This is the story about our first housesit, how we stumbled into it, and how it kicked off our nomad adventure.
The idea of moving out of our rented flat and nomading had been in semi-serious discussion for a while, since mid 2016. Since Emma and I both work from home most of the time, it seemed like a good opportunity to broaden our horizons.
Once of the biggest challenges to making it work was budgeting. Unless you stumble upon a rare gem, Airbnb is always going to be significantly more expensive than long term renting, especially considering we needed a place that had room for us to work, a bedsit wasn’t going to cut it.
I wanted this journey to be sustainable, not to be limited by the savings we were draining. I toyed with the idea of housesitting, staying at someone’s house for free while they are away. Is there a way to balance housesits with Airbnb? Say, if we spent two weeks of the month housesitting and the other two Airbnbing, then we could easily afford to stay at a decent Airbnb.
It still felt like a big leap though. What if we hated housesitting? What if we wanted to stop after a month? After all the effort of getting rid of loads of stuff and furniture, getting a storage space, and moving everything out; the payoff could be short lived.
A spur of the moment sign-up
I remember sitting on the sofa one weekend in early April, bored. While Emma was away in Chicago, I decided to look into finding Housesits. After browsing a variety of sites, TrustedHousesitters.com seemed like the best designed, close to that Airbnb-like experience, although clearly with much less investment cash behind them. The other sites had terrible designs, I really couldn't imagine spending any amount of time on them.
With time to spare, I decided to pay the £80 to register as a house sitter, just to get to the ball rolling. I created a barebones profile and jumped through all the low-hanging verification hoops to build up some trust. “This will do for now” I said to myself. When Emma gets back from Chicago, we can spend some proper time on it and do it better, and look to see what’s available.
Then I closed my laptop and forgot all about it. What happened next would change our lives 🙈
A message from out of the blue
One week later. Emma was back. I recieved a unexpected email in my inbox. Someone had sent us a message on Trusted Housesitters.
Dear Lewis and Emma,
Just wondered if you are interested in a housesit from 17th–21st April? Have you any references from other sources?
Oh god, that’s four days away! At this point, I hadn’t even told Emma I set up the profile. I rushed through an explanation of what I did when she was away and why Janet messaged us. We were local to her, and it was a short notice housesit. For some reason she was willing to take a chance and reach out to someone with no review or references.
Emma and I talked it over. We were free next week and this is our chance to give house sitting a try, it’s only a few days. If it all went wrong, we weren’t far away from home. Let’s do it.
Yes we're interested.
Let's see what I can give you in terms of reference, I have ten reviews on Airbnb from 2012 onwards, all positive. Would you like me to send you screenshots of them? I can also ask the CEO of my company (Steve Parks) to write me a quick reference letter. Let me know.
They were happy with a reference with Steve, who kindly whipped up some words on short notice—as he is known to do—and sent it over.
I would be grateful if you could help us out.
It will not be the first time we have taken first-time housesitters (you have to start somewhere!) and it has always worked out fine.
I will now read the reference Steve has sent us. Do you have Skype?
One short slightly-awkward Skype call later, we were confirmed to housesit in two days.
Meeting Janet and Depp
From the second we walked through the door, you could tell what kind of dog Depp was. A 10-year old Border Collie, he instantly melted onto the floor the second we said hi and started stroking him. Janet offered us tea, and as we sat down at the kitchen table he rest his chin on our laps and lent against us lovingly. He was a very soppy dog.
Janet was an excellent, experienced host. She had cooked dinner for us and her daughter, an opera singer (more on that later). Janet told us all about the many other house sitters she had. After dinner she and her husband showed us around the house, and told us what we might need to do in the unlikely event that something went wrong. Like where the water mains valve and the fuse box is.
After that, Janet took us on a walk with Depp. This has become a regular and important part of the house sitting experience. It’s good to learn what is normal behaviour for the dog, and what their quirks are, so you can tell if they’re acting out of character.
Walking under the Gatwick flight path
We were staying in a big old country house, near Gatwick Airport, directly under the flight path in fact. From our room we could see fields with horses staring back at us or nibbling the grass. The garden ran into large field, a great place to exhaust an energetic collie. They were quiet. And I enjoyed walking with Depp in the mornings or during a break from work in the afternoon, chatting to him as we were playing with his ball.
Depp, being a collie, had a funny way with balls. He didn’t really like chasing them, more than just having them. He could fit about three balls in his mouth at once, and would trot around the field with them triumphantly. You needed to bring a decent load with you.
He’d occasionally wander into the hedgerows by the side of the field, dropping one of his balls. I’d wander in to get it, and he’d circle me as I was doing so, biding his time. As soon as I’d get near it, he’d swoop in and grab the ball before me, and saunter off again.
I think he liked the idea of a challenge, a real tussle for the ball, but he just couldn’t bear to be parted with it, and had to grab it back.
The path through the field lead to these magnificent bluebell carpeted woods. It was the perfect time of year for them, and it was like walking through a fairytail setting.
Along the path in the bluebell woods, Depp had been attacked by another dog. Janet told us the story, another house sitter was walking him when he ran through a gate, and into the path of two other dogs. He must of startled them and they attacked him. I think it was quite bad and he needed stitches.
Every day when we walked towards the same gate he’d quickly sniff the air and promptly turn round and head back the way we came. He wouldn’t even stop and wait for me. I guess he could smell those dogs somewhere, and didn’t want anything to do with them ever again.
Living in someone else's home is a bit weird
The weirdest thing about housesitting — if you don’t mind picking up poop too much — is living in someone else’s house, using all their stuff, sitting on their furniture, and adopting their routine to a degree. The first day is always a bit weird, before they’ve left. You feel like a guest visiting someone, but you’re also living there. It’s difficult to relax and start treating the place as your own when the owner is still there.
I remember sitting in the living room, not doing much, with the sound of Janet’s daughter practising opera floating through from the other room. I was politely trying not to listen, but with nothing else to do. It was a little awkward.
As our first housesitting experience, it was a positive one. Janet was very experienced, which helped us. And she left us a glowing review, which helped us apply to more housesits afterwards. It gave us the confidence to make a big decision; move out of our flat and start housesitting full-time.
In further blog posts, I'll be covering our first adventures moving out and housesitting. Is there anything in particular you'd like to know or find out. Let me know on Twitter