Hannah Wood, a work-from-home product manager for a health care company, would like to relocate to Philadelphia to live near her mother, but she's struggling to find a place that will welcome her roommate, Lea, a 55-pound mixed breed dog.
Wood initially had hoped to buy a house, but the current competitive market has her searching for a rental, and landlords often limit the size and breed of dog.
"Many only accept dogs up to 15 or 20 pounds, which excludes like 60% of all breeds," she said. "It's been a struggle to find a place without a lot of restrictions."
Pets are increasingly affecting their owners' real estate choices, whether it's the neighborhood they choose, the home they buy or rent, or how they arrange and decorate their space. A 2020 Realtor.com survey found that a majority of pet owners consider their animals' needs before making a home purchase. Of the 2,000 survey participants, 61% were dog owners, 45% owned cats, 12% fish and 9% birds.
About half of U.S. households have pets, according to the census bureau, and in 2020, owners spent on average $1,201 on dogs and $687 on cats, according to Statistica, a provider of consumer and market data.
Pet owners tend to buy larger homes with more bedrooms, Zillow reported in October. Buyers with at least one pet are more likely to choose a home larger than 3,000 square feet, and about a third purchased a home with four bedrooms or more, compared to a quarter of buyers without pets.
"For me and many people in my generation, (my dog) is my child, where I spend my time and money," said Wood, who's 42 and single. "It's time for real estate companies to understand it's how we live."
What pet owners want
An ideal home for Wood — who would like to move to Philadelphia by January — would be a mid-rise or smaller building with adjacent green space, a nearby park, and a space to wash Lea after a muddy walk.
Wood has lived in several very pet-friendly cities, including Portland, Ore., where dog biscuits were available at her building's front desk, and her current home, Saratoga Springs, N.Y., where "dogs are allowed everywhere — restaurants, the post office."
"I literally just saw someone walking a cat in a baby carriage," she said.
Philadelphia, with 23.62% of rentals classified as pet-friendly, ranked 28th in a "Lets for Pets" list of 50 U.S. cities compiled in October by All About Cats, which offers expertise on feline behavior and health. New York was first with 66.45% welcoming rentals.
In West Philadelphia, competition is fierce in old Victorians for ground level apartments with easy access to fenced-in yards, said Lindsay Johnston with Common Ground Realtors in University City, where "a dog is very much a part of the social life."
He sees the same dog owners walking the same loop every day, morning and evening. They also take advantage of the park and designated dog parks nearby.
Before buying or renting, pet owners should check for homeowner association or building restrictions on number or type of pets and whether they need to be spayed or neutered. Beyond enough space for their pet, the National Association of Realtors says owners often seek a fenced yard; sidewalks; easy-to-clean, durable flooring; mud room/wash area; dog door; animal pool/outdoor water feature; or a cat litter closet.
"If you have the option," Johnston said, "get your pet after you buy or rent, in case you don't get the square footage or other things you want."
When Mindy Rhodes and John Braxton were house-hunting six years ago, they wanted a quiet, old house with enough acreage for her horse, Spike, whom she had been boarding. She thought the search would take several years, but they spotted an internet listing for a property in suburban West Chester, Pennsylvania, with "just enough land to bring my horse home."
Because horses are happier in a herd, she soon acquired two donkeys, Mama and Mia, to keep Spike company. She also has three dogs, two cats, two rabbits, four chickens in a coop, and a duck named Lucy, who wears a diaper when she comes inside ("I don't know whether I'd do that again," Rhodes said).
She deemed cats the easiest, because they're resilient and adaptable to their surroundings. "People train dogs," Rhodes said. "Cats train people."
Rhodes' animals enjoy having the run of her three acres, as well as a spot by the fire, she said. "It's a luxury not to have to walk the dogs."
Having a dedicated space for pets is a major consideration when organizing a home, according to almost a quarter of the 1,000 adults surveyed last summer by the residential mortgage division of Ally Bank.
"For us, dogs are family, so it was just a natural part of the design process to consider them," said Kirstin McGowan, of Mechanicsville, Pa., who has two yellow Labrador retrievers, Milly and Bentley.
During a recent remodel, she and her husband, Sean, added a built-in shelf for the dogs' bowls "because there's nothing more annoying than tripping over them in a tight kitchen," she said.
The McGowans put in hardwood floors and use washable rugs for easier cleaning and have multiple dog beds indoors and out. Because the dogs tend to dig, the couple built a stone patio and limited landscaping to trees in their fenced back yard.
They're in the process of adding a mudroom/laundry room and considering building in dog crates there. And they recently upgraded to a king-size bed for more room to cuddle in the morning with their two young daughters, Charlotte and Eleanor, and the dogs.
What sellers should do
Certain pet-friendly features can contribute to a higher sale price or faster-than-expected sale, according to a Zillow report on 2020 home sales. Homes that advertise a doghouse in their listing description can sell for 3% more than expected, Zillow found, while homes advertising a fenced backyard or a dog run can sell up to five days faster.
When it comes to in-person showings, however, sellers should erase any sign of a pet, especially cat odors, Johnston advised. "You'll lose 99% of the market if you can't remove the smell."
Sellers should repair anything damaged by a pet, have the home professionally cleaned, replace carpeting, and/or refinish floors. During showings, they should stow all toys, bowls and beds, and remove the pet from the house.
These 10 houseplants are safe for your pet
Keeping pets safe while adding beauty
While houseplants have the ability to bring life to a room and purify the air, a drawback is that many houseplants are toxic to animals. Here are 10 plants that add beauty to your home without worry.
First, keep in mind that while many plants are technically safe for cats and dogs, it’s best to eliminate temptation and place all houseplants out of reach. This will prevent possible tummy aches and digestive problems in your pets. If a pet ever does ingest a plant, make sure to watch them closely for signs of a negative reaction. Just because a plant is nontoxic for cats and dogs doesn’t mean ingesting it will make them feel good.
Want pet-safe houseplants with blooms? Look no further than African violet. This versatile, hardworking houseplant is right at home with your pets. It comes in a range of purple hues, and it’s low maintenance and thrives without bright light.
The variegated gray-and-green leaves of this plant make it an attractive option for the home. It’s one of many great easy-care houseplants safe for pets.
Unlike their dangerous holiday counterpart amaryllis, Christmas cacti are not poisonous for pets like cats and dogs. The cactus may cause intestinal discomfort if ingested, but overall it’s a safer choice than many other festive plants.
This plant is named for the ease with which it can be divided and shared—so if you happen to receive such a gift, rest assured it’s safe for your cats and dogs. But beware, pets may be especially drawn to the fuzzy, crinkly leaves.
Certain kinds of herbs
Indoor herb gardens are an easy, fun way to add fresh flavor to your cooking. But not all herbs are created equal when it comes to pet safety. Standards like lavender and oregano are off-limits, but pets are fine around basil, sage and thyme.
This quirky plant has blooms that resemble tubes of lipstick, and is safe for cats and dogs alike. A native of the tropics, it thrives in bright light and loves being outside in the warmer months.
This is the perfect solution for pet owners looking to add a small tree indoors. Safe for cats and dogs, it’s also great for green-thumb beginners.
Polka dot plant
This plant is perfect for adding a fun splash of pattern to miniature gardens, terrariums, mixed containers and more. Available in colors such as white and pink, it’s as versatile as it is whimsical.
Topping out at 6 to 8 inches, this plant is ideal for small spaces such as bookshelves and end tables. Its red, cream and green leaves curl up at night, giving it its name. What’s more, it’s one of the easiest houseplants you can grow.
Many of the most popular succulents — including hens and chicks, echeveria and rosettes — aren’t problematic. However, with so many varieties on the market, it’s best to research each individual plant.