TRY BEFORE YOU BUY
If you’re thinking of moving to France, but aren’t sure if the area you have chosen is right for you, then house-sitting is one way to live like a local before you commit to buy. Eve Middleton signs up and finds out what is involved
House-sitting can be a great way to try life in France before you commit to buy
While the past few months may have been turbulent, there’s little to shake a deep-held hankering after life in France. And so it was, after Britain’s referendum result, that I found myself in Paris, living rent-free in a three-bedroom 19th-century family house in an historic area of the city close to the green expanses of the Parc des Buttes-Chaumont. The catch? It wasn’t my home, but a property belonging to a Parisian family whose call for a house-sitter I’d answered some months previous to their three-week August holiday.
The idea of house-sitting can spark trepidation for both homeowners and potential house-sitters, but in reality, it’s a straightforward notion. “The essence of house-sitting is that of free exchange of services between pet-lovers who are happy to trust and please each other,” says Mariannig Ferrari, founder and director of international house-sitting service Nomador. “We have many listings in France; for Anglophones who want to discover France, French people who want to meet Anglophones, English-speaking homeowners in France who are happy to find house-sitters”. Added to which, it can also be the perfect opportunity to try out life in France before buying a property of your very own.
In my case, dipping my toes into the waters of life in Paris was incentive enough to try out the process. After signing up, I’d answered an advert and made contact with the mother of the family whose property I ended up house-sitting. Our initial email contact soon spilled over into Skype conversations where we were able to build not only trust, but also an idea of each other, as well requirements (theirs), responsibilities (mine), and a mutual understanding of the task in hand.
For 36-year-old Brit Miranda Pountney, the benefits of house-sitting in France are clear: “It’s an incredible experience – a way of really integrating into the heart of a new community,” she explains. “I’ve enjoyed housesits in both Paris and Aubagne this summer. The Paris house-sit was in a lovely apartment in the Marais, so it was always going to be incredible, but Aubagne was a real revelation
– slightly off the beaten track, but within a short bus or train ride from the delights of Cassis, La Ciotat and Sanary-sur-Mer and beyond. A brilliant base for exploration. I even took a day trip up to Avignon to drive the lavender trail,” she enthuses.
Road-testing life in France has moved from the short-term to the long-term for 66-yearold Australian Kate McManus, who has been house-sitting full-time for the past four years. “I love how the French savour life – including food, wine, ideas and people. Each region is distinctive and every small village is unique. I’ve house-sat for a couple in Paris, where I cared for two cats, then for a couple with two cats in a renovated farmhouse in a small village in the Loire Valley. They had a bike, and so on most days I enjoyed cycling through the vineyards to the boulangerie for croissants. I also house-sat in Midi-Pyrénées where I cared for three donkeys, two horses and three cats. I’m an animal lover, as you can tell!”
Though house-sitting has on occasion been painted as a ‘free holiday’, just because there’s no exchange of money doesn’t mean there’s no transaction. House-sitting requires responsible, caring individuals, who understand exactly what’s expected of them in terms of looking after another person’s home. The needs of homeowners can vary in accordance with the size and requirements of their property, so make sure that you, and they, are crystal clear before agreeing to undertake any house-sitting opportunities. Retired British couple Graham and Daphne Dooley, from Harrogate in North Yorkshire, agree: “You have a responsibility to look after and safeguard the owners’ pets and property. Remember that the owners are letting you into their private space,” explains 70-year-old Graham. Along with 65-year-old wife Daphne, he has established that exchanging as much information as possible at the initial contact stage to ensure that the job is correct for
Facing page: House-sitting gives you the opportunity to enjoy a home from home in France This page, clockwise from top left: Australian Kate McManus has been house-sitting full-time for four years; Provence is a popular house-sitting location; Elizabeth Oberg opens her Parisian house to sitters when she is away; house-sitters are often required to look after the owners’ pets