Opening from a Georgian mansion overlooking the sparkling sea on the second floor of a four-story Georgian mansion, this is not how I planned to work when I bought an ex-council one-bedroom apartment in north London.
But living on my own with no outdoor space during the pandemic made me look for temporary alternatives when asked to work from home.
Now, twenty-one months since the UK entered its first foreclosure, I have done over 10 home sits which means I have improved my living situation into beautiful houses with outdoor space and the company of pets.
You can become a house sitter through sites like house-sitters.co.uk, or you can babysit for friends or their friends by word of mouth, and some people even do babysitting as a paid job.
I decided Airbnb was too expensive an option to just upgrade where I worked from home and after going through the home child care options I decided to sign up for TrustedHousesitters.com. This is a well-known global membership site (starting at £ 129 per year) primarily focused on pet sitting in exchange for free accommodation.
Having pets and the responsibility of caring for them has been beneficial to my mental health during the pandemic. Walking into the homes of strangers also means that I can experience different interiors and try out all kinds of furniture and kitchen appliances. By putting my feet up on different sofas, I am able to put together a mental moodboard of what I might like about my future dream home.
My first cat sitting in August 2020 was a stylish two-story maisonette in the trendy Stokes Croft area of Bristol. It was so minimalist and thoughtful with its design, I felt like I was in a high end Airbnb. After the first confinement, it was such a privilege to have a garden and it was adorned with apple and pear trees, which I was welcome to pick.
The pros: The basement bedroom was cool for the hot summer and quiet for the busy central area. Cons: The dangers of a velvet sofa – not suitable for someone a little clumsy like me.
Then there was a stylish and comfortable apartment in Guildford with lovely sunset views. I appreciated that the second bedroom was transformed into a calming yoga room. I did however make a small mistake with this one – the balcony mentioned in the list was not an exterior but the stairwell leading to the front door of the building.
Despite the lack of outdoor space, which is a prerequisite for me; it was always nice to explore a city I didn’t know, just when things reopened. However, I will add; choosing a house in a place where I knew no one made me feel isolated enough.
My third seat was the best of 2020 – a stunning Georgian family home in Henleaze, Bristol. Here I could work from the long 10-person kitchen table under the skylight, my feet on the toasty sofa, or in the bright living room with piano at the front of the house.
The kitchen was so well equipped, airy and spacious, it made me want to cook. There was a lovely garden and an extremely comfortable bed as well.
All other seats planned for 2020 have unfortunately been canceled due to Covid restrictions, but things picked up in 2021 from April.
This year, I decided to do a house sit in London as well as elsewhere. This has taken me several times to Walthamstow, North Finchley and also to a beautiful Victorian house in Haringey.
There was a beautiful garden full of blueberries and tomatoes, and Paula Rego prints all over the house.
The houses that may be right next to my home in Wood Green help me explore different areas that I could potentially move to in the future and catch up with friends who live in different areas.
Another highlight of my 2021 sessions was taking care of a dog for the whole month of June in the seaside town of Clevedon in Somerset. I fell in love with the labradoodle and also fell in love with the aforementioned mansion that I was lucky enough to stay in. There was a tiered garden that looked out to sea and the sunset at the top, a roof terrace at the front of the house, and a huge bath.
Advantages: the dog, the views, the walks. Cons: Old houses leak in stormy weather and I was a little scared of the statue of Henry VIII in the cellar.
A sandy beach and sea was only a five minute walk away when I stayed in a Grade II listed four story townhouse in Ramsgate, Kent on another dog sitting in October. Being near the sea again did wonders for my sanity and I enjoyed the wood-burning stove in the cozy comfort.
After all these houses, I know I really want an ice-dispensing refrigerator and a dishwasher in my dream home. Outdoor space is also essential. And I certainly learned a lot about people’s eclectic tastes in their interior design and what is and isn’t for me.
The best advice for house sitting
How to find the right stays
If you are a newbie I would recommend going through one of the well known sites as they will do the checks for you, you can read the reviews and you feel safe.
If you are looking to become a paid house sitter, there are several online communities on sites like Facebook that offer support and advice on what to bill, how to be insured, and how to stay safe. Online courses are available to teach you about animal care and pet behavior.
What to watch out for
Make sure that you are aware of the level of responsibility that is expected of you from the home owner. If there are pets, they may need long walks or have additional medical needs; for example, a dog I was taking care of needed at least two hours of walking a day, which for me personally was great for my health.
I also had to administer a daily asthma inhaler to an elderly cat, clean a dog’s ear and take it to the vet, and make sure the pets are taking their medication.
It is good to be clear about other expectations, such as which plants to water or which plots to harvest.
Make sure nothing exceeds your limits eg I wouldn’t be comfortable with some house sitters who insist that cameras be inside the house or that a tenant stays at the same time as you .
How to do it safely
It’s good to meet the owner ahead of time – this can be done through Zoom for an interview, or if Covid restrictions allow it can be great to visit the house ahead of time, meet the animals and make sure you have the key for the first day.
For me, as a single woman, I feel comfortable doing this through a respected website. Ultimately, you have to find what works for you and your situation.
How to get the most out of it
The kindness of strangers is really great in situations like these. I received all kinds of beautiful bottles of wine, food, a candle, and I was made comfortable by other people.
In return, it is important to take care of people’s accommodation, to respect their wishes and to leave it really clean.
Lots of people would prefer you didn’t have guests, but if I’ve ever wanted to invite a friend over for coffee or dinner, or someone to stay at my house, I check with the owner first.
My last and final tip is to ask the owner how much communication they expect from you – especially if you are caring for their beloved pet. Some people might want a daily photo, others might want to enjoy their vacation. If you set these limits before the sit, it sets him up for success.