Finding a good, reliable sitter or nanny is a surprisingly tough task. We actually tried to use Craigslist for this - and wasted hours interviewing several people on the phone and in person before we found someone even remotely worth considering. However, we were fortunate to hear about two good websites from our neighbor that can help you save time doing this task: Care.com and Sittercity. We ended up trying both sites, as they seemed very similar, so I wanted to post up our findings here to help others compare and find what's best for you.
How they work
Both Care.com and Sittercity are subscription sites, you pay a monthly fee to be able to search their listings for nannies and babysitters (they also offer different types of care providers such as elderly care and pet care). You get to see very detailed information about their providers, including photos, background checks, education level, prior experience, and other customer's reviews and comments. You can then contact any provider you're interested in to set up an interview.
Hands down, both sites make the search process far easier than anything else we've tried, including word-of-mouth recommendations, newspapers, Craigslist, and other local job listing sites. We find that we need sitters frequently, and having a large pool of providers that we can trust is such a nice thing.
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Sittercity costs $9.99 / month (using their 1-year membership) which is slightly lower than what Care.com costs at $11.67 / month (also using their annual package). For some reason the sites are incredibly more expensive if you subscribe month-by-month - Sittercity tacks on an additional $39 just to start your subscription if you pay monthly, then charges the $9.99 per month thereafter. Care.com charges a whopping $35 / month if you go monthly. If you think you'll need the service on an ongoing basis (we tend to need sitters frequently, so we did the annual) it probably makes sense to do an annual subscription, but if you're just checking it out, going month-to-month is a good place to start.
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Location and number of providers
One important question to ask is whether there will be a lot of providers in your area. Based on what I've seen and heard, both Sittercity and Care.com have good coverage in any sizable city in the US from the Los Angeles area (where we live) to Austin to Boston to Miami and Minneapolis. The sites start to show differences when it comes to smaller cities and towns, so you should do a quick test search on each to see how many results come up (you can do a simple search for free on either site).
How many providers in your area? Run a test search on Sittercity and Care.com to see how many providers there are in your area.
Response rates and quality of providers
Both sites have a good number of care providers. After posting our job listing on each site we got plenty of response within 2 days. On Care.com we received 48 replies and 34 responses on Sittercity. Going through the response is very quick, as you can scan each applicant based on a very detailed profile, and contact a few for interviews. On both sites we were able to bring in 3-4 people for interviews within 3 days of posting our listing, and we were surprised with the overall level of quality of the providers we met. Simply a higher level of professionalism and, how else can I describe it, cleanliness? than we found using other ways of searching.
Care.com's "Care on Call" feature
One big differentiator between the two sites was Care.com's "Care on Call" feature, which comes in handy if your sitter or nanny calls in sick or can't make it to a scheduled job. Care will send an email out to all available providers in the area to find you a few qualified candidates to fill in for your normal provider. We've used this feature 3 times already in two months and love it!
Sittercity: Search by Language Spoken and Special Needs experience
One advantage of Sittercity is that the site offers more detailed search options. You can search for sitters / nannies who are fluent in German, Chinese, Spanish, French, or dozens of other languages (there were hundreds of providers speaking most languages in our area). Sittercity also allows you to search for providers who have specific experience with various special needs such as ADHD, Asberger's Syndrome, and children with asthma.
Search by specific days / hours available on Care.com
Care.com has one nice search feature which allows you to search for sitters or nannies who are available at certain time blocks on specific dates. Its a very quick way to find someone when you know exactly when you need them, without having to go through back-and-forth messages about scheduling.
Overall, both sites do a good job and we didn't have any major complaints about either. Care.com is probably the slightly higher-end solution, a little bit more expensive, but with some nice additional features like the "Care on Call" service. Care.com might be the better solution for those who regularly need sitters and nannies, people who travel a lot, and those with unpredictable schedules - it has everything you'll need to always have a sitter on hand when you need. Sittercity is a little bit cheaper and simpler - the web site is very clean and easy to navigate - so if you have more basic needs it might be the better solution. Also, if you have a child with special needs such as ADHD or asthma, of if you need someone who speaks a language other than English, Sittercity has some easy ways to find multiple providers with those specific experiences. We had good experiences with both though - you can't go wrong with either one of these top-quality sites.
Read a more detailed review on Sittercity and Care. Forum discussion on Sittercity.
References: http://care.com and http://www.sittercity.com. SafetyWeb review. Bluepromocode.