one or the other, or you are bound to have difficulties.

When selecting a caretaker, it is important to find someone committed to staying long-term, someone of like faith that you can trust with certainty, and someone who has practical skills and who is not afraid to get his hands dirty or paint-stained.