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‘We chose to become ‘homeless’ after living in a 10-bedroom Oxford mansion’

Samantha Lassen and partner Tom Monti photographed in a home where they are pet sitting
Samantha Lassen and partner Tom Monti have chosen a nomadic lifestyle – and have saved £16,000 as a result - John Lawrence

Last autumn, Samantha Lassen and her boyfriend Tom Monti lived in a 10-bedroom mansion in Oxford, complete with a swimming pool and tennis court.

In reality they are “homeless”: the couple haven’t actually paid for accommodation since August when they became full-time house-sitters. All they had to do was dote on the homeowner’s Jack Russell.

They now roam the country, staying in strangers’ homes and caring for their pets while building up some serious savings. They estimate they have stashed away at least £16,000 so far thanks to this lifestyle, putting the money towards a deposit for their first home which they hope to buy this year.

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Instead of paying £2,000 a month to rent a one-bedroom flat in east London and around £300 on council tax and utilities, their outgoings have shrunk to the £99 annual membership for Trusted Housesitters, the website they use to arrange house-sits, and the running costs of a car.

“When we were living in London, we were wondering how we were ever going to buy a house or save for a future when we were spending so much on rent. It just seemed impossible,” said Ms Lassen.

The civil servant, 30, spoke from a three-bedroom home in an affluent Surrey suburb where she and Mr Monti, 32, a charity worker, were looking after two German Shepherd Labrador crosses. “This is a much quicker way of saving than trying to rent and save at the same time,” she added. “It feels like a life hack.”

The couple are part of a growing number of people in their 30s who are opting out of renting in favour of a nomadic lifestyle, living in other people’s homes and saving tens of thousands of pounds as they do so.

Kathryn Chiles, 38, is a teacher who has been house-sitting – and not paying rent – for five years. She only expected to house-sit for a couple of months in 2019 when she moved from South Africa to London. But she has been house-sitting ever since, occasionally staying in a friend’s spare room between stints. She has only had to resort to an Airbnb to bridge the gap between sits three times, and even house-sat one property for the duration of the pandemic.

She estimated that she has completed 90 house-sits, saving her £12,000 a year on rent – and bringing the total savings to £60,000.

Kathryn Chiles with her pet-sitting cat
Kathryn Chiles' house-sitting habit has saved her £60,000 - Kathryn Chiles

“I haven’t saved all of that money unfortunately,” she said from a home in London where she is looking after two cats called Flower and Beano. “I’ve used quite a lot of it on travel, my visa to stay here and general enjoyment of life. I could have saved aggressively for a deposit on a house. I might continue to house-sit and do that.”

Ms Chiles, a secondary school teacher, has found enough house-sits in London to be able to combine her job with this potentially nomadic lifestyle.

House-sitting – looking after a property and often pets when the homeowner is away – is hardly a new idea but it has rocketed in popularity in recent years. Trusted Housesitters, a website that connects property-owners with prospective house-sitters, has more than 200,000 members. The number of sitters on the site has risen by 38pc between January 2023 and January 2024.

Another website, House Sit Match, has seen membership increase 125pc year on year since 2022, according to founder Lamia Walker. The House and Pet Sitters UK group on Facebook boasts 75,000 members with a third joining in the past five months.

The rise of remote working during the pandemic has made full-time house-sitting more viable, while the surge in pet ownership during lockdown has meant there are more pets that need looking after while their owners go on holiday. The instability of the housing market, with rent hikes and landlords selling up, has also led more people to pursue house-sitting as an alternative to renting.

Ms Lassen and Mr Monti first considered house-sitting when the lease on the house share they were living in came to an end in January 2023. Their housemate Sabina Trojanova, a travel influencer, and her partner Sam, first floated the idea as an alternative to each person paying nearly £800 a month rent plus council tax and utilities for the down-at-heel house in Leyton, east London.

All four housemates would end up as full-time house-sitters – and both couples are booked up for the next six months.

“We didn’t love the house that we were in or the amount of rent we were paying. But the prospect of trying to find a new place just seemed so daunting,” Ms Trojanova said, from a house-sit in east London, with a cat curled up in her lap. “Sam and I started off looking after homes within an hour of London so that he could commute to the office.”

The couple sold most of their belongings and now live out of two backpacks. After Sam received permission to work abroad, the pair house-sat a luxurious duplex in Buenos Aires for three months.

They have completed 10 house-sits in London, Bristol and Bath and have two in Winchester coming up. They combine their house-sits with Ms Trojanova’s work travel for her @girlvsglobe Instagram account and the occasional Airbnb or hotel. Even with these stays, Ms Trojanova calculated she has saved £12,000 by house-sitting.

Sabina Trojanova
Ms Trojanova is able to put away 80pc of her salary every month thanks to house-sitting - Sabina Trojanova

The couple are not saving for a deposit on a house but Ms Trojanova, who is self-employed, appreciates having a buffer and is able to put away 80pc of her salary every month thanks to the lifestyle.

“This lifestyle does require a certain kind of personality. You have to be flexible and capable of forward planning, so I fully appreciate that not everyone would like this. But I think there is a contingent of people that isn’t small that would really enjoy it.”

Despite the savings, Ms Lassen said there were downsides to living in other people’s homes. “You are always on your guard a little bit. You don’t want to spill anything. You don’t want to break anything.

“You obviously can’t accumulate stuff yourself. I’m living out of a suitcase, so if my family buy me a candle, I have to put that in storage.

“I feel homeless, a little bit lost and kind of floating. And when you’re having a bad day, you realise, ‘oh yeah, I don’t actually have a home’.”

But every house-sitter I spoke to had had surprisingly few negative experiences. In five years, Ms Chiles could remember only two disasters – one gas leak and one water leak.

Ms Lassen recalled a house-sit in the middle of winter where the heating wasn’t working and the homeowner was too engrossed in his holiday in the Bahamas to help.

Sabina Trojanova
House-sitting isn't for everyone, warns Ms Trojanova: 'You can feel a bit lost living out of a suitcase sometimes' - Sabina Trojanova

Her friends have voiced safety concerns about possible secret cameras or owners turning up unannounced, but she has dismissed those fears.

“Once you get used to the idea that you are living in someone else’s home, they’re putting their trust in you to look after their pet, you put your trust in them.”

You also have to love animals – of all shapes and sizes – to make it work. Ms Lassen and Mr Monti have looked after cats, dogs, chickens, rabbits, a tortoise, about 20 guinea pigs, and have a tarantula at an upcoming house-sit.

Could the lifestyle be a long-term prospect? Retirees and even families house-sit as a way to make travel more affordable.

Ms Lassen doesn’t expect to be house-sitting next year but Ms Chiles has no plans to stop and Ms Trojanova believes only having children will make her give up the lifestyle.

“We might want to have a family and it sounds much more difficult with kids. But we had our house-sitting one-year anniversary last month and we don’t want to stop. It’s been so much fun and we’re saving so much money.”

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