I’ve been a pet sitter for quite some time now. However, it wasn’t until this summer when I watched my friends’ pooch in Chicago for a few months that I got a taste of long-term pet sitting. Not only did I get the chance to enjoy living in another city while freelancing, I lived rent-free. It made me wonder: How can one turn pro?
House- or pet-sitting has obvious appeal. Over 12 million households spend 50 percent or more of their income on housing. House- or pet-sitting can allow you to rent your own home out while you work, allowing you to lower your costs. If you’re someone who doesn't get terribly homesick or has few things to tie you to a specific location, it could be a way to see the world on a budget. While it seems pretty awesome, there are practicalities to keep in mind. Plus it can be pretty competitive to land a gig.
I reached out to a full-time sitter to find out how to go about landing a sitting assignment as well as what to consider when looking for jobs.
Schedule your gigs well ahead of time
“There are all kinds of different scenarios for people who house-sit,” said Kelly Hayes-Raitt, author of the book "How to Become a Housesitter: Insider Tips from the HouseSit Diva." “But if you’re going to be a full-time nomad, a drag is that you're always planning, so you know where you're going to be by next summer.” Hayes-Raitt, whose house- and pet-sitting allows her to rent out her home in California, tries to plan her gigs as far out as possible. She currently has an annual six-month gig in Mexico every year, and plans to house-sit in Paris early next year.
You can hunt for gigs on sites such as Nomador, Workaway, and TrustedHousesitters. While TrustedHousesitters is the most popular house-sitting site, it’s also the most competitive, said Hayes-Raitt, who has been a full time house- and pet-sitter for nine years. You can also do a search for all opportunities on the aggregate site HouseSitSearch.
Find your in
Because house- and pet-sitting can be competitive, you need to get your foot in the door in one of a few ways. You can pet-sit as a favor for a friend or take up dog walking as a side hustle. If you can, meet up with potential hosts and pets and see their homes in person. “You’re more likely to land the sitting assignment if the homeowners have had the opportunity to meet you face-to-face,” said Hayes-Raitt.
Figure in expenses
Besides travel costs, you’ll also want to factor in the costs of food, transport, and other living expenses. If you’re traveling internationally, you’ll need a passport, travel health insurance and possibly a visa. When I dog-sat for my friends, my friend paid for a one-way ticket to Chicago and set me up with a bike to get around. I only needed to take care of my own public transit and food.
Plan around travel deals
To save money on travel, figure out what the low travel seasons are for places where you would like to house-sit and base your plans on that. You can also house-sit in locales that are close to one another to save, as regional airlines offer lower airfare or you can travel by bus or train.
To make your dollar go further, you can seek house-sitting opportunities in countries where the dollar is strong since you'll have more buying power. “If you house-sit in a country where the dollar is very strong, it’ll be an affordable house-sit stint for you,” said Hayes-Raitt.
Know your limits
While living in total seclusion in pastoral France sounds amazing, would you really be cool with, say, drawing water from a well? Know which creature comforts you need, said Hayes-Raitt.
“It’s important to know what kind of experience you want to have when you’re house sitting,” said Hayes-Raitt.
Figure out whether you want to be amid the bustle of city life, or a quiet retreat nestled in the middle of nowhere. You’ll also need to figure out if you want a lengthier house-sitting gig in another country or a weekend getaway.
If you’re pet-sitting, besides the obvious limits, such as whether you’re allergic to certain animals, decide whether there are any types of pets you aren’t comfortable watching. Would you be cool working with animals on a farm? Or as a caretaker of snakes? Knowing your limits ahead of time serves the interests of both you and your clients.
Communicate expectations beforehand
Besides talking to prospective clients on what your responsibilities will entail, and whether you’ll get paid or just a place to stay rent-free, find out if there are any other expectations. For instance, will you be responsible for helping them handle paying any bills? Light housework? Or might they expect you to chip in for utilities? To avoid being blindsided, don’t assume your hosts will pay all housing-related expenses.
Treat it like a job
Sure, you’re in a new locale, itching to explore your new environs, but it’s important to agree to a house-sitting gig knowing it’s a job. “House-sitting opens people up to possibilities,” said Hayes-Raitt. “It's a way to travel the world for free or really cheap. But it’s also a responsibility to take care of someone's house and pet. If you have theater tickets and the pet is sick, you need to take it to the vet. Or the pipe bursts, you handle it.”
I experienced this firsthand when I was dog-sitting. I missed out on a daylong pig roast and had to schedule any weekend travel when I was done with my gig.
You’re also subject to other people’s schedules, when they need you to stay at their place and daily tasks that need to be done.
While house-sitting to travel or save on your housing costs seems great, you’ll want to keep in mind practical considerations. Doing so will ensure you find gigs you’re well-suited for and won’t be blindsided by unexpected scenarios.
Image: Steve Debenport