To experience the life of a multi-millionaire in a vast country house with tennis courts and a swimming pool is nothing more than a daydream for most of us.
But not for Margo Andrew, who — ten years ago — became a professional homesitter.
‘I had just retired as a hotelier but I simply couldn’t get used to a life of playing golf and lazing around,’ says Margo, 69, who lives with her husband Tom, 72, in North Cumbria.
Sitting pretty: Enquiries at homesitters.co.uk have increased from 250 a month pre-Covid to a current high of 314 a month
‘I wanted to travel, see different places and work with animals, so this seemed like the perfect job.’
Margo’s sits have taken her to properties of jaw-dropping splendour, including a Scottish castle on a loch, an ancient country estate, complete with its own herd of deer, and a fabulous farmhouse with racehorse stables.
She usually sits for three weeks in every four — sometimes, but not always with Tom.
This is a boom time for sitters and their agencies. Ben Irvine at Homesitters (homesitters.co.uk) says inquiries have increased from 250 a month pre-Covid to a current high of 314 a month.
Jackie Bullen at Minders Keepers (minders-keepers. co.uk), meanwhile, says calls requesting her sitters have doubled.
‘That’s partly because so many clients bought pets during the lockdowns,’ says Jackie. ‘For wealthy people, kennels or a daily visit from a neighbour just won’t do — they need to be cosseted.’
It’s not only doting pet owners who find sitters useful. Insurance companies often stipulate that cover is invalid if a house is empty for more than a set number of days a year.
Sitters have been known to deal with everything, from floods to attempted break-ins. Above all, a sitter ensures a home feels cared for when its owner returns — no piles of mail and overgrown lawns.
The perfect job: Margot Andrew became a professional homesitter ten years ago
Homesitting is a lifestyle choice: nobody would do it to get rich. Some agencies do not pay sitters at all, apart from basic expenses, pointing out that they live in a place for nothing and save by not using their own gas and electricity.
Minders Keepers pays £24.80 a day and Homesitters offers £11.85 on top of expenses.
As you would expect, sitters are stringently vetted. Applicants to Homesitters face a four-page application form, then a 35-minute phone interview followed by three hours of face-to-face interviews.
The majority of sitters are around retirement age — though Jackie has noticed an increasing number of younger home workers joining her books.
Though homesitting can benefit everyone involved, things can go wrong. Huge mansions aren’t immune from infestations of rats and mice. And it is harrowing if an animal dies and it is up to the sitter to inform the owner.
Normally, dogs and cats are easy to deal with, but exotic animals, such as alpacas, llamas and micro-pigs need a little specialist handling.
Homesitting can, therefore, be stressful. One sitter thought she had ‘lost’ a herd of deer. Thankfully, they were just hiding in the woods.
Some owners’ instructions border on the bizarre. For example, one demanded that her pet be given ‘cuddles’ at bedtime and that the sitter read it a good-night story. The pet was a pony.
What advice would Margo give to anyone thinking of being a homesitter? ‘Ask yourself, do you like solving problems — are you a can-do sort of person?’ she says.
‘If so then try to build up a bank of about 12 regular clients. That way, you’ll learn the idiosyncrasies of each one’s plumbing system and burglar alarm.
The pets will learn to accept you, too. And if you’re organised, homesitting can be relaxing, with lots of time for painting and drawing in the most lovely places.’