Houseguests: Freeloaders? Or Friends & Family?

By HomeAdvisor

Updated August 23, 2016

Houseguest Pet Peeves

Whether you’re planning a trip for pleasure or work, staying with friends or family has many benefits. You’ll save on hotel expenses, enjoy a homey atmosphere, and get to spend quality time with your hosts. However, there’s a fine line between welcomed guests and obnoxious interlopers – and if you breach certain rules of etiquette, you may not be invited back.

We asked 2,000 people across America to rank their biggest houseguest pet peeves – and to come clean about their own questionable habits. From showing up unannounced to using a few too many towels, bad behavior abounds. Which offenses are the worst? And which generations and regions are more prone to certain behavior?

Get an insider’s view of houseguest behavior and learn how you can be the best houseguest possible.


Worst Houseguest Habits

According to our bevy of hosts and hostesses, two faux pas stand out as the worst of the worst:failing to set a departure date and going through homeowners’ private belongings. Showing up unexpectedly or bringing a guest without checking first won’t win you any points either.

Not a fan of the living room color scheme? Keep your opinions to yourself – because being critical of the hosts’ home also ranks high on the list of pet peeves. Making a mess, smoking, and breaking house rules – all of these behaviors are sure to snag you a spot on the Do Not Invite list.

The habits that ruffle the fewest feathers relate more to what you don’t do than what you do:It turns out your hosts don’t mind all that much if you show up without a gift, neglect to treat them to a meal, or fail to pen a heartfelt thank-you note after your visit. But don’t take that as permission to skip these courtesies: Etiquette expert Emily Post lists all three as musts for houseguests.


Generational Differences

Not everyone has the same take on houseguest behavior: It turns out every generation has its own personal peeves. Snooping bothers Millennials most, Generation Xers can’t stand it when houseguests stick around indefinitely, and Baby Boomers think that showing up unannounced and staying indefinitely are equally obnoxious.

Millennials and Gen Xers are on the same page about which offenses are most annoying, while Baby Boomers have a slightly different take. Both unruly kids and guests who bring pets bother Baby Boomers significantly more than they do the other generations.


Confessions of Houseguests

Admit it – you’ve probably breached a rule of houseguest etiquette or two. Maybe you borrowed a healthy dollop of your host’s favorite shampoo, or perhaps you forgot to make your bed. The good news is you’re not alone. Our respondents came clean about their own bad behaviors – and it turns out nobody’s perfect.

The three top offenses people confessed? Over 7 in 10 have failed to bring a gift, nearly 6 in 10 didn’t send a thank-you note after visiting, and just under half neglected to strip the bedding before they left. Around 4 in 10 showed up earlier than expected, and just slightly fewer failed to foot the bill for a meal or borrowed their host’s toiletries.

On the other hand, fewer than 5 percent of respondents admitted to showing up with a pet or extra guest in tow, letting their children run wild, or criticizing the decor. And over 9 in 10 say they definitely didn’t light up a cigarette, make a mess, watch TV at top volume, or break the house rules.


Which Generations Get Offended?

When it comes to guests behaving badly, every generation is slightly different. Our respondents ’fessed up to their worst habits as houseguests. The main takeaway? Baby Boomers are arguably the best houseguests. Of the 27 offenses we examined, only one was most common to Boomers:failing to ask before cleaning their host’s home. (If this makes you want to invite over every Baby Boomer you know, you’re not alone.)

On the other hand, Millennials admitted to the most faux pas (16 of the 27 offenses!), while Gen Xers are the guiltiest of only nine. Some common Millennial behavior is childlike in nature: making a mess, breaking rules, criticizing the home, being too noisy, and not offering to help out around the house or provide a meal. Gen Xers are the most likely to smoke, snoop through belongings, stay indefinitely, and drink too much.


Ranking Polite Visitors

If you’re staying with friends or relatives, going the extra mile is almost certain to score you an invitation to come back. Going the extra mile means tidying your personal area, being precise about the length of your stay, giving your hosts a present, inquiring about rules, and sending a thank-you note afterward.

Who’s the most likely to adhere to these etiquette guidelines? Across the board, Baby Boomers are the most likely to do every single one – and Millennials are the least likely. Generation Xers fall in the middle. Around 96 percent of Boomers and Gen Xers say they tidy up their spaces, but only 88 percent of Millennials clean.

The most dramatic differences apply to etiquette that some may consider old-fashioned.Nearly 70 percent of Baby Boomers bring a gift, compared with 54 percent of Millennials. And more than 56 percent of Baby Boomers send thank-you letters, but only 32 percent of Millennials do. (And we bet we can guess who’s more likely to handwrite thank-you notes rather than email them!)


Who Shows Up With a Present?

An invitation to stay requests the honor of your presence – not your presents. However, etiquette dictates that bringing a gift for your hosts is good form, even if you’re just staying for dinner. If you’re staying for a weekend (or a week), a thoughtful gift is pretty much a must.

Among visitors all over the country, houseguests from the Northeast are the aptest to bring a present – in fact, 64 percent show up with a gift. Northerners, especially New Yorkers, may walk and talk fast – but when it comes to manners, it seems they slow down and pay attention to the little things.

However, in two areas of the country, only around 54 percent of people give their hosts a present.Midwesterners and Southerners are more likely than not to show up empty-handed.Apparently, Southern charm and Midwest manners don’t extend to all houseguest behavior.


How is Your Behavior?

Finally, we asked respondents to let us know whether they were good or bad houseguests – and then asked them about their behavior. Self-identified “good” guests are less likely to show up unannounced or stick around with no set departure date – and they tend to be neater during their stay. They’re also likelier to send thank-you notes. From the nosy files: Around 1 in 5 self-identified “bad” houseguests confess they’ve rummaged through their hosts’ personal effects, but only around 1 in 10 “good” guests have snooped.

However, sometimes “bad” houseguests aren’t so bad after all. Self-proclaimed “bad” guests tend to be better with schedules: They’re less likely to show up early and more likely to leave on time. Those same “bad” guests are also more likely to show up with a gift, and they’re not as prone to criticizing their hosts’ home.


As our survey shows, behavior among overnight visitors runs the gamut from pretty terrible to pretty great. The most serious offenses to hosts, according to our survey, are staying indefinitely and snooping during the visit.

Baby Boomers take the cake for good etiquette – and we bet they just might show up with a cake, too! – while Millennials have a little work to do on their behavior. New Englanders are the most likely to bring a gift.

The good news? Being the ideal houseguest is actually pretty simple. First and foremost, be clear with your hosts about your arrival and departure dates – and stick to that schedule. Before you arrive, have a quick conversation to ensure you’re on the same page: “What time do you go to bed and wake up? What can I bring? What’s a good night for me to treat you to dinner?”

If you feel unsure about gift-giving, focus on something simple: A plant, a gourmet treat, or even a mug, book, or board game should please your hosts – and anything’s better than coming empty-handed. On the same note, mailing a thank-you letter is the best way to express your gratitude after a visit. No need for long or flowery letter – thank your hosts for their hospitality, follow up with a compliment (“Your home is beautiful!”), and perhaps offer to return the favor. Performing these small acts of kindness will pave the way for many happy visits in the future.


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