Arabella Byrne

Something borrowed: the rise of the pool renter

Something borrowed: the rise of the pool renter
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Here’s a question for you: if you were lucky enough to own a swimming pool or a tennis court – or indeed both – would you want to rent it out per hour to the hoi polloi, the great unwashed, the General Public? Although I am not in the happy position of being able to answer this question personally, I would have thought the answer would be a hard no. No to other people’s verucas, no to other people’s splashing and cavorting in earshot, and absolutely no to other people’s children bombing into your pool all day long. I concede that tennis might be a different matter. A quick set or two, the odd grunt and then time’s up. But inconvenience aside, the question is, do owners of luxury assets want – or even need – to rent out their symbols of privilege?

According to Jamie Windsor-Clive, founder of Ploot, the answer is yes. Or at least he hopes so. Ploot (thus named after his wife’s word for rain, not an abbreviation of plutocrat as you might have thought) is the virtual marketplace where you may rent other people’s pools and tennis courts by the hour. Outdoor pool owners can potentially trouser £30-50 per hour, whilst indoor pool owners can expect to pocket up to £100,000 a year. Not bad for a luxury toy you may only use for one week of the year when British Summertime decides to grant us a period of hot weather. From what I have seen of swimming pools in this country, their occupancy is extremely high for 1/2 weeks out of a potential 52 during which they are mobbed by every single person the owner has ever made acquaintance with. For the rest of the year (which includes most of the summer months) they languish unused and unloved, definitely unheated, and of interest only to small children who will happily swim in sub-zero temperatures under a black sky and dogs, who willingly leap into the chlorinated waters and clog the sump with their fur.

A pool available to rent via Ploot in Hampshire

And yet, as with so many once certain cultural assumptions, the pandemic has changed all of this. Since going abroad for our swimming pool fix has become that much harder, not to say impossible, we must satisfy our watery longings here in Blighty. We can staycation here in this country and rent a pool nearby to keep the children quiet. But the geographies of Ploot, much like the geographical spread of wealth in this country, curtail the rental of said pools and tennis courts to the South-East, or more precisely to the M25 orbital. Look on their website and the list of pools is limited to the home counties: Hampshire, Berkshire, Surrey, etc. If you live in the hinterlands of Gloucestershire, or heaven forfend, further North, then the leisure centre or river is your more likely bet. In countries where the climate is altogether more clement, competitors such as Swimply in the US and Swimmy in France, offer a more even geographic spread, promising what looks like a more AirBnB style offer rather than a Willy Wonka golden ticket to see how the other half live.

But if Covid has changed how we take our holidays, it has also transformed how we buy houses. According to the experts at Savilles, those in the market for a luxury house now want a swimming pool to go with it. In today’s ultra-competitive property market, a pool may be the asset that sways buyers more than anything else. If a rental return is to be made from it, then the investment becomes even more attractive. Let us not forget that the upkeep of luxury assets is steep, anything up to £10,000 per year for chemicals, heating, and jet washing. Even the most private of pool owners may be grateful for a few punters to offset the cost.

When I asked my husband if he would like to accompany me on a 'press trip' to take a dip in a Ploot pool he looked aghast. 'What if we disturb them?' he asked, his brow furrowed. When I insisted that we would be entering into a paid agreement with the pool owner he looked at me strangely before walking off upstairs. So, there you have it. Deprived, nay starved, of pools as we may be, in this the second year of our Covid, perhaps we’re simply too British for all this. Not me, though. I’ll happily bomb into anyone’s pool as a valued guest or a punter. Accepting offers now.