“I’m a homeless man taking care of a palace!” House-sitters fleeing the cost of living crisis | life and style
Massitant houses, vast gardens, sometimes a refrigerator full of food – and all this for free. Megan Gay and Sean Wood, both 27, have managed to dodge the cost of living crisis and rent or mortgage hikes that are ravaging the lives and savings of many people in the UK. Their tip? Full time home care. Seven months ago the couple decided to quit the London rental market and hit the road. Their belongings in bags, they moved from house to house across the UK. They plan to continue living like this for at least a year.
Homesitting – looking after properties and pets for free while owners are away – is nothing new. But since the pandemic, the trend has exploded. Faced with an unstable housing market, 40-year high inflation and soaring food and energy prices, increasing numbers of people of all ages and backgrounds are turning to housesitting to keep a roof over their heads.
“More and more people are struggling to find accommodation they can afford to live in, so housesitting is definitely a desirable alternative,” says Nick Fuad, of House Sitters UK, who connects sitters with the owners. The number of house-sitters on its site is double what it was before the pandemic. TrustedHousesitters, another sitter platform, reports a 275% increase in growth in the UK since 2021.
Without rent or utility bills, Gay, a public relations and marketing manager, is now able to save a significant portion of his salary, while Wood has been able to start his own business. Their overheads include petrol, food and a £200 annual subscription to TrustedHousesitters, but that’s nothing like what they used to pay: £2,000 a month rent for a flat in the south from London, £200 or more for bills every month and £2,500 a year for a parking space – and they didn’t even have a garden.
“I was working at a job that barely covered my rent and expenses, so I wasn’t able to save,” Gay says. “We have reached breaking point and have decided to move out of the apartment. Financially, housesitting is amazing. I hear stories of friends whose rent is increased; they have to leave and come home to live with their parents. , move to cheaper places or beg their bosses for pay raises.
The average houseit lasts one to two weeks, but long-term stays of three to five weeks on average are on the rise, especially among those who want to do it full time.
Angela Laws, 75, and her husband were among the first to join TrustedHousesitters 12 years ago. They were semi-retired, and back-to-back pet sitting offered an otherwise unattainable lifestyle.
“It allowed us to travel more and do more than we ever thought possible on a limited income,” says Laws. Their homesitting took them across the globe: Scotland, France, Australia, America, Italy, Canada and the Caribbean. For the past four years, Laws has also worked as a community manager for TrustedHousesitters. She has heard people say they have saved over £30,000 a year.
“You can literally save tens of thousands of dollars if you stay home for a few years,” Fuad says. “That may be enough to save for a deposit on your own home.”
Corinne Harrison and her partner Jack, both 30, started housesitting full time earlier this year. Over the past six months they have racked up 11 homes, staying in a small cottage in South Wales, a flat in Notting Hill in west London, a Tudor house in Bath and a residential complex in Spain.
“The only way to live together and save money at the same time is to basically become homeless and live in other people’s homes,” Harrison says. “Even before the cost of living crisis, the numbers were skyrocketing. This was our chance to get out of this renting, working, buying treadmill.
That’s not to say there aren’t downsides to this lifestyle. While some people have found it relatively easy to queue for the suite – in Wood’s words, it’s a “babysitter market” – others admit to scrambling to fill vacancies. empty between reservations: nights spent on friends’ sofas, a week with parents or a few days in the studio.
This makes permanent housesitting untenable for those without a safety net. For Harrison, that spawned an obsession with finding long-term seats. The pair started out with week-long gigs, but quickly found that wasn’t sustainable as it was sometimes difficult to line up seats that made sense geographically. Still, the shift to remote working – and its continued acceptance by many employers – has seen the number of digital nomads swell and boosted the popularity of housesitting.
The pandemic has also brought more owners into the market. On House Sitters UK, homeowner memberships have increased by 400%. This year, 5,000 new sites were published every day on the TrustedHousesitters site. The surge has been fueled in part by people keen to travel post-pandemic, and in part by the massive puppy purchases that swept the UK during lockdown: Pet owners looking for cover holidays now represent 85% of members on HouseSit Match.
For Julia Cudbard, 60, a caregiver, babysitting offers a cost-effective, worry-free option when she has to leave her three Burmese cats behind. “They are very dog-like cats and they need a lot of stimulation,” she says. “There’s no way I’m considering leaving them in the house and having the neighbors come over and feed them twice a day.” And hiring a private babysitter, she says, “would probably cost as much as the vacation itself.”
Overall, housesitting works like a value-based exchange: no money changes hands between caretakers and owners. Caretakers take care of owners’ homes and pets; the owners repay them with free accommodation, heating and sometimes food. This type of barter is an age-old practice, but the fact that some people are using it in the wake of the housing crisis says a lot about British society today. Increasingly, people are looking not to the state, but to each other, to find a way to deal with current pressures.
How do people who want to hire a babysitter make sure they can trust them? How do guardians ensure that they are not lured into a dangerous situation? Sitting platforms provide a number of verifications through user reviews, but that doesn’t mean things never go wrong.
Leila, 61, who has been a full-time caretaker since 2020, admits living on other people’s properties can be challenging. “I’ve had some pretty raunchy experiences,” she says. “I ended up staying on construction sites, taking care of end-of-life animals, and one that had recently been operated on and therefore couldn’t walk around. I have been in a couple that was not clean. Last-minute cancellations can also leave landlords on the hook.
For the most part, however, the experience is good. David Twigg, 55, turned to housesitting after a divorce. With nowhere to live, this offered him a lifeline while he sorted out his finances. He says it was transformational, in part because of the kindness of the strangers-turned-friends he met along the way.
“Technically, I’m a homeless person looking after a palace,” he says. “But that’s not what’s important. It is trust and universal values.
Five years ago, Lamia Walker, the director of HouseSit Match, received a call from Bragi Jonnson, from Iceland, who did not want to spend the winter there. Walker found him a long stay in Spain. Then another. Jonnson spent the next few years leaving Iceland to tend to the house during the winter and returning in the summer. Now he has retired and lives full time. Currently in Truro, Cornwall, he has made over 50 seats. Living without rent means he can save money, even if he lives off his pension. He was able to travel, buy a drone and pay for his hobby, geocaching, a game using hidden objects. He hopes to continue to keep his house until his 70s and 80s: “I see no reason to stop.”
For those catapulted into housesitting due to financial hardship, it’s the community and friendships that keep them going. Alejandro Alvarez, 34, felt isolated living with relatives in a small village in Derbyshire. Unable to pay city rents, he began searching online for free housing, swaps or couch surfing opportunities. Then he discovered housesitting. For a month, he has been keeping animals in London. He will continue until he can find work and recover. “It was the most amazing thing for me,” he says. “As a gay man, being in this diverse city is really life changing. Homesitting has opened doors for me.
“We’ve stayed at a couple of great places where we were like, ‘Yeah, that’s never going to be us,’” Harrison says. “But it’s a novelty to see how the other side lives. We just take it as an experience.