London may be, in my opinion, the best city in the world but it’s certainly not the cheapest. When we decided to go back there this summer we knew we were going to have to battle to keep our costs down, that’s why we decided to house sit and we’re so glad we did.
Why House Sit?
Although saving money was the main reason we decided to house sit, we were also keen to have a temporary home base in the city after over a year of hopping from one guesthouse or hostel to the next every few nights. Since house sitting is something we hope to do more of in the future, particularly in New Zealand, we were also keen to get some experience and references under our belt. Most sits involve looking after pets which may be a downside for some but we love animals, especially dogs, so we were eager to have our own surrogate pet for a few weeks.
How did we Find our House Sit?
We joined two websites, MindMyHouse, which cost just £12 for a year’s membership and Trusted Housesitters, which cost £35.97 for three months. We began applying for house sits through both sites in April this year, a good three months before we were planning on arriving in London. Since we had specific dates in mind this narrowed down the available house sits considerably but I’d say we still applied for around 15 altogether; we weren’t fussy about which area of London they were in or what kind of pets we’d need to look after.
We didn’t have any luck with Mind My House and found that there weren’t many options to apply for on this site. Both of the house sits we eventually landed were through Trusted House sitters, which had a high number of sits available in London, the problem was that competition for them was fierce and we were up against people with lots of experience. We tried to contact home owners with personalised messages as soon as their ad was posted but we still didn’t get many replies, we also made a video for our profile and a got a few character references to boost up our reputation.
One of the most frustrating parts of the search was that several people offered us sits and then changed their minds a couple of days later, presumably after they’d received even more offers. We also had a skype interview for one house sit but lost out to someone with more experience. In the end we were chosen for a week-long sit in South-East London to look after a five-month-old miniature schnauzer called Boo. At the last minute we were also contacted by another couple in North London with a Cairn Terrier called Ruby; they’d been let down by their original house sitter and luckily we had the flexibility to change our travel plans and take on this house sit as well.
Our Experience of House and Pet Sitting
We had the most amazing first house sitting experience you could imagine. Phil and Sue, the couple we were sitting for, invited us to stay with them for several of nights before their holiday so we could get used to the area and learn Boo’s routine; they took us out for dinner, insured Andrew on their car, gave us a £100 Tesco voucher for food and even brought us a gift back from France – we were well and truly spoiled!
This house sit was a dream come true for us, partly because it wasn’t far from where we used to live in our favourite part of London, which is somewhere we’d love to live again one day. Although schnauzers had never appealed to us before we were absolutely besotted with Boo (as is practically everyone who meets her!), every time we took her out people would stop to fuss over her and tell us how cute she was. Anyone who thinks Londoners are grumpy and unfriendly has obviously never been out dog walking in the park, it’s an absolute social hub!
Our days were spent walking Boo for hours, in the mornings we’d usually head to Crystal Palace Park and to Streatham Common in the evenings, where we’d meet up with some of the other walkers and Boo’s doggy friends. We were also able to drive over to our old favourite, Dulwich Park and visit Greenwich one long afternoon. We loved Phil and Sue’s house and felt so at home there; apart from walking Boo we stayed in most of the time working, cooking meals and snuggling up on the sofa in the evenings. There was fast internet and a comfortable space to work on my TEFL course and we were just half an hour away from central London on the train – the week came to an end all too quickly and we were sad to say goodbye to Phil, Sue and Boo.
Our second assignment was in North London, an area we aren’t familiar with for a nice family with a slightly more difficult but lovable terrier called Ruby who doesn’t get on with other animals. While she loves people, Ruby goes crazy if she spots another dog, cat or squirrel and has to be walked on the lead at all times, avoiding contact with other dogs. This sit lasted for almost two weeks so we really felt we settled into the house and unlike Boo, Ruby could be left loose in the house for longer periods of time so we were able to pop into London more frequently.
House sitting allowed us to save a lot of money on rent and we loved having a home base and dogs to look after but it was also harder work than I expected. Any plans we made had to be worked around dog feeding and walking times so we had to be flexible or take turns going out to meet friends. I also underestimated how nerve wracking looking after someone else’s pet would be; there were a few times Boo got overexcited and Andrew had to chase her down in the park, there was the threat of Ruby running into another dog and having a fight and the time we thought Boo had glass in her paw but it turned out to be just a spiky plant. On balance though we loved our first house sitting experiences and are keen to take on more assignments in the future.
Our House Sitting Tips
Here are a few things we learnt about house sitting from our first experiences in London.
- Make a video – we were struggling to get any replies from home owners until we added a video to our online profile. Yes, it was cringe-worthy and took us hours to film because we kept laughing and messing up each take but it was totally worthwhile – homeowners like to see who they’re potentially hiring.
- Be persistent – we found applying for house sits pretty frustrating and disappointing at first and it was tempting to give up. In the end our persistence paid off though and we got two fantastic house sits; keep applying and you’ll get something in the end.
- Get references – references are crucial when looking for house sits, there’s so much competition from people with lots of experience so references go a long way to convince homeowners of your credibility. Even if you can only get hold of character references at first this will help you land a house sit. You can always get some experience and references by doing a couple of local house sits first.
- Be flexible – the more flexible you are with dates, locations and requirements the more successful you’ll be in finding a house sit. We found it harder to get a one at first because we were looking for very specific dates in one city; however our ability to adjust our travel plans at the last minute allowed us to take on an extra assignment.
- Be prepared for interviews – we set up Skype interviews with homeowners to discuss the responsibilities involved in the sit and allow them to ask us questions. This seems to be standard procedure and is a good idea for both parties to get to know each other; have a list of questions ready to ask.
- Keep in contact with the owners – we made an effort to keep in contact with the homeowners via email and Facebook while they were away; we sent photos of the dogs and updates on how they were doing to set the families’ minds at rest.
- Love the pets – only apply for pet sits if you genuinely love animals and are confident looking after them. Andrew and I love pets and have lots of experience caring for dogs in particular so we truly loved looking after both Boo and Ruby – our experience wouldn’t have been successful if we hadn’t.
- Treat the house as your own – it’s important to care for the house you’re in as if it’s your own. Keep and leave it clean and tidy, water plants and generally keep an eye on the property; make sure the owners return to a beautifully maintained home.
- Think carefully about what you want/can deal with – don’t take on more than you can handle or let home owners down. Only accept a house sit if you’re sure you can make the dates and meet the responsibilities required.