Would you invite a stranger into your bed? Every day, around the world, thousands do. All in the name of free holiday accommodation. “Free accommodation for next month’s London Olympics” is the prevailing pitch of one house-sitting/house-swap online agency whose website indicates there are plenty of outgoing souls happy to let strangers slip between their sheets – while they’re elsewhere, far away – in exchange merely for care of their pets or gardens, or even just providing a secure presence in an otherwise empty home.
With the Games’ opening ceremony on Friday July 27, setting up a housesit now might seem impossible. Indeed, with an estimated half million Games visitors a day, securing accommodation at any price around the British capital seems ambitious. Yet www.trustedhousesitters.com reckons it can achieve just that.
In the high-interest rate climate of the1980s, when bartering too became trendy, house-sitting was pretty much a domestic gig, the holidaying householder’s alternative to paying for boarding kennels, the gardener’s solution to regular watering and weeding of treasured plants during their absence. But with an increasingly mobile global population and the internet, the practice has taken off across continents. Trustedhousesitters.com tempts travellers to save by staying free in a Westminster apartment, a Georgian townhouse, a Victorian semi, a Spanish villa and so on. Yet: you could also fly halfway around the world only to find your accommodation doesn’t match its description or, worse, is withdrawn. Or that a puppy is actually a hyperactive Doberman with an extant disease that sees it curl up its toes while its owners are in the Bahamas. Anticipating problems before they happen ensures a smooth journey, so I put my reservations to site founder Andy Peck, a writer and former Red Bull salesman from Brighton: What guarantee do subscribers have that the offer will remain good and not default after they’ve travelled all the way to, say, Europe … whether through the homeowner pulling out, or even their death, or other unforeseen circumstances? Travel insurance wouldn’t cover the emergency, as the loss would have no monetary value. Peck replies: “It’s not a scenario we’ve encountered! Home owners and sitters talk by phone or Skype and fully discuss arrangements beforehand; from our experience and feedback, a bond of trust forms when a house-sit’s agreed. It’s the same as when you book a babysitter or move for a new job: there are no guarantees, but the odds of [problems] are very low. If there were any unforeseen events, I’m sure a home owner would do all they could to help – we have wonderful people using our site – and if the issue wasn’t resolved of course we’d do our best to help someone find another house-sitting opportunity: we get many every day.”
So there you go. Caveat emptor. Otherwise, go for it. After all, the homeowner has to count on you turning up, too! Trustedhousitters.com charges modest fees and you get a daily email of offerings; hosts (homeowners wanting sitters) can register free and review the profiles of would-be sitters. Another site that regularly lures me with enticing descriptions of French farm houses, Thai beach villas and Beverley Hills apartments is www.lovehomeswap.com. With the Wimbledon championships starting this month I’m inclined to redeem some frequent flyer points when, as a persuasive Peck says, “locals keen to escape the crowds and enjoy their usual British summer holiday will only increase the number of homeowners looking for house-sitters.” As Peck points out, London’s one of the most expensive cities in the world; self-catering “at home” saves money. Durations range from a long weekend to several months; most are for a week or two, the average length of a holiday. House-sits do not have to be simultaneous; in fact, they don’t even have to be mutual but can be a one-way arrangement if it suits the parties.