House sitting—even the name sounds cosy and inviting, doesn’t it? Along with house warming. Unless you’re Steve Martin in the 90s film Housesitter, in which case it’s a terrible idea. Fortunately for all concerned, the name is as literal and welcoming as it sounds.
Unlike the arguably better-known guardianship schemes, you don’t actually pay any form of rent or accommodation fees to house sit. Another fundamental difference (as the name would suggest) you will always be staying in a residential property, all over London and Greater London. You could be in a hipster east London warehouse, a cosy family home, and in one instance we heard about, a Tudor mansion. Because even the well-off know the value of cheapo living in this city.
The flip-side is that placements can be sporadic, and longer-term opportunities are less common, as more people let out their vacant rooms or properties through Airbnb these days. But they are out there, if you’re prepared to do a little research, and are flexible on location.
House sitter, Stephanie Ross has been doing stints on and off for the past ten years, having stumbled upon it after a year travelling, finding opportunities through word of mouth. Nowadays, there are global companies and schemes dedicated to it.
“I was being asked to look after people’s dogs, houses, gardens and even fish as well. It worked really well for me as it meant I had a whole house/flat to myself and it gave me a little bit of independence for one or two weeks, always a good thing when you have had to move back in with your parents”.
The fastest way to get going is to sign up to a house-sitting site. Many sites combine house sitting with pet sitting. Two of the main companies are TrustedHousesitters and MindAHome. To be considered you’ll need to sign up as a member, and fill out a sitter profile to get going. House-sitting with a partner is also an option, lots of couples do house sitting but check details on the house sitting sites and individual ads too.
On Trusted Housesitters, members are vetted (pun very much intended). To sign up, you must register, fill out a questionnaire to prove you’re pet-friendly, and you should expect to provide references. Once you’re given the thumbs up, you can reply to ads, and filter by location, duration and animal type. On MindAHome, the average house sits are between one week and four months, but they also have some for six to twelve months.
Members on both sites can browse adverts and express their interest. It is also free for members to list their availability, so be proactive and put yourself forward. Consider offering to pet sit for friends and family too as references will help get you further house sits. Once a house sitter is registered, it’s up to the home/pet owner to select the person they feel is suited to the placement.
House sitting assignments are generally free, as you’re providing a service, but there might be some sign-up costs involved.
Membership fees: £12-79 for annual fees
Background checks: £25 Some might ask for a basic disclosure doc, which is a criminal background check.
References: You can sign up as a newbie, but if possible, offer to house or pet sit for a friend or family member first so you can show some experience.
Utilities: House sitters are sometimes expected to contribute towards utilities used during their stay for longer sits, but check in with the homeowner.
It’s always advisable to go through tried and tested companies first, but check out classified ads in GumTree too. In some instances, it can provide a supplementary income too, like cat sitting through CatInAFlat, where you set your rate according to experience.
Getting to know the city
In such a huge city, it can be daunting to pin down a neighbourhood you like, so house sitting can give you the chance to explore different areas before you commit to one.
“I love variety and trying new things so it also gave me the opportunity to explore new areas. And they obviously benefited from the reassurance that someone was making the property look lived in, and caring for their animals too.” Stephanie Ross, house sitter.
It also gives you some valuable money-saving time and a bit of breathing space to find the right place. By taking short-term assignments, you can take your time to find suitable longer term-flat or house shares, and of course save for deposit and admin fees.
As with property guardianship, there is a central responsibility in exchange for the accommodation, in this case, pet sitting, and other light household duties like watering plants. Each advert will stipulate the terms and conditions, which are relatively standard (dog walks, feedings, cleaning out litter trays) but some pet owners have their quirks. One advert listing includes ‘sending cat reports’, presumably, this is just the odd text or email to reassure the owner that its little fluffball is purring happily, and not a full typed report to be Fedexed. Joking aside, updates are not an unreasonable request, and you can have some fun with Pet Skype, but it might be tricky if you’re looking after an aviary or tropical fish.
Of course, it won’t be for everyone. If you have an aversion to pets or suffer from allergies, you might have to do more sifting to find the pet-free sits, but again, do a little digging and you should find some. You’re likely to be on the move every couple of weeks, so it’s ideal if you’re living out of a suitcase, and don’t have furniture or you might have to fork out for storage space, which can be expensive. You could be lugging your stuff across town at regular intervals, but you have the bonus of space, and utilities, comfort and privacy from not having to share with others.
However, if you do love animals, it might be a great alternative to the responsibilities and restrictions of full-time pet care. Most rental properties don’t allow pets, and pet care can be costly, so this is an alternative that goes a step further than the very successful Borrow My Doggy scheme, which matches pet owners to volunteer dog walkers. House and pet owners should leave clear instructions on looking after their property and animals. Pro tip: London’s birds and expensive fish don’t mix, as Stephanie Ross discovered
“Another homeowner had a pond full of very expensive Koi Carp, which I had to care for. One day, I happened to be walking past the window to see a heron sat by the pond with one of the poor fish flapping in its mouth. I tried to scare it into dropping its catch but the heron flew off with the fish …. They were really good about it and soon invested in a heron net to go over the pond so it didn’t happen again.”
Timing is pretty critical, holiday and travel seasons (Christmas, spring, summer) are likely to be best for assignments, but bear in mind there might also be more people signing up, or travelling to London at these times, so you’ll have more competition. Keep an eye on your inbox, if you’re signed up, so you don’t miss opportunity alerts. Also, keep an eye out for professionals who might travel abroad at regular intervals, if you strike up a trusted exchange, it could open up a regular return gig.
Flexibility is favourable too. The more flexible you can be with dates and locations, the more options you will have. Some might be a little further out, in the suburbs so bear that in mind if you’re looking to keep commute costs down.
Trusted Housesitters have a tips blog with suggestions on how to be a good house-sitter. Most of it is just common sense and good manners. They suggest leaving the fridge stocked for the homeowner’s return, and you might be on the receiving end of a welcome pack and some edible treats too.
It may not be purr-fect for everyone, and it’s not the key to long-term accommodation security, but if you’re making your way on the move, and want to sample London life in different neighbourhoods, house-sitting could be a great option for saving cash.