Helen Buffy has been a buyer of a shoe brand for 20 years – until last year.
Living in a bright 1,200-square-foot studio apartment in a former aircraft factory in Clapton, Helen decides to give up her job and start renting out her studio as a film, television, and photo studio.
“It was very stressful, and it wasn’t good for your mental health, [you’re working] Long hours,” says Helen of her previous job.
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Since making the switch, her home has been used for ads, music videos, and editorials for beauty and fashion.
It has been contracted by UniLad, Vogue, Hello Beauty, Coca Cola, Pepsi, Vans and Office Shoes. Ahead of this year’s Tokyo Olympics, she hosted Tom Daly for a magazine shoot.
“That was really fun — getting him to put on his swim trunks, talking about going to the Olympics,” she says.
Helen searches for content filmed in her home on social media, and enjoys it when friends learn about her home.
“That’s really cool – watching the content is really good, because you’re watching beautiful movies or professional photos that were taken by someone. They look so different…really good to see them,” says Helen.
For Helen, it’s a full-time job. The week we’re talking, she’s got three bookings in her studio.
When she’s not on site facilitating a shoot or gathering unexpected props – she had to locate the food blender, hair dryer and digging in at the last minute before – she manages reservations, exchanges details about the venue, and answers questions. It is a delicate art.
“It’s a lot less stressful [than my old job]. It is more diverse. You meet really interesting people — there’s not really a single day,” she says.
“I have more time to spend with my friends and family. It’s a much better work-life balance than I’ve ever had.”
Besides her website, Helen’s properties have been listed on various website agencies and booking websites such as Airbnb, Scouty and Giggster.
Among these, Scouty is one of the most popular. It works like Airbnb, with hosts uploading photos of their property and producers contacting them directly if it fits the bill for the shoot. Hosts can rent out their entire property or just a room in their house, and have complete control over who they rent and what kind of reservations they accept.
Scouty was established in 2020, and according to its founders, Nico Doeser and Ryan Gannon, it already has 1,200 sites listed.
It’s not just ordinary apartment housing – there are abandoned warehouses, boats, kitchens, prison cells, bars and even cars listed on the site.
Although London is Scouty’s most popular location, Nico and Ryan say it is growing rapidly as people increasingly rent out their homes to increase their income.
On average, 100 new locations are added across different cities every month.
It benefits content creators as well as hosts. Sites like Scouty make [locations] Nico says:
Ryan adds: “One of our main goals was to make it less exclusive to audiences who were previously unable to use it [a location agent].
“Although we have a large budget for production, film production, and projects that can use agencies, the majority of clients we have are people who can’t afford a positioning agency — or even wouldn’t consider using an agency.”
As for the hosts, Niko says most booked shoots via Scouty run up to eight hours with a smaller crew (about 10 people).
“It’s a quick turnaround for our hosts and also a bit of a disruption to daily life…Everyone is happy,” he says.
Obviously, the main draw is money. Niko and Ryan say a host earns an average of £500 to £2,500 a month, usually with one to three bookings.
For their top sites (usually penthouses), this can range from £7,000 to £15,000 per month.
“For me, it’s all about the money — it’s just easy money,” says Ed Myatt, who has been renting out his family’s home in Walthamstow since July.
Ed lives with his wife, Hannah, and two sons, who are three and two years old. They moved in 2018, and renovated the property.
Formerly a TV production manager, Ed worked for a company that made and sold ice cream to theaters and restaurants. The epidemic hit her hard, and Ed decided to leave.
With the renovations coming to an end around the same time, Ed decided to give the rental a chance. “I just thought: I’m going to stick on Airbnb and see if we have any bites.”
Since July, Ed says they earn around £2,500 a month renting movies, TV and taking photos.
While the fees are production dependent, Ed has a minimum fee of £70 per hour (or £500 for the day) on Airbnb for entire home use.
“It pays off the mortgage and a little bit,” Ed adds.
Like Helen, Ed has listed the house in various locations, including Scouty, and says he receives two property inquiries a week. The house currently rents about twice a month, but Ed aims to increase that to five or six buds.
The house is a 4 bedroom Victorian estate, with new loft conversion and bright kitchen extension. It is clearly a family home with a large kitchen table and patterned comforters in the children’s rooms upstairs.
“The kind of market I think it attracts is that kind of look that lives indoors—it’s not a show home in the house and gardens. It’s a real home to be lived in,” says Ed.
It has been used for charity videos, music videos, short films, and comedy sketches. In January, she will host her first commercial project – the most profitable type of project.
Unlike Helen, who usually stays on set to help facilitate filming, Ed says he and his family leave home completely on filming days.
Sometimes they go out the door at 7 am, and come back after 7 pm. Ed likes to “treat it like a vacation,” but admits it can be tougher for his wife, who enjoys spending time at home.
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Of course, there are other downsides to this arrangement. “The crews are there to get the job done on very limited time scales,” Ed says. “There’s a lot going on, and things are going to break.”
“Let’s say you have 30 people at the photoshoot – that’s 30 people using your restroom, 30 people walking around your house, and 30 people putting signs on your walls.
“…Our house is constantly being wrecked by two kids of two and three, so our bar is very low.”
Helen makes the same point. “It’s not for everyone. People often tell me, ‘I couldn’t do it, I couldn’t have people in my house.'”
Besides “constant cleaning,” Helen points out, furniture is often moved, and the house can experience some wear and tear – with heavy photographic equipment, there’s always a risk that it could damage the floor.
Helen lives alone, but stresses that, especially for people with families or pets, this can be very annoying.
“You have to be a nice person and not be too precious about having people in your house,” she says.
“People look in your closet and open your fridge—they will sometimes forget it’s someone’s house, I guess.”
Helen manages this turmoil by booking only daily shoot sessions in her studio – big, long-running movie shots may pay more, but she also wants the overnight space. She also removes her bedroom from the list.
But for both Helen and Ed, the positives outweigh the negatives.
Helen feels that a career change was the right choice. “It’s basically a fun industry, because people create interesting content for brands,” she says.
“Normally, it’s really nice in the day…it’s a lot lighter than working in the office.”
Meanwhile, Ed helps friends rent out their property as well. Crucially, his experiences made him reconsider working life in the future, particularly in terms of flexibility.
“If someone comes and goes: ‘We want it for two weeks in July and we’ll pay you that’, I don’t want to be tied to a paying job where I have to be here, because we’re just going to disappear.”
“It’s totally life-changing in that respect.”
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