For those living far from family or those who may not be all that friendly with their neighbours, going away on holidays can be stressful. Who do you give the spare keys to and ask to clear out your mailbox every couple of days along with the promise to return the favour when they head off to Bali? A bigger headache still, if you’ve got pets, where do they go?
Cofounded by Mikaeli Loughrey and Rebecca Nankervis, Australian startup Your Home My Home aims to solve this problem for homeowners by facilitating the practice of housesitting, or giving other people the opportunity to stay in someone’s home for free in exchange for taking care of it and, if they have any, their pets.
As such, Nankervis describes the platform as “like Airbnb but free”. Given Airbnb has made many of its hosts – not to mention its founders – a lot of money, at first glance that description seems strange. Why give people for free something that we’ve seen they’re very willing to pay for?
But as Nankervis explains it, at its heart, Your Home My Home wants to make travel and accommodation accessible to everyone by connecting travel-loving home owners with caring and reliable house and pet sitters. Unlike Airbnb, those on both sides of Your Home My Home’s marketplace are essentially doing each other a favour.
Nankervis said, “I had been house sitting for 18 months while renovating and Mikaeli often used a house sitter to care for her dog when she holidayed. This inspired us to create a website that was appealing, easy to use and offered a subscription structure that suited the market. From there, Your Home My Home was born.”
The pair, who have been friends and business partners for more than eight years, began work on the platform last year. They talked to homeowners and house sitters to perfect the website design, work through legal processes, insurance, and developing a marketing plan. Launched mid last year, there are now over 1000 users on the platform, who have exchanged over 4000 nights in free accommodation.
As the length of a house sitting arrangement can vary from a few nights to a few weeks or months, Nankervis said the platform is targeting a range of people, from foreign travellers to locals who see looking after someone’s house for free as a viable alternative to paying rent. Shifting houses every two weeks may not be everybody’s cup of tea, but then $500 a week for a shoebox in the inner city isn’t all that crash hot either.
“The beauty of this concept that it is not age or gender specific – it spans all demographics. We have travel-loving retirees using our site as both sitters and homeowners, renovators and first home buyers wanting to save money on rent; and young families who don’t want to spend a lot in holiday accommodation and want a holiday with a twist,” Nankervis said.
One of the biggest concerns in this marketplace is, of course, that of security. While the platform allows for users to integrate their Facebook profile in the hopes of breaking down anonymity, users are encouraged to mostly be, well, smart about it.
“We encourage home owners and sitters alike to do their due diligence and meet or speak with one another before accepting a housesit. We also ask sitters to have an up-to-date police check and references from past sits. It’s really no different to any online community – be that dating or shopping – trust your instincts,” Nankervis said.
The platform is free for homeowners to use, while sitters must pay for access at either $8.95 a month, $19.95 per quarter, or $79 annually.
With house sitting having been done informally for decades, it’s certainly not a new practice, so of course, Your Home My Home isn’t the only platform out there looking to help people do it better online.
The House Sitters, for example, is an agency established in 1993 that acts as a real estate agent of sorts in the space; it has even crafted a house sitting agreement that, like a standard rental agreement, sets out the terms and conditions for each party and helps homeowners screen sitters. Pet sitting startup Pet Home Stay too is growing thanks to a $250,000 seed round and a number of key partnerships. Despite this, Nankervis said the startup looks to hotels, boarding houses, and pet kennels as its main competition, and is certain the concept of free accommodation will appeal.
The development of the platform has been funded by the cofounders thus far, though Nankervis said they have had “some interest” from investors looking to get on board. They will be looking to bed down the Australian market before going global later on this year.
Image: Rebecca Nankervis and Mikaeli Loughrey. Source: Supplied.