Thanks for coming back over to the blog. In my last post about life as a single mum (here), I mentioned that Ruby and I had done some house-sitting through an agency.
As I said in my previous post, being a single mum means money can be pretty tight when it comes to extras such as holidays and weekends away. I’d heard of house-sitting a long time ago but had put it to the back of my mind. Lying in bed one night, it came back to me and I began researching. Now this was a couple of years ago, way before Air BnB became as big as it is now. There was one website which stood out from the rest, Trusted House-Sitters. Link here.
This was during the time I was dubious about going abroad alone with Ruby and so I thought I’d test the water by taking a house-sit in the UK. If it worked well, I’d consider broadening our search and may venture abroad. There are house-sits all over the world to choose from.
For those of you who don’t know much about the concept, on the Trusted House-Sitters website there are home-owners who want someone to look after their home while they’re away. There are all types of properties, from flats, to Victorian terraces, suburban semis, country cottages and villas with pools if you’re looking to go abroad.
Many of the home-owners have pets, which is the main reason for them wanting someone to be in their home. This sounded ideal for us, as Ruby is a real animal-lover. If you’re really into animals, you can also take on more serious house-sitting assignments, looking after small-holdings around the UK. Then there are the house-sitters, the people, like us, who are offering their house-sitting services.
Each home-owner creates a profile, outlining who they are and what they require from a house-sitter, when they require you and where they live. Likewise, each house-sitter creates a profile, detailing how many people are in their house-sitting party, their experience of animals (if pets are involved in the house-sit too) and when they’re free to house-sit.
On entering the website, it became clear that it was easy to peruse different house-sits, without actually being logged in as a member. For me this was good because I wasn’t ready to sign up to something I didn’t know enough about yet.
After being enticed by a few assignments, I decided to sign up. At the time, it was £70 per annum to join, which may seem pretty steep, but not when you consider the potential holiday value. On checking, I think this may have increased to £89 per annum now.
Initially, on creating a profile for us, I was worried people wouldn’t want someone with children to be in their home in case they broke things or made a mess, but this was actually the reverse.
Home-owners were requesting families to house-sit so that their pets were kept amused while they were away; this was reassuring and so I began adding more detail to our profile, which included photos of us looking rather smart, also photos of us in our home, which was looking suitably spruced and neat (so they knew we had high standards, of course) Lastly, I added photos of us with our dog so that they knew we were animal lovers too.
Within the profile it’s helpful to include details of proposed sleeping arrangements. An advantage of hiring us was that we only needed one double bedroom. That meant there was less prepping for the home-owners, which is important when you think about how busy you are yourself when packing for holiday.
Once our profile was written, I had to give some details of when I was available for house-sitting. Home-owners can search through house-sitter profiles in the same way. It’s really important that you’re certain about when you’re available. The site relies on people giving their word and if you lose that trust, you’ll find no one will hire you. (There’s a review section which I’ll talk about later)
Then I was ready to search for house-sits. There’s a great filter system so you can really hone in on areas you’re interested in. I selected the Cotswolds, west-country and seaside resorts. Home-owners’ profiles are usually quite detailed but often people hadn’t included enough information or photographs for me and so I discounted them quickly.
When you find an advert you’re interested in, you send an application. The home-owners get access to your profile via the application but you also write a mini-application saying why that specific house-sit is suited to you.
We were extremely lucky to be contacted by a couple in the Cotswolds, who replied to our application within a few days. They told me they’d selected us out of fifty-nine applicants because they could see we loved animals and they commented on our home in the background too, so a bit of extra work on your profile is vital, if you want to be chosen.
They had a beautiful country house in a gorgeous Cotswold village, near to Blenheim Palace. They had a cockerpoo called Bonnie and a rabbit, called Ginger, who slept together inside the house. Ruby was so excited thinking that we could look after them.
I won’t reveal their names, but they were a lovely couple, and we e mailed back and forth, me answering their questions as best as I could. I could tell they were nervous about opening up their home to people they didn’t know. Their reason for hiring house-sitters was that their dog had seemed affected by her stay in kennels the last time they holidayed and they wanted her to be looked after in a familiar environment.
They asked if we would be happy to come on the Friday night before they departed on the Saturday morning. I agreed and looked forward to the holiday which was six or eight weeks away.
Some house-sitters are happy to leave a key with a neighbour but both home-owners we met preferred to meet us in person the night before they departed.
So I collected Ruby from school on the Friday night and followed the couple’s directions to the village. It was the week before Easter and so it was dark before we turned off the motorway and began crossing country roads. I did have a few moments where I wondered if it would be okay and if the couple were who they said, but the numerous e mails had put my mind at rest about this and I had purposely chosen somewhere not too far from home so I could call for help if I needed to.
As we pulled up outside the house, I recognised it from the photos on the website; it was absolutely beautiful.
We were greeted by them both, and I could see the table laid for dinner as we had arranged. Their cockerpoo bounded up to Ruby and she was sold there and then on the idea of house-sitting.
We spent the evening at the table, eating and drinking, while also being treated to a tour of the house and the immediate area outside, although we couldn’t see much because it was so dark. We ran through the care instructions for the house and pets. This was really helpful, especially being told about sticky locks and when the postman comes and so on.
And then it was time for bed. The house had three doubles and a bunk room upstairs, but also an en-suite double downstairs, which was where Ruby and I were staying. It was all beautifully clean and there were fresh towels and some little chocolate Easter bunnies on our bed for Ruby; so thoughtful.
The couple and their two teenage children left at around 5am and by 6am, Ruby and I were awake. Stepping out into the house was just like when Dorothy opens the door into Munchkinland. We hadn’t seen much because it was dark, but the views from the house were truly spectacular. We explored together before venturing to the kitchen for breakfast.
I’d brought shopping with us but left it in the car as I felt a bit awkward lugging it all in when we’d arrived the night before. On the countertop, the couple had left a long note, which reiterated all the instructions we’d been given the night before. We were asked to use their DVDs, books and even for Ruby to help herself to ice-creams from the freezer.
They had also written down the names of all their friends in the village who we could go to for help with anything, from a lost dog or rabbit, to car trouble. And they had left a little hamper, full of local produce and goodies from the village shop.
Many people were surprised that you don’t get paid for house-sitting, but just a change of scene when you don’t have the means to get away otherwise is all the payment we needed. We had the most wonderful week at that house; it was truly magical.
Shortly after I’d accepted the Cotswolds house-sit, another sit that I’d applied for was confirmed for the last two weeks of August. As you can imagine, house-sits close to the sea are sought after but we were lucky to be accepted for a two week stint in a suburban, detached house between Margate and Broadstairs in Kent, just a five minute walk from the coast. I’d never been to this part of the UK before so I was looking forward to exploring the area.
However, a month before that sit, I got a text from the Cotswold couple asking if we were available at short notice to do a week in August. It was actually the week before the Margate house-sit was planned.
Luckily, being a teacher meant I had a long summer holiday to choose my weeks away from and so we accepted and ended up having three weeks away, back-to-back. The Cotswold couple asked if Ruby would like to bring a friend this time and said they could sleep upstairs in the bunk room, so this was ideal and the week was spent having water-fights in the garden and trampolining, overlooking the village. Pure bliss.
We made our way over to the Margate house-sit, where we spent the first evening getting acquainted. We’d been stuck in traffic and bought food at the services this time. The couple were very nice and friendly but a little awkward in comparison to the Cotswold couple and so I was a little relieved to have arrived later than planned, so there wasn’t much time to chat before bed. They left early the next morning and after that we spent two lovely weeks looking after their spaniel, Rufus.
This house and the local area was very different to the Cotswold sit but still got us away for some fun. The beaches between Margate and Broadstairs are just beautiful and we spent our days walking to Broadstairs along the coastal path, taking the dog for runs along the front and eating fish and chips.
Many home-owners are keen to build a rapport with their house-sitters, so that they can ask you back without getting to know new people all the time. The Cotswold home-owners were keen for that to happen but then didn’t contact us again. I’m not sure if we did something wrong or whether their circumstances have changed. I guess we’ll never know.
Both couples gave us a great review in the review section of the website and this is really important for potential home-owners to check when looking for house-sitters. I always left the houses spotless and left milk and bread for their return, messaging them before we left to let them know.
The Cotswold couple asked me to write down some details about myself when we arrived, including my address and I was happy to do this, thinking about how I’d feel having a complete stranger in my home for a week. They also left amounts of loose change around the house and some notes too. I definitely felt this was a little test but it was all there when they got back.
I hope this has given you some insight into the idea of house-sitting and I should also say that many of the home-owners are happy for you to bring your own dog too if you have one.
I’d definitely recommend using Trusted House-Sitters and both my experiences were pleasant. I’m sure we’ll do it again some time in the future.