Work for Lodging

Finding Housesitters for Free Pet Care


A friend who lives in Oakland, California has a large dog and a cat. She loves her pets but feels trapped and unable to travel. Kennels have a bad reputation, but nowadays there are fancy dog resorts that many pets love. However, these are not cheap. I know people who pay more for pet boarding than they do for their own hotels. These places also come with some risks: my parents’ dog came home with fleas after boarding with a woman who runs a very nice pet care business. She can’t control other pets that show up with fleas.

I’ve been trying to convince my friend in Oakland to try out housesitting for a while. She’s skeptical. “Why do these people want to care for my pets for free?” I don’t have any pets, and allergies prevent me from becoming a petsitter, so I’ve never done much research on this. I decided to learn more about how it works. And a good way to do that was to do the research for my friend.

In my spreadsheet of peer to peer services I have a lot of housesitting networks listed (filter on sub-category = housesitting). I went through all the networks that are not specific to countries outside the United States to see what options my friend has in California. But first I read a bunch of their FAQs to answer some of my friend’s concerns.

Are housesitters safe?

Many of these networks offer some sort of verification of members. This might only be an ID check, but some also have the option for sitters to get a police background verification. The nicer websites allow members to post reviews online. If you book someone to housesit you can then review their services. I really like this feature because seeing 9 reviews of Sam, several of which are local to my city, inspires a lot of confidence. And you could contact these reviewers as references. Instead of reviews, some networks allow sitters to post references. Of course all that can be faked, but this is a really odd con if you’re just looking to scam/rob someone.
Some people request a bond from their housesitter, perhaps equal to the cost to rent your home during the stay. But doing this will require some legal documents and I haven’t seen a network that facilitates this directly. Some do provide guidelines and documents for bonds, as well as housesitting agreements, claim forms.
Finally, some of these networks charge sitters for membership. To me that helps ensure they are serious about the work, weeding out casual listings that are a waste of time to contact. And it’s one more barrier to someone using housesitting networks as a scam to just gain access to your home.

What does a housesitting cost?

There are a lot of people who will housesit for a fee. But these peer to peer networks are focused on free housesitting. Several networks note that some people with listings may ask for money to sit and you can negotiate that directly with the sitters. But they strongly discourage this, and point out that people looking for sitters on these networks are not expecting to pay.
So why do people housesit for free? It’s a great way to get free lodging! Consider the cost of a hotel in New York City for a week. What if you could stay in a nice apartment for free instead. If you’re a cat lover and all you have to do is feed and care for the resident cat, this seems like a pretty good deal. Time had a good feature story about a couple who travels the world housesitting.

Can I find housesitters for a weekend trip?

I thought the answer to this would be no. Or that’s it’s very hard to find a match. If housesitters are getting free lodging for their work, why would they want to do it for just a few days? But I found that there are a lot of housesitters who provide services locally, in addition to traveling as a sitter. I think these folks would be fine with short term arrangements. My guess is they do the local care to boost their reviews so they can get gigs in other places and have free lodging for their travels. Some folks really do just love pets so much they enjoy the care and don’t see it as work.

Best housesitting options for Oakland, California

TrustedHousesitters is one of the more sophisticated networks. And it’s also the most expensive. For $119 a year you get access to book sitters. Sitters also pay $119 to join. In Oakland there are a lot of local sitters who will care for pets for free. These folks also travel by housesitting, but they have reviews of caring for pets in the area where they live. TrustedHousesitters also offers a vet advice line for its’ sitters while they are caring for pets.
HouseCarers has a nice search on location, pet type, and length of stay. Searching in Oakland, doing a 1-6 day trip with care for a cat and dog 14 people came up in the area. All have nice profiles and references. This network is free.
Nomador is another relatively sophisticated website. They offer various levels of sitter verification. This network has two levels of membership. The basic level is free and allows posting a request for housesitters. The paid level, $89/year, allows members to search for and contact sitters directly. I like that it’s possible to test out this site with a free listing for a sitter.
MindMyHouse has over 2000 sitters listed in the United States. But when I did a search on people who will sit for a dog and have references I ended up with only 69 people, all in the middle of the country. The profiles look pretty extensive so I think the sitters are serious. But this is only good for longer trips where it’s worth people’s time to travel to California.
HousesittersAmerica is focused on other parts of the country so probably not very useful for my friend in California. It is free for owners, $30 for sitters.
I looked at some other networks as well, but these were the ones with the most potential for people in the United States.

1 Comment

  • We’ve been house sitting part-time for eight years. It has become so competitive during that time, especially in the highly sought after locations. We now travel for 5-6 months a year, most of that time house sitting. So far, we have house sat in Mexico (every year since 2011), Hawaii, Italy, Botswana, California, and Australia. I always tell people that it is not free travel, but it is affordable accommodation. And sometimes it turns out badly (like caring for dying pets or rats in the house, just to name a few of the extreme situations we have found). But we now find most of our opportunities by referrals and word-of-mouth which reduces the risks to both parties greatly.

    Thanks for your informative and timely reports.