During my four months in New York this month I ended up housesitting eight times – and none of those gigs had been arranged before I got there.(I’ll share some tips for getting a housesitting gig in NYC at the end.)
I came to New York specifically for one housesitting gig, which I had scored a couple of months prior to the sit the usual way: I saw the ad for the housesit on one of the websites I use, wrote a personalized application and a few days later I ‘met’ the homeowners via Skype. We all decided that we liked each other and I was offered the position. If you have read my July travel update, you already know that in the end, I didn’t get to look after the adorable puppy and cat that I was supposed to take care of. I moved in with the owners for the handover period, but because one of them was still recovering from a severe sickness, the couple decided to cancel their trip on short notice.
This was actually just one of several Firsts in housesitting for me – and one thing I learned this summer was that even after co-writing The Ultimate Guide To Housesitting, there were/are still things I had never experienced, in spite of having successfully completed well over a dozen housesits all over the globe (which just goes to show that it’s time for the 3rd edition of the book). Having to deal with a sudden cancellation was one of them. To make things worse, I had flown halfway around the world to get to the gig, and I had no return flight booked.
While I could totally understand the homeowners’ decision to stay at home, I was in utter shock because for me this meant being stuck in NYC without accommodation and no home to go back to. I decided to give staying a shot and started the search for a room right away, even though I knew it was almost impossible to find a room on such short notice. However, the New York apartment gods felt sorry for me – I lucked out and found a room two days later, just a few blocks north from the housesit on the Upper West Side.
The homeowners had planned another trip in late June, so I decided to stay at least until then and help them out during their shorter getaway ( the other housesit would have been for a month). In that time, ads for shorter summer housesits in New York City started to appear. I lucked out and scored two housesits in Brooklyn for July, which made me extend my stay for another month. I hadn’t had any intentions of spending so much time in New York, but the longer I stayed, the more addicted I got to the city.
And I didn’t only need to rely on ads – while I was waiting for my July gigs to start, I told more and more people I met that I was a petsitter, staying in New York partially housesitting and partially subletting, and people usually listened up when I explained I didn’t charge for my petsitting services in return for accommodation. In a city where people are used to paying money for just about anything, they were ecstatic to hear that I was looking after pets FOR FREE! Through word-of-mouth, I ended up looking after two adorable cats in the East Village in June, the cutest puppy on the planet in Crown Heights in August and another kitty cat in a fancy Chelsea apartment right off the High Line Park. And this was another First for me: because people I knew vouched for me, none of the word-of-mouth gigs wanted to check any references, they simply trusted my friend’s judgement. I would just get a text message saying something like ‘A friend of mine needs a catsitter for the first two weeks in August. Are you free?’ I even had to turn down some gigs because of timing issues.
I loved both sits in July – one of them, a cat dame named Jessie, actually became my favorite protégé and I ended up looking after her three times over the course of the summer, while falling in love with her neighborhood of Prospect Heights, an area where I hadn’t spent much time before. The other sit, which I had found on TrustedHousesitters.com, also brought me to a new neighborhood, Prospect Lefferts Gardens, just fifteen minutes down the road from Jessie – the easiest move during my entire summer!
The apartment was right off Prospect Park, Brooklyn’s answer to Manhattan’s Central Park, which I loved for two reasons: 1. It made it impossible NOT to go on a daily run – Prospect Park is just gorgeous. 2. I was there during the Philharmonic in the Park summer series, during which the renowned New York philharmonic orchestra gives free concerts in the park. With the spacious kitchen in my apartment I was able to make some yummy salads and snacks for a picnic with friends, and was home after the concert in twenty minutes, not having to take the subway. One of my favorite days of the summer. Also – and that’s what I love most about housesitting – thanks to the dog I got to know a neighborhood I would’ve never visited, taking her on sightsee-walks around the different historic streets. And Lefferts Gardens is a very cool ‘hood – I am glad I had the chance to explore it.
Looking after an insanely cute bundle of fur named Little Monkey brought me to my favorite apartment and second favorite neighborhood I discovered this summer: Crown Heights. This up-and-coming area with its vibrant Caribbean community and a (quite recent) large influx of hipsters, made for an interesting mix of trendy eateries and coffee shops with traditional chicken joints and Caribbean supermarkets. I loved the vibe in my neighborhood, especially on Saturday nights when most families were hanging out on their stoops, a boom box in the window silt, speakers turned towards the street. I’ve never heard as much B.I.G. as during my time in Crown Heights 😉 But the best bit about this housesit was that I didn’t only have a giant kitchen (even with washer and dryer, almost unheard of in NYC), but also a big dining room. I had to take advantage of this and invited some friends over for a dinner party – something most sublets just don’t allow for.
It was also interesting to see how different each apartment was (and how much it was to live there, in those cases when the owners shared that information with me), and I took my housesits as an opportunity to check out different neighborhoods around town to see where I’d want to sublet next. While I was still pondering about my sublet location for August, I came across a housesit in Carroll Gardens on Mindmyhouse.com. Carroll Garden is a neighborhood close to Brooklyn Heights, where I housesat last year for a couple of months and which I loved – I had also briefly been to Carroll Gardens back then and remembered it as a beautiful residential neighborhood with gorgeous brownstones. Applying for this gig was a no-brainer. I sent my application before breakfast and after dinner on the same day I received the keys to the lovely top floor apartment to take care of an elderly cat the coming week. This wasn’t a first, by the way, but happened all summer long: most of the housesits were super short notice.
I finished my housesitting adventures this summer with a week in a brand new apartment in Chelsea, dubbed as ‘Luxurious High Line Apartments’ in big letter on the side of the building. This apartment made me wish to be rich enough to afford a place like that, and I couldn’t have asked for a more perfect place to finish up my summer in New York in. Had my visa not expired, I could have done another three housesits this month, but I’ll patiently wait to return next year for more housesitting adventures in New York.
My tips for securing a housesit in New York City
I have to admit that I had quite a few advantages when I applied for a housesit – a) I was in town already, something that helped with each and every application, b) I was totally flexible with timing. Sometimes people would just email me about returning a few days later and I could always say ‘Sure, no problem at all’, or owners weren’t sure about the exact dates until the very last minute – also something that I was able to accommodate with. I realize that when you agree to a housesit while you’re not in the same location, it isn’t as easy to be flexible, considering you have to book flights and make other travel arrangements. However, here are my top tips for scoring a housesit in New York:
– You have to be flexible. If you are 100% set on your dates, it will be almost impossible to find a gig. If you decide you want to spend a week in New York in the spring, it’s much easier to find a housesit in that period. In your application, make sure to put the owners’ needs first though, not yours (Date XX is when I need to be in NYC: Wrong attitude!)
– If you’re in New York already, make sure to mention this. I got most of my gigs because the owners knew I was around and could meet them in person before they trusted me with their pets and apartments. Mention it right in the subject line of your application. My friends Nat & Jodie who run the Housesitting World Magazine (packed with housesitting stories and advice, 100% free to download onto your iPad!) also scored two gigs in NYC because they were already in town.
– Be modest in your expectations. While I looked after some stunning properties around the world, I noticed that the apartments in NYC were much more ordinary. Several times, owners would even apologize for either their apartments or neighborhoods. I never felt uncomfortable in an apartment I looked after, but none of them were comparable to some of the exquisite suburban houses I got to stay in during previous gigs.
– Talk about your desire to housesit in NYC. If you’re there already, there’ll be people in need of a petsitter in your network already – co-workers, friends, or friends of friends. Post about it on Facebook or ask your NYC-based friends to ask around if you’re not based in NYC. I was amazed how many word-of-mouth gigs I got this summer (and I couldn’t even fulfill them all.) The number of housesits on the housesitting websites is still pretty limited, and competition for them is fierce, but there is a much higher need for petsitters in the city than it appears.
– Be fast. As I’ve already mentioned – competition for housesits in New York is extremely fierce. If you see an ad on one of the housesitting websites, apply immediately. Had I waited until that evening to apply for the gig in Carroll Gardens instead to apply right when I saw it in the morning, I might not have gotten it, because she had made her decision within a day. I also felt that way with other gigs – as soon as the owners see a decent application, they’ll go for it, not wanting to drag the process out and have their pet care sorted for the time they’re away.
– Be aware… of the responsibilities that come with the gig. A cat sit is usually easy; you only have to feed the cat a couple of times a day and clean the litter. A dog, however, needs much more attention and care, including several walks a day. If you’re planning to tour New York, a dog sit might be too restricting. Also, evaluate how comfortable you are with ill pets – this summer was the second time that I took care of an elderly sick cat that could have died during the sit. Are you willing to deal with a dead pet? While housesitting has many positive aspects that I can’t stop raving about, there are certainly some restraining aspects as well.
– Sign up now! Sign up to a housesitting website TODAY! I’ve been comparing my three favorite websites, Mindmyhouse, Housecarers and Trustedhousesitters, for housesits in New York, and I have to say that I’ve found by far the largest number of housesits on TrustedHousesitters. If you use this referral link, you get 20 % off your membership fee.
Want to find out more about housesitting?
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Any questions about housesitting? Ask away in the comments below! If you’ve housesat before, I’d also love to hear your own experiences and tips you might have.