Here are some tips we've learned along the way that we're happy to share with others, especially retirees, who may be interested in traveling the world doing pet and/or house sitting:
1) Subscribe to an online website
There are many website out there that introduce home/pet owners to home/pet sitters. These websites charge a fee to belong, typically between $50 and $100 a year. We think that's a modest cost to have access to house and pet sits around the world. The benefit of membership is that you can post your profile and apply for sits that are of interest to you. While there are many online sites including Luxury Housesitters and MindMyHouse, we prefer Trusted Housesitters (US) .They have the greatest number of listings and the highest quality listings. Come on? Three months on the Caribbean island of Anguilla? A month in Spain?
One unique advantage of the TrustedHouseSitters.com site is that they give their members 24 hour advance notice of new pet/house sitting listings, allowing members to apply 24 hours earlier than the general public. They also have more blogs and helpful tips, and seem to frequently upgrade the functionality and navigation of their site. We also like the fact that they are supporters of the RSPCA (Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals). We actually pay and belong to four house sitting websites and check all of them every day.
2) Create a great profile
Laurie's 30 years in marketing was useful in this regard. She spent considerable time studying "the competition" and then crafted a profile describing why we would be an excellent choice for a house/pet sit. But even if you're not a marketing pro, you should strive to:
A) Convey not only your personality but also what you bring to the house/pet sit
B) Include solid references
C) Carefully select photos that show your love for pets. Avoid photos that would cause the homeowner any concerns (photos of you partying or drinking, etc.) or show you don't care (fuzzy photos, poorly cropped, etc.)
D) Highlight unique abilities (are you skilled at caring for large animals like horses? Are you, like Keith, trained in swimming pool maintenance?)
3) Respond quickly
We knew that vying for a pet/house sit was competitive, but we had no idea HOW competitive, until we talked to the homeowners once we were selected. For example, one homeowner told us that they received 44 responses within 24 hours of posting their listing! If you find a sit that you're interested in, you need to apply quickly.
4) Insist on Skyping
Once the homeowner selects their top picks (hopefully including you), ask for the opportunity to Skype. We have Skyped prior to confirming all our sits and find that it's a wonderful way to "meet" the homeowners and get to know them. In many cases, we're traveling half-way around the world and paying thousands of dollars in air fare. We want to ensure that it's a good fit -- for both parties. Typically within the first 10 minutes of Skyping, we know whether we've found a good match.
5) Do your due-diligence
Make sure you fully understand the home and the pet(s) unique needs. Are you responsible for maintaining a salt water pool? It can be tricky if you don't know what you're doing. Does the cat require daily injections? Are you comfortable doing that? Does the dog need two hour-long walks a day on or off leash? Don't apply unless you can commit to that level of exercise.
You need to be sure you can meet the homeowner's requirements, but you also want to be sure your needs are met. Is the home you'll be caring for in a safe neighborhood? You can ask the homeowner for their address and then do a Google Earth to get a view of the neighborhood or do an online search of the neighborhood. If you're living in the home for an extended period of time, you want to be sure you feel secure.
6) Check and then double-check visa requirements
Make sure that you've properly checked visa requirements. We spend an inordinate amount of time making sure that we comply with Visa requirements, for example, when we went to Australia. But oftentimes things aren't quite so clear.
For example, everything we read about Anguilla confirmed that tourists did not need a Visa for a stay up to 90 days. Then one day we were on a non-government website where we were very surprised to see several posts about needing an "extension of stay." The postings explained that regardless of how long you plan to stay, when you get to Anguilla, immigration will approve a maximum 30 day stay. This is contradictory to everything we had previously read which said that U.S. citizens can stay for 90 days. The website explained that on the 31st day, you need to go to the Immigration Office, surrender your passport for 7-14 days, pay a fee and complete an application for an "extension of stay." This news was rather disconcerting in that we had already made our travel plans and given the homeowners are commitment for a 90 day stay.
In the end, everything turned out fine. We filled out all the proper paperwork, paid the "extension of stay" fee and were able to meet our commitment to the homeowners.
Since we were in Europe for 4 1/2 months for four different sits, we thoroughly researched the 90-day Schengen limit to ensure that we weren't in violation.
7) Arrive prepared
We've developed a specific list of questions to ask the homeowners upon arrival -- questions about the home and the pet(s). Some homeowners are very well prepared and have their own detailed notes; others are still packing and haven't even thought about providing notes. It's YOUR JOB to ensure you ask all the questions you need answered and not just about the house and pets, but things like emergency contact information, location of the nearest clinic/hospital, watering of indoor and outdoor plants, dishes they prefer not to be used, how to operate the home alarm system if there is one, etc.
It probably goes without saying, but communicate with the homeowners to let them know how the home and/or pet(s) are doing. We've found some homeowners want more frequent communications and others less. Ask ahead of time what the homeowner prefers. We love sending creative photos of the pet showing they are happy and healthy -- again, allowing the homeowners' peace of mind while they are away from home.
9) Remember, taking care of the pet is the #1 priority
We never lose sight that we're in a villa in Spain or on a tropical island for the responsibility of pet care. So, while we did spend time on the beaches in Anguilla (who wouldn't) .and enjoyed trips into the city center in Melbourne and London to visit museums and gardens, we never leave the home/pets for long periods of time. Typically we are never gone for more than 4-5 hours in a day. If the homeowner walks their dog an hour in the morning and an hour each evening; we commit to that schedule 100%; no excuses. While we're not getting paid, we still view the care of the pet as "our job" and we take that responsibility very seriously. And, since we're retirees, we spend 99.9% of our evenings at home with the pets, enjoying reading, board games, sewing or TV.
10) Take care of the home with respect
Everyone's definition of "clean" differs. But for us, it means washing all the dishes after every meal, making the beds every day, keeping up on dusting and vacuuming, and cleaning bathrooms. And, of course, prior to the homeowners arrival home, doing a thorough cleaning including the refrigerator, the microwave oven, and even the toaster. If the homeowners have let us use their car, we vacuum and wash the car and return it with a full tank of gas.
11) Welcome them home
In addition to coming home to a clean house, Keith (who loves to cook) prepares a welcome home dinner and we share a chilled bottle of wine. Typically the homeowners have traveled a long way and probably didn't even get a bag of peanuts on their flight, so they appreciate a home cooked meal. It's also a great time to hear about their travels over a good meal -- and a glass of wine.
12) Ask for a reference
One of the other reasons we like the Trusted Housesitters (US) web site, is that the homeowners submit their reference DIRECTLY to the website. That means that as the pet/house sitter, we can't revise or edit the reference in anyway before it's posted. The benefit is the references are all true and unfiltered.
DISCLOSURE: In the spirit of full disclosure, this page contain an affiliate link, which means that we may get a commission if you decide to join TrustedHousesitters. We only recommend them because we are paying members ourselves and love the many worldwide listings we receive from them every day, so we know youll benefit as well.