Derek Hough Details the ‘Covert Op’ — Including a Helicopter! — He Set Up to Propose to Hayley Erbert

The Dancing with the Stars judge surprised his partner of seven years with an intimate proposal at the couple’s favorite place — their home

Derek Hough Details the 'Covert Op' — Including a Helicopter! — He Set Up to Propose to Hayley Erbert

Derek Hough didn’t skimp on the details of his proposal to Hayley Erbert.

The Dancing with the Stars judge told PEOPLE he brainstormed countless places to pop the question before deciding on their home.

“It’s funny, I went back and forth so much on so many different locations. Hayley and I have some special places and I would bounce around, and I had things planned. Last minute, I just kind of changed,” he told PEOPLE.

“I was like, you know what? We already do all these amazing things,” continued Hough, 37. “We travel around the world and have adventures, so we’re always so happy to come home and be home, and that’s really where our relationship really strengthened and was made concrete.”

So he decided: “I was like, I’m gonna transform our house.”

Hough and Erbert, 27, announced their engagement on Instagram Thursday, showing that very transformation — their home was draped in white rose petals, pampas grass and white candles.

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But behind all the romance was an impressive feat of secret planning, including getting Erbert to leave home for a few hours so Hough and the folks helping him could work their magic.

“The hardest part was getting her out of the house because we’re some homebodies,” he recalled. “When we leave, we’re only gone for a few hours so I had to come up with an idea to get her out. It was this whole covert op.”

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Impressively, Hough actually tricked Erbert into thinking she was surprising him.

“My friend who’s a helicopter pilot called Hayley and said, ‘Hey I’d love to take you and Derek on a helicopter ride for his birthday,’ so basically she ‘planned’ it all and we went on this awesome helicopter trip all day,” he said. “We went to Yosemite, which is one of our special places.”

Hough added that Erbert is “one of the most difficult people to surprise.”

“The fact that I was able to surprise her was already a huge win for me,” he said. “We pulled up and she saw the candles lit and said, ‘Babe did you leave the candles on? You’re gonna burn the house down!'”

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