House Sitting

Reporter: Mark Gibson

Ever dreamed of living in a million dollar Mount Lawley manor?

What about gazing out to Rottnest from your seaside retreat?

"Well, what if I told you you can.. and it won't cost you a cent."

"You get to live in some pretty funky locations, you don't pay any rent." When Chris Thomson's marriage ended, he needed somewhere to live. He thought about renting, before discovering the world of house sitting. "I'm in that 300 to 400 dollar rent bracket, if I was paying that every week I'd be spending $15 -20,000 a year, so basically I've saved 15 to 20 grand over the year that I've been house sitting."

"It's really helped me to get back on my feet." Sylvia Fellows hit tough times after a bout of bad health. For her, living in someone else's house, rent free, was just the tonic.

"I've been in little shacks, little weatherboard houses, I had a beautiful 3 storey mansion in Sorrento I had a beautiful 3 storey house on the coast, on West Coast Highway."

You might not realise it, but some of Perth's fanciest homes are filled with families who, for one reason or another, need to go away. Many are willing to let people live in their house, for free. "You just turn up on the proposed date that you're supposed to move in and the place is yours."

Chris says "You've pretty much just got to keep and eye on the management of the place, you've got to collect the mail, make sure it's looking lived in, if you're here for any amount of time probably a little bit of gardening, you know mowing the lawn wouldn't go astray, washing the dog. " Oh yeah, it helps if you like animals, because feeding the pets is usually part of the deal. "You definitely need to be an animal lover, I mean personally I'm a cat person but I've house sat with dogs for the main part and that's been a bit of a learning curve, just learning to walk them and to feed them properly and all of that."

"Older people are generally quite desired for house sitting."

Catherine Stewart from House Sittters WA. "I think it's a great opportunity for people that are aged that maybe don't have the money to go for long holidays and can go and stay in places and house sit." Catherine says the home owner benefits too. "The home is secured, there's someone coming and going and the gardens are watered and looked after (6) I think it just maintains the environment."

Here's how it works.

House sitters need a national police clearance. They provide their own food and pay for phone calls.. if you stay for less than 8 weeks you don't have to pay any other bills like gas or electricity.

House sitters draw up an agreement before they move in but generally, if you use something you replace it.. if you break something accidentally, the home owner has to take care of it.

Catherine says " "They must have their own house and contents insurance because really what they're doing is they're inviting the house sitter into their home as a guest and so therefore if something gets broken accidentally or whatever their insurance is there to make sure everything is looked after."

Sylvia says the downsides include living out of a suitcase and not knowing where you'll be staying next."You do have to have a certain kind of personality, you do have to be flexible, you do have to be open minded because after I finish here in another 8 weeks I really don't know where I'm going." In the uncertain world of house sitting, you also need a back-up plan. Chris says "If you can organise somewhere to stay in between your house sits because often there' a day or two here or there where you don't, where the 2 house sits don't lap over, if you've got somewhere to stay then, Bob's your uncle."

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