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Start Your Own House Sitting Business

December 20, 2011

House Sitting is a business anyone can enter, no matter where in the world they live. Whether that person is young or old, male or female, employed or still looking for gainful employment, anyone can become a house sitter or even start their own house sitting business.

That’s because we live in a cruel world, sadly for us, more so for our pets, plants and homes. Not so, however, for anyone prepared to capitalise on the unattractive side of modern day living, where burglaries are common and offences against animals and property widespread. This business means accepting responsibility – total or partial – for other people’s homes, pets and belongings. It’s big business and growing all the time as the crime rate shows no signs of abating.

House sitting, pet sitting too, are businesses most people can operate without experience or qualifications, and with little in the way of starting capital.

House sitting sometimes means popping round to the empty house a couple of times a day to check that all is well and to remove obvious signs of the house being empty. Sitters might also water plants and carry out any of a number of jobs requested by clients.

Alternatively, the house sitter might move into the client’s home where he or she will live for the duration of the owner’s absence.

Pet sitting is frequently carried out as an additional service. The pet sitter is usually an everyday house sitter who accepts responsibility for family pets and domestic animals, sometimes livestock.

Sitters can work alone or through an agency. Where they operate via an agency, they are usually classed as self-employed. Here, bookings are invariably made through the agency and passed on to independent sitters. Agents are usually free to accept or reject whatever placements are offered. Fees are sometimes paid direct to the sitter, sometimes to the agency. Various arrangements exist to process the agency’s share of the profits, often referred to as ‘commission’.

Alternatively, some organisations accept sitters as employees, people who work when and where the parent firm stipulates, and who are affected by all other other features of the usual employer/employee relationship.

ASSESSING THE MARKET

The market is enormous and, as yet, very few firms operate in this sector, particularly on a local level. A number of agencies operate very successful businesses on a national level, processing enquiries and bookings which are then carried out by independent agents or staff located in all parts of the country. There’s plenty of scope for smaller firms to enter this business, providing a basic visiting service and attending to small jobs around the home. It depends on you and what time you can commit to your venture.

WHAT YOU CAN EARN

Much depends on the scale of your operation, the number of weeks you work and whether you are self-employed or on an agency’s payroll. Certainly, a very good living awaits anyone who can move into clients’ homes and provide a range of specialist services, for example caring for pets, watering and feeding plants, helping take care of the clients’ business, perhaps running a small-holding or exercise yard. The more you offer, the higher your profits will be. And the more work you will get.

WHAT TO DO NEXT

Decide on the type of service you intend to offer. It’s unlikely that anyone with family responsibilities can take over the running of another person’s home, but there’s nothing to stop you from house sitting or caring for animals without moving into the client’s home. Someone who can visit the home first thing in the morning and last thing at night will prove more than acceptable to the majority of clients.

Pet sitting, too, can simply be a case of calling round several times a day to feed pets and attend to their needs. Alternatively, you might provide 24-hour care, as is frequently needed for elderly and nervous pets, and those who need constant attention. You might move into the animal’s home, or take it into yours. Offering a full range of services, to suit most clients’ needs, will keep you busy and the profits rolling in.

Start by looking for advertisements placed by established firms. Glossy magazines are popular for house sitting firms, and publications aimed at pet and animal lovers are an invaluable source of information about pet sitting agencies. Send for a few brochures, posing as a potential client. Learn all you can about how other firms operate, then model your business on the very best features of theirs.

HOW TO IDENTIFY POTENTIAL CLIENTS

Clients include holiday makers, expatriate families, people going away on business or into hospital, and anyone who fears leaving the home unoccupied and their pets uncared for during their absence. That’s a very large market indeed! Or, as one successful pet sitting agency puts it “How many families do you know who do not have a cat or dog? How many people do you know who don’t take holidays?”

MARKETING YOUR BUSINESS

Base your advertisements on those of competitors. Have a brochure prepared to send to enquirers, indicating what service you provide and what your prices are. Ask them to telephone for further information or to complete the booking form provided. On receipt of the form, you confirm the booking and ask a deposit from prospective clients. The remainder is usually paid when the assignment begins.

One overwhelming feature of this business is the fact that most satisfied clients return time and again to you to look after their homes, pets, animals and plants. Many agencies report enough bookings to last for several months and it is quite common to find an agency does not need to advertise – its entire business comes from referrals and re-bookings from satisfied clients.

WHAT TO CHARGE

Agents and employees have little option but to accept fees or wages set by the company they work with. Naturally, you’ll look for the best wages and most acceptable working conditions. But there’s nothing to prevent you starting your own small – or large – house or pet sitting enterprise.

Where you operate independently you set your own fees, usually in line with what competitors are charging. Most established firms charge by the day. One major agency currently charges a basic rate of £16.50 per day, with additional fees of 70p for each cat, £1.85 for a small dog, £2.25 for large dogs, and a separate rate for other animals. A setting up fee of £25 plus VAT is asked of all new clients to cover the cost of establishing the client’s file.

Clients are invariably asked to provide a certain amount, frequently £25 a week, towards the live-in sitter’s fresh food and to leave adequate supplies of convenience foods for the sitter and sometimes a companion. The client has the final say about whether a spouse or companion will be allowed to live in the home. But, as agencies are quick to point out, two people usually means continued vigilance and one hundred per cent cover can be provided.

Always have a contract drawn up with the client, specifying your responsibilities, and theirs. Your solicitor will advise you. Ask clients to pay all, or a major part of the bill, in advance.

POINTS TO BEAR IN MIND

You will be expected to abide by a number of rules and regulations, sometimes set by an agency, sometimes by the client. Non-smokers are usually preferred, and for pet sitting assignments animal lovers are an obvious must. You’ll be expected to be vigilant, mature and responsible. Your personal background must be beyond reproach and you may have to provide references to agencies who might also check your background from credit and crime records. For agents or independent sitters, clients might like to see references from past employers, solicitors, doctors and JPs.

As a sitter living in the client’s home, you will be expected to be there most of the time. Most agencies stress that the home must not be unoccupied for more than an hour or two at a time, and will never be empty at night. It’s frequently tying, but far from exhausting work.

Some agencies stipulate that employees and independent agents should be aged over 40, and retired people usually find a very warm welcome.

Get to know, in advance, all you can about the client’s home; who might call and when, what special requirements pets might have, who the family vet is, how the alarm system works, how plants should be cared for, how the answerphone works, when the refuse collector calls, and more.

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From → Pet Sitting

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