How this family is affording their dream property through renting it hourly to dogs

Thousand Oaks, California has been a safe haven for Sniffspot host, Jen, since childhood. Having grown up in busy Santa Barbara, Jen, an introvert from an early age, would seek out solitude and serenity away from tourists attractions and droves of people visiting from elsewhere. “My grandparents own 60 acres about a 30 minute drive from here, and I grew up spending every summer and every holiday visiting them on the ranch,” Jen explained. “In Santa Barbara, we wouldn't go to the beach on the weekend because that's where everybody was, so you'd find places off the beaten path where the tourists weren't. For me, the ranch was just my happy place.” 

As an adult, Jen married her husband, Hugo, on that very ranch. A city boy born and raised, Hugo didn’t have the same childhood experiences as Jen, but grew to love the mountains pretty quickly. Their dreams of finding a home in the hills to share with their son solidified after years of living in town and spending hours a day commuting to and from work took its toll. Finally, a visit to Jen’s grandparent’s ranch in the mountains led them to a for sale sign on what is now their home, a 10 acre spot in the mountains that’s nearly off grid. 

While their home has been a dream come true in a number of ways, the upkeep requires a lot of work, which isn’t cheap. With a house in the hills that boasts picturesque views, and a willingness and drive to keep improving on their investment, Jen and her family looked to side hustles to bring in some income that could help them facilitate their dream. 

A side hustle with heart 

“I'm one of those people that is always looking for ways to make a little extra money,” Jen said. “There's a reason we were able to buy this property and afford it, and it's because it needs work, so we’re always thinking of ways we can make a little bit more extra money so that we can fix things up.” The couple started off renting their space as a location spot for the filming industry, which, while exciting, quickly proved that it wouldn’t meet their goals in the long run. “Our neighbors rented their property out for filming and so that was the first adventure. I started posting on all these websites for filming, and it’s really fun when we actually get one, but you're lucky if you book anything, plus it’s usually last minute, so that's not very sustainable and definitely not something you can count on.” 

Back to the drawing board, Jen considered the things that mean the most to her – peace, quiet, solitude, and time with her dogs, and wondered if other people might hold similar values. “To me, walking my dogs on a quiet morning down on our property with no leashes is my favorite thing, because the dogs take their time and I take my time. I just sit on the little benches that we have, and it’s the best,” she said. “So one day I asked my husband if he thought people would pay to come walk their dogs, and he's like there's no way people aren't going to pay for that. I started researching and found Sniffspot and realized people do pay for that.”

Interested in hosting?

Learn more here about how your land can help dogs and you can earn up to $1,000 per month!

Making things work

While Jen knew that her space was ideal for her own canine friends, she noticed that her property didn’t have what some others did – fencing. However, that didn’t stop her from trying, and she quickly learned that hosting could still work with the right guests. “The ones I could find were in backyards, and we don't have fences,” she said. “I didn’t think we were very well set up so I don't know how this was going to work. But we were willing to try it, and then we started getting all these positive reviews, and now I love it.” 

It was then that Quail View Ranch was formed. Spanning 10 acres, Jen’s spot features rolling hills, walking paths, native desert plants, and open areas where dogs can run as their guardians can take in beautiful mountain views. Sharing her space with dedicated dog guardians is a joyous experience for Jen, although certain types of visitors especially touch her heart. “I've grown up with dogs my whole life. Our dogs are our kids, so it’s really cool to see other people, especially the ones that write that their dog had never been to somewhere like this because they couldn't,” she said. “Or people with scared dogs or reactive dogs, or dogs that they can't take off leash anywhere.” 

Timid, shy, and reactive dogs hold a special place in Jen’s heart thanks to her own personal experiences. Knowing what it’s like to have a dog you may not be able to take just anywhere served as an even greater motivator for her to open her space to visitors who can relate. “All three of our dogs are cattle dog mixes, and they’re not typically very social dogs, they can be really skittish,” she said. “I would take one of mine to the dog park and she would come sit next to my leg and growl at every other dog that came near us – she didn't want to play or walk around or do all that dog park stuff, she just wanted to be with me. So I get it because I know those breeds. I know those kinds of dogs. It's so cool to be able to provide a place for those kinds of people and their dogs.”

Implementing feedback to provide exceptional service

In addition to empathizing with others over their dog’s behavioral quirks, Jen’s space has been a success thanks to her drive to provide great service. For her, that starts with highly detailed instructions for finding the area, as her space is off a dirt road, which may not be something everyone is used to. Once guests arrive, a warm welcome awaits them before sending them off to safely explore that area. “There’s a little table I have set out across from the parking area, and on there I put some fun things,” she said. “I took a Google Earth map and it shows them where they are with a pin to give them kind of a visual of the whole area to explore.” 

Additionally, Jen provides dog treats in a small jar, a trash can with pick up bags for guest use, and hand sanitizer. “And that's about it,” she said. “Then then they just get to go.”

Offering guests an amazing hour or two in the hills is one thing, but Jen prides herself in her ability to constantly improve the user’s experience, which she does by reading feedback left by her quests. “I read everything,” she said. “For instance, there was some talk about there not being a restroom and it is something that's been on my mind, because we are kind of a destination, so going somewhere with no restroom is taking a big risk. So we actually added a porta potty about a week ago, and I reached out to our previous visitors and one of them actually responded that they were so glad I did that.” 

Of course, upgrades come with a cost, but Jen finds ways to measure which costs are worth it, and why. “Obviously there's a cost to that, but it's kind of weighing the cost to the benefit,” she explained. “I also learned that somebody had done a promotional discount, so I actually did that and I sent it out to everyone who has ever visited our spot, and lowered my price from $18 to $15, and it paid off with repeat visitors. I'm not gonna give up on trying new things.”  

Finding the balance

Jen’s entrepreneurial brain will likely not allow her to stop seeking ways to generate extra income via side gigs anytime soon. In the meantime, she and her family have learned how to navigate a good balance between side gigs, and looks for practical ways they can improve on their Sniffspot rental even more. Fencing around the property is something Jen and Hugo are looking into to enhance visitor experiences, and hopefully attract new guests who feel more comfortable letting their dogs roam in an enclosed space. In addition to that, the couple looks forward to hosting weddings on their property, and will continue to rent their space as filming location as well. For anyone in her area, and beyond, looking to host in their own space, Jen encourages folks to look into it. “Having more people is really how it compounds,” she said. “I post on a lot of different Facebook groups and some people say they’d charge less, and I say great. Here's how you sign up. I like competition.”  

Interested in hosting?

Learn more here about how your land can help dogs and you can earn up to $1,000 per month!