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

Living France - - Contents -

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

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