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Lifestyle of the nomadic European house-sitter

The Connexion discovers the ups and downs of looking after someone else’s home while they are away, from a pair of ‘working retirees’

For the past 12 years David Rose has lived all over Europe, travelling in his motor home and  house-sitting in different countries. He and his partner, Rose (both above), have been from Venice to West Clare, Jutland to Andalusia and Dumfriesshire to the Algarve.

France has been the favourite destination in recent years as two daughters and a grand-daughter are in Paris.

“We are, in effect, working retirees,” he said. “House-sitting has been, more specifically, pet-sitting and unpaid caretaking. We also find time for research, writing, publishing books, photography and playing music along with walking, cycling and swimming. It suits us.”

It is an arrangement in which no money changes hands – but it gives homeowners the reassurance that a property will not lie empty, the grass will be mown, flowers watered and pets well cared for, and it gives the sitter a chance to explore new places without any accommodation fees.

House-sitting has been a growing trend for 15 years, and has been facilitated by websites which put the two sides in touch with each other.  One of the biggest and most recent is Nomador, a bilingual French/English site. It was launched in France in 2014 by Mariannig Ferrari. 

About 10,000 people are signed up worldwide: “It is getting more and more popular across the whole world.

“I have noticed it suits the way people want to travel now, as it works for those who are interested in experiencing life as locals live it.

“Being in someone’s home means you discover a kitchen with that country’s recipe books. You chat with the neighbour when you walk the dog, you buy bread from the village baker. It is a completely different experience from a hotel.”

She said many house-sitters are retired but there are young people, too. The majority are English speaking: “They are on a gap year, or they may be digital nomads, who can take their work anywhere and want to travel before they settle down and start a family. Retired people often use it to try different regions or countries if they are thinking of moving, or for a holiday.”

In 95% of cases, there are pets to look after. Stays vary from a weekend to up to six months, but most are two or three weeks while the owner is on holiday.

Ms Ferrari is thrilled it has worked so well: “After bringing up my four children, launching Nomador has been the most exciting project in my life.

“I started it from scratch and have created a community where people share services and only pay for a sign-up fee which is €25 a quarter or €65 a year.

“I call it collaborative consumption, the exchange of services for free between people which is a win-win for both the homeowners and the sitters.

Mr Rose said they have had just a few bad experiences: “Low points have been inexcusable treatment of dogs by the owners, snakes nesting in the living room, a violent ex come to bully the houseowner into selling up, being treated as a general maintenance crew and the common enemy, noise.”

The couple said they are not going to change their lifestyle and will find a way around Brexit, if necessary: “We are generous with our time ‘on-site’ with gardening, animals and DIY projects.

“This makes for fit, experienced, active 70-year-olds.

“If we didn’t do these things we would spend too long in front of our computers. On the whole, the process is a smooth one and everyone is happy.

“High points are ongoing: lovely people of all nationalities, an endless change of scenery and culture, folk music, local markets, accommodation from manoirs to stone cottages, adorable pets, peace and quiet and clean air.”

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