11 Aug Our First Experiences of House Sitting in London
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.
Steph (@ 20 Years Hence)Posted at 13:50h, 11 August
Fabulous resource, guys! We’re definitely considering the possibility of housesitting when we head out on our travels again, though I’m sure it will be even more difficult to secure a post given that we’ll have two of our own dogs as travel companions, but we’ve heard even then it’s not impossible, and surely the just shows how keen on pets we are? 🙂 Anyway, we haven’t even begun to think about setting up a profile or anything like that, but I’ve no doubt I’ll be referring back to this quite a bit. I had no idea a video would be so critical, but that’s good to know.
Just a question: Did you mention & link back to this blog & maybe your CS profile on your housesitting profile? While we’ve not done any housesitting, I would think that having both of those things as “references” would be of some use.
AmyPosted at 10:30h, 12 August
Hi Steph, I think house sitting would be great for you guys and I’m sure you can find some assignments that will allow you to bring dogs. I think a video is quite critical, one of the couples we house sat for said they found that really helpful in making their decision about who to choose; references are probably most important though. We did add a link to our blog on our profile, we also linked to some reviews we had from AirB&B – adding your CouchSurfing profile would definitely work well – I look forward to seeing what you kind of sits you find 🙂
CharliePosted at 19:26h, 11 August
Wow, I never imagined housesitting would be so competitive! I guess it would be with so many people looking to stay in London though. These are really useful tips. I hope to do some housesitting over the next few years, will definitely follow this advice.
AmyPosted at 10:36h, 12 August
I think it’s great to mix some house sitting into your travels Charlie, especially if you plan to move slowly. We’ll definitely be doing more of it in the future, particularly in more expensive destinations.
Stefan ArestisPosted at 03:05h, 12 August
North London? My stomping ground 🙂 Whereabouts?
I’ve added this very informative article to my growing documents to come back to later. Currently we’re in Asia where it’s cheap enough to justify the usual Hostelworld/Agoda/Tripadvisor type places. But we also plan to go to NZ and Auz where we keep hearing how expensive they are.
One thing we did before leaving London was to host couch surfers and get them to write us references so that we start to build a profile. As a couple did you ever use couch surfing in your travels? We’ve yet to use it but anticipate it being a bit harder for a couple then for a solo traveller.
AmyPosted at 10:40h, 12 August
Hi Stefan, we were in Mill Hill East 🙂 I think House sitting is a great plan for New Zealand and Australia, I wish we’d tried it there; in fact we’re keen to go back and house sit in the South Island of NZ at some point. Awesome idea getting some references through CS before you left too; we did some CouchSurfing for the first time in Taiwan (which is more expensive for accommodation) and had a great experience with an amazing host; I’d recommend trying that too.
Nomadic BoysPosted at 11:57h, 15 August
(Wow at Mill Hill – lovely part of London)
PattiPosted at 05:47h, 12 August
These are great suggestions. We’ve thought about house sits but haven’t made the step yet. Our travel time is so limited at this point in our lives it just doesn’t seem like an option – that and while we like animals, we have no idea how to tend to them – and I’m allergic to cats, so it pretty much rules out that option! 😉 And I know there are some sits without pets, but they’re few and far between as I understand it. But, I do think it is a great option for economic travel and good for you for getting your foot in the door!
AmyPosted at 10:43h, 12 August
Hi Patti, you’re right, it is more difficult (from our experience) to find house sits without pets. I can see that if you have limited travel time it’s not the best option as you’re rooted in one place and don’t get as much time to explore as you would just staying in hotels. We will definitely use house sitters again though in more expensive destinations, it’ll also help us to travel a bit more slowly as we tend to otherwise burn ourselves out when we dash around for long periods of time.
Kendra (the Escapologist)Posted at 14:14h, 12 August
I haven’t yet…but I’m considering housesitting when I get tired of hostel-jumping. Thank you for the tips! I hate the idea of having to make a video, but I guess I’ll have to get over it.
AmyPosted at 17:38h, 12 August
The video was a bit cringe-worthy Kendra but it was worth it to land the house sit with Boo, we loved that dog 🙂 House sitting is great for a blast of home comforts every now and again.
RhondaPosted at 19:01h, 12 August
Thanks for the great info. We, like Steph & Tony, hope to housesit some of the time on our way South down the PanAm and I feel as though we should sign up now, and possibly do a sit or two around our area, before we leave to get some references, become familiar with the procedure, etc. Since we’ll also have our two dogs that will limit our options some, but hopefully we’ll still be able to work things out. Great tips and glad you enjoyed your house sits.
AmyPosted at 22:07h, 12 August
Hi Rhonda, I definitely think doing some sits in your local area to get some references is a good idea, it’ll also prepare you for what’s to come. Good luck 🙂
KatiePosted at 15:30h, 13 August
I love your tips – I would have never thought to add a video! I’m so self-conscience that it would take me hours too. I’ll definitely use these when we finally get around to looking more into house-sitting. It seems like a great win-win for everyone.
AmyPosted at 21:25h, 13 August
The video definitely took a while to film Katie, it was worth it though. I think house sitting is definitely a win-win as long as both parties lay out the expectations of the sit beforehand and are comfortable with each other. I hope you land yourself a great house sit one day 🙂
The GuyPosted at 15:51h, 13 August
Amy, I think it is great that you’ve been able to get these 2 house sit assignments. Also Phil and Sue sound like the best possible hosts!
It is good that you share your frustrations because I hear of other people with these problems. It’s like the age old problem with trying a new career – they only recruit people with experience but how can you get any experience.
Hopefully these 2 sittings have solved that now and you can get future assignments much easier.
From my experience I know how expensive London can be so you’ve saved a fortune with this.
AmyPosted at 21:27h, 13 August
Phil and Sue were great and so were Barry and Steph (the other couple we sat for), both dogs were very lovable too 🙂 It definitely was frustrating when we were offered a couple of house sits early on and then the home owners changed their minds; you really have to prepare for that and accept that finding assignments may not be easy. Hopefully will find more great house sits now we have references though.
FrancaPosted at 07:38h, 29 August
We love housesitting a lot especially when there are pets involved 🙂 Great tips guys, we thought to add a video to our profile too but we keep forgetting or putting it off, but we should really do it 🙂
AmyPosted at 06:00h, 30 August
The pets are probably our favourite part of house sitting Franca, especially when they’re as cute as Boo!
AlcionePosted at 16:03h, 25 February
Another way to boost your chances is to get DBS checked. I plan to do this after my adventures around Portugal. Thank you for sharing your story!
AmyPosted at 18:04h, 25 February
Good tip, enjoy Portugal! We hope to visit there this year 🙂