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Holiday or even Live Rent Free by House Sitting

Image courtesy of photostock /
If you've ever wondered just how long you could travel or even live rent free by house sitting, this interview with serial house sitter James Cave has some very useful answers. Although no money changes hands between home owners and house sitters, James takes a professional approach to minding peoples pets and property while their owners are away.  His diligent attitude definitely pays off as he and his girl friend have been living this lifestyle for many months now.

What are some of the most interesting places you have stayed?
We've spent a lot of time house sitting in the French countryside where our neighbours have mainly been farmers. Despite having visited France quite a few times before I've never been this deep into rural France and so it's been very interesting.

Oh and we also looked after a farm of 18 alpacas recently. That was fun, apart from the bit where I had to rub cream on an alpaca's testicle!

How long is a typical house sitting assignment?
Most tend to be around a fortnight, the average length of a holiday. It does vary of course. I've seen a few that are only a weekend and others that are as long as a year. Everyone has different situations that they need a sitter for, but most are people who are going away on their annual or bi-annual holiday and need someone to look after the house and pets.

Does it cost anything to be a house sitter? costs $60 for a year which is typical for most house sitting websites. Considering it's less than the cost of a hotel for a night, and the amount of money you can save as a house sitter, it's pretty reasonable.

Is house sitting just for holidays, or could I actually live rent free as a house sitter by lining up assignments back to back for years on end?
Technically, yes. We're currently on a 9 month house sitting stint in France, made up of four housesits. We managed to line up most of them back-to-back, with one two week gap. I think we were quite lucky though, it really depends which house sits are available and whether the homeowner chooses you.

What sorts of responsibilities would I have as a house sitter?
With most house sits, the animals will be your main responsibility. More and more people are looking for alternatives to kennels and the idea of having someone to live in the house and care for their furry friends on a personal level certainly appeals to most pet owners. In one of our housesits we were asked to walk the animals for an hour and a half each day and then cook up a batch of cow bones from the local restaurant for them. We were more than happy to, but I can't imagine kennels or catteries being able to meet such requests for every one of their clients. Other responsibilities include cleaning swimming pools, and keeping an eye on the properties to ensure there are no burst pipes or damp patches.

What if I don't like animals? Are there any house sitting opportunities without pets to look after? It's not uncommon to find pet free house sits. Pools need a lot of work, and many people have gardens which need tending. Our experience, however, is that people are quite happy to leave their homes and gardens in the hands of fate, but want to ensure their pets are properly looked after while they're away. This is why most house sits involve an element of pet sitting too.
Image courtesy of Federico Stevanin /
It should also be pointed out that homeowners choose a housesitter over a kennel or cattery because of the one-on-one attention a housesitter can give their pets. We often get woken up in the morning by dogs licking our faces and cats jumping on the bed; so if you don't like animals, especially in such intimate settings, house sitting probably isn't for you.

If I have the skills, what about general home maintenance like cleaning windows or even painting a fence in return for staying in a nice home?
I'm sure there are plenty of home owners who would appreciate the extra DIY help. Occasionally I see housesits where the property is a holiday home or a place that's on the market for sale and the owner wants someone to maintain it while they're away. It's the exception, not the rule, but it is possible to find properties like this.

Have you encountered vicious dogs, snitchy cats or angry birds?
Never. If people are going to go to all of the effort of finding a pet sitter, then it's because they truly love their animals. In all of the housesits we've done the pets have been treated like members of the family and so are completely loving and adorable. That's not to say there haven't been the occasional issues; we recently looked after 7 cats who were all taken in off the street. Sometimes they scrapped with each other, but never with us. Yes. I house sit with my girlfriend and that works extremely well because if something goes wrong there's always someone else there to pick up the slack. For example, she twisted her ankle last week carrying a suitcase down a flight of stairs so I'm picking up the dog walks until she feels better. It's also good for company; when you're in the middle of rural France there aren't many chances to socialise, and old houses can easily play tricks on your mind.

Can singles, couples and families be house sitters?
I've seen quite a few families house sitting and I think this is a fantastic idea. It cuts down the cost of family holidays which can be very expensive and I think most children would enjoy looking after the animals as well.
There are plenty of house sitters flying solo, but I'm not sure if I would like to do that especially if it was in another country in the countryside where I didn't know anybody.

What if there is an unexpected incident that hurts the pet or damages the property. Will I be held responsible?
We sign a contract before every housesit which says that while we're reasonable adults who do everything we can to make each housesit a roaring success, occasionally things happen which are out of our control. Most homeowners are very reasonable of course, and touch wood apart from breaking a few wine glasses, nothing has gone drastically wrong.

What if something important is not right about the property eg no heating. Would it be attended to?
We ask homeowners to leave us an emergency fund and contact details for relevant tradesmen. If there were any costs above that we would contact the homeowners to let them know and settle things up when they got back.

How do I get started if I don't have any experience yet?
It's the classic catch-22 situation. I recommend starting off by offering your services for friends and family so that you can get those first few references. After that go to a site like Trusted Housesitters and take on a few local housesits, which is what we did. We didn't need to housesit in Edinburgh (where we were living), but we took on a few short sits and really enjoyed it. We felt like we were on holiday in our own city, and those initial references really gave us a boost.

What tips do you have for the best chance at receiving good references and building a good rapport with house owners?
Communication. When we first started we presumed that homeowners just wanted to get away, get some peace and quiet and leave their homes in the hands of very capable people. This is true, but what we've found is that if something goes wrong, no matter how small, most homeowners want to be kept in the loop throughout the entire housesit. This can often just be a quick email to say everything's fine, but it's important to make sure that you do that.

James is not only an avid user of but also works with them for their website.  On the website you can find additional useful information about house sitting, or if you are a house owner and you are curious about how to find a house sitter to look after your pets and property there is also an FAQ for home owners.



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