Get paid to stay at home!
Getting paid to stay at home - too good to be true? Not necessarily. All around the country, house sitters are being paid to look after other people's houses!
House sitting is pretty much the definition of a win-win. Homeowners have the security of knowing that there's someone at home to deter burglars, feed pets and keep an eye on the place. It saves on kennel fees and cuts insurance premiums.
Sitters, meanwhile, get paid a little extra income for very simple duties, and enjoy the variety of seeing a new part of the world.
So, what does house sitting involve, and could it be for you?
Most often, house sitters work for an agency, which match them with a suitable house. And all reputable agencies will tell you that house sitting is a way to supplement an income - not replace one.
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But your duties aren't arduous. Typically, you'll be asked to feed and care for the owner's animals; pick up post; water plants; and just provide a reliable, responsible day-to-day presence at the owner's house. Otherwise, your time is your own.
I chatted to the delightful Wendy Reed from Homesitters, one of the UK's oldest and largest house sitting agencies, with more than 800 sitters on its books.
I asked whether Homesitters had seen an upturn in the number of people looking for house sitting work in recent months. "Definitely," according to Wendy, "it's not surprising that people are looking for a bit of extra cash at the moment. But people should be aware that house sitting isn't a regular income."
Are sitters still needed? Yes, she says - of which, more below.
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What do you need?
Typically, you'll need to be available to stay away from home for weeks at a time, at any time of year. So if you've got a full-time job or a family, house sitting isn't for you.
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Most of Homesitters' regular sitters are retired, Wendy says. That's because the company is scrupulous about vetting its applicants - checking references and carrying out personal interviews - and likes to recruit for the long term.
You'll also need experience of running your own home, and references saying you're reliable and trustworthy. Retired or not, many (though not all) house sitting agencies like you to have your own car, and a clean licence.
The best extra qualification is liking animals. Many assignments involve pet care - so you need to be able to handle anything from a kitten to a King Charles, and provide strokes, walks and love where required!
House sitting is particularly good, Wendy says, for retired pet-lovers who no longer have their own cat or dog. House sitting is a great way to share the company of animals once in a while, without the commitment of keeping your own pets.
So it's a good way to pad out a pension and avoid a retirement rut. But don't rule it out if you work from home, either. It can be an easy way to top up a salary, and break the occasional monotony of home working.
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That's the requirements covered. What about the benefits?
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OK, you won't be competing with City bankers for bonuses in this job. Typically, assignments are paid at minimum wage for two or three hours' work per day - a daily rate of around £20, a weekly rate of around £140, with possible extra allowances if you're looking after pets.
But in return for your time, you get a home away from home for a few weeks, or sometimes longer. Unsurprisingly, people paying for house sitters often have rather nice houses - so it can be a way to check out how the other half lives!
Although you'll need to be at the house most of the time, most assignments allow a few hours away each day. So you get to see another part of the country for free.
One final thing - heating and electricity will be provided, so while you're away you should also save money on your own utility bills.
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Where to start
For more on the perks and pitfalls of house sitting, Homesitters' frequently asked questions is a good guide.
Unlike many house sitting firms, Homesitters actually employs its sitters, rather than acting as an agency. That also means that if you work for them, you accumulate holiday pay.
Other reputable house sitting agencies include Guardian Angels, which specialises in pet care. To work for Guardian Angels, you need at least five years' experience of caring for animals. Absentia is another reputable firm, with positions abroad as well as in the UK. Or the MindMyHouse website is a person-to-person agency, where you can register your details.
It may also pay to look for local firms - but like all agency work, be wary of giving out personal details unless you're sure the firm is reputable, and never pay fees up front.
Home from home... in the Home Counties?
According to Wendy, Homesitters - and other home sitting firms for that matter - are always on the lookout for new house sitters. She explains: "We recruit geographically - we like our sitters to live within about 80 miles of the house where they're staying. Lots of our work is in London and the Home Counties, so there's usually opportunities for sitters in those areas."
For some reason, Wendy says, Homesitters always finds it especially hard to get sitters around Oxfordshire. So if you're based in the Cotswolds and think house-sitting could be for you, then you know who to call!