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Did you know it's possible to live rent and utility-free in exchange for taking care of people's homes and pets?
I didn't know until I came across an article about pet-sitting a few years ago...
It BLEW MY MIND!
What? Live rent-free just for taking care of CATS? Well that sounds puuuurfect!
But it wasn't until after I became a social media manager that I began to seriously consider it. As a social media manager, I could work from anywhere.
In the world.
It opened up a LOT of possibilities!
And after about a year of working at the same desk, in the same house, in the same neighborhood, the monotony got to me.
Oh, and let's not forget I was working in a GARAGE because I had rented my second bedroom out. (Oh, the joys of freelance life!)
So, I signed up for two house and pet-sitting websites and started planning!
Six months into it, I can now give you the low-down on all things house and pet-sitting:
There are some definite ins and some definite outs. I had a steep learning curve.
But first, the basics!
What does pet-sitting involve?
You're basically given the keys to live in someone's house in exchange for caring for their home and pets while they are away.
It is a whopper of responsibility, as you are fully entrusted with the security of the home and the health of the pets.
Typically, the list of things I'm asked to do include:
- Complete care of the pets, including feeding, dog walking, waste removal, and cage cleaning. And of course, lots of cuddling!
- Making sure the home is secure and looks lived in; that bins go out, and mail comes in.
- Watering plants and light garden or pool maintenance, if needed.
- Staying in touch with the pet-owners and giving them updates on their fur babies every couple of days, at a minimum.
On my side, the things I require are:
- Reliable wifi with plenty of data so that I can work
- That the house be within walking distance of public transport
- That the house be fairly clean and in a quiet environment (I did once reject a sit because they wanted me to stay there while major renovations were underway! #NOPE)
There is no exchange of money. If pet-owners book me through a pet-sitting website, they pay a fee to that company, not to me.
What are the pros of being a pet-sitter?
- Free rent and utilities. I sometimes still can't believe this is even possible! Omg the fruits of the internet!!
- You can live alone in a big, beautiful home in whatever location you choose (often not very affordable here in Melbourne!).
- The pets can be great, cuddly company and you're never alone.
- Always a new area and neighborhood to explore. New cafes to review on Google. New parks to take the dogs for a walk.
- Chocolate left in the fridge.
What are the cons of being a pet-sitter?
- Cancellations. By far. Usually, it's job related, but sometimes it's because a family member decides, 'No mom, I'm not coming along on the family camping trip.' Fark! Then you have to replace the sit with something less than desirable; whatever you can get.
- Asshole pets. Not every animal is a sweet little floofy-floo. Some pets are demanding, spoiled brats that pull your arm off when you walk them or meow till you want to hide in a closet. Sometimes it's not their fault; I have cared for dogs with dementia that really challenged my patience. Other times you just need to pay attention to what the animal may be trying to tell you and how it is feeling.
- Inflexibility. Some pets may require feeding and medications on a regular schedule, so you do need to always be sure you can work around their requirements. You always need to consider the animals in planning your time out of the house. With some pets, you can't often stay out for very long.
- Chocolate left in the fridge.
How do I find a pet-sitting job?
Once you start putting the word out that you are a pet-sitter, the jobs find you.
I now turn away pet-sitting requests on a daily basis--I'm booked out for most of this year and a bit of next year, too!
The demand for a free pet-sitter is crazy!
Though there are a number of pet-sitters who charge, it's not as common for those who actually live in the house. Most professional, paid pet-sitters just drop-in at whatever required times.
For these types of sits, I recommend signing up to Pet Cloud.
Paid sits suit people who own a car and want to earn a bit of extra money, but if you're a digital nomad you want the free rent deal.
There are some house-sitting jobs on Pet Cloud, but I find them few and far between. A better site is Trusted Housesitters.
The benefit of using these sites is that they provide a bit of insurance for the homeowner. They also have a feedback and review platform so you can see what homes and pets are good to sit.
But honestly, I haven't even had to use these sites yet because I have SO MANY requests from Facebook posts in local community groups. Add to that, the number of requests by friends, friends of friends, and then the referrals from previous sits, and it gets a bit CRAZY!
What does it take to be a good pet-sitter?
Someone is inviting a total stranger to live in their home. I mean, WTF? It kinda boggles my mind, the level of trust involved in this exchange!
So, foremost, you need to be trustworthy. You need to have your life together and be able to prove that you do. Provide evidence and references galore.
Part of the initial process is the Meet and Greet, which is when the homeowner and you check out each other's vibes, basically.
A good fit comes down to gut-level intuition. They suss out whether you are going to give Mr. Floofy the tender behind-the-ear scratches and litter cleaning that they give him.
You suss out whether they are likely to have properly cleaned their refrigerator in a year. (I like them shelves to be CLEAR! No weeks-old lettuce hanging off the back like dried-up snot!)
And then, of course, it goes without saying--you do really need to love animals. To the outside world, they may just look like animals, but to the pet-owner they are fur-babies.
Fur babies are as precious as real babies.
And I happen to like them more than real babies, so it works for me!
My top advice from the pet-sitting trenches:
Animals get anxious when their routines are not followed, so it's a good idea to get the owner to give you exact details around routines.
Next to that, if you do get a sit off of a pet-sitting website, be sure to draw up a contract that goes over all the little things.
When do bins go out?
Who pays for Spot's vet bill if he eats your entire dry food storage, including:
- Two bags of museli
- One bag of rolled oats
- " " " cashews (doggy danger)
- " " " currents (super doggy danger)
- " " " cacao
- " " " maca
- " " " quinoa
- " " " brown rice (WTF? Really? )
And yes, that happened. Followed by, on the last day of the sit:
- One tightly locked plastic box of ground coffee you mistakenly left on the bench thinking it was out of Spot's reach! He vacuumed up every last granule, I kid you not. Yes, I called the vet immediately. He was Ok. TF!
And what do I do if the wifi fails? (Oh god, please, never, no!)
That sort of thing.
Additionally, as I do with my clients, you'll want to set communication boundaries so that the pet-owner is not calling you at 10 pm on a Saturday night when you're 3 drinks in at a noisy local music club. I learned the hard way!
Let them know when the best times are to contact you so that you can respond quickly, avoiding any unnecessary stress.
Common questions I get asked as a pet-sitter:
What do you do when there are gaps between sits?
I stay at my partner's place for the gaps, but over the next few months--there will be no gaps, unless someone cancels. Pet-owners often book their flights to accommodate my availability, and there are just SO MANY sit requests!
A friend who has been pet-sitting for two years just sleeps in her van, and uses her local gym membership for showers.
A couple of times I just went and stayed at a budget hotel until I was able to arrange a replacement sit.
What if the owners have installed cameras in the house?
It's against Australian law for anyone to film you without your knowing.
They can have cameras set up in obvious security areas, like front decks, balconies, or garages, but NOT in private living spaces. I've seen some people in pet-sitting forums argue about this, but for me it's a hard #NOPE and I blacklist those home-owners.
Ask the homeowner to inform you of any security cameras and have in your contract a warning that should you discover a hidden camera, you will terminate your sitting service immediately.
If you are a home/pet owner and you do not trust someone enough to ask them to be a sitter, don't get a sitter. Take your pets to a kennel!!
Don't you think you'll get tired of all the moving every few weeks?
I live RENT FREE. Who could get tired of that? 🙂
Are you available on [date] to take care of my cat, Wigglebottoms?
Or, contact me on Facebook. I always check the filtered messages.
I am currently living in Melbourne, Australia, and am available only for inner-city sits in any city throughout the world for up to 6 weeks.
- I don't sit very large dogs. Small are OK. Medium-sized dogs like Border Collies are YES, PLEASE, GIVE ME THE FLOOFY DOGS!
- Admitting that, I am actually more of a cat lady.
- I don't do sits of less than 2 weeks unless I'm desperate.
- I don't book in around major holidays until 2 months prior.
Are you ready to become a pet-sitting digital nomad?
Put your stuff into storage and hit the road!
House and pet-sitting is becoming increasingly popular around the world. With enough references, you can pet-sit internationally, which is what I plan to do!
Sign up to Pet Cloud with my referral link and get $10 off the sign-up fee.
Or, sign up to Trusted Housesitters and get 20% off their sign-up fee.
Not a digital nomad yet? Check out my post on How to Become a Social Media Manager if you want to become one!
Read this post to hear about my early experience as a house and pet-sitter, and this post to read about how it went booked-out and gang-busters a few months into it!
Please ask me any questions you may have about pet-sitting in the comments!