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More and more budget-minded travelers are turning to house sitting to save a little money. Companies that match homeowners and house sitters say their business has grow by 30 to 50 percent a year for the past few years.
And as Ashley Milne-Tyte reports, baby boomers are a big part of the trend.
ASHLEY MILNE: Australian Kerri Stevens and her husband John are retired teachers. They're keen travelers, but the notoriously pricey U.K. had always seemed out of that range.
KERRI STEVENS: That's absolutely no way we could have had time in London like this unless we done quick, you know, like, inside tour and maybe had three or four days in London, and instead we've had a month.
MILNE: A month of free accommodation. Ms. Stevens is house sitting in a newly refurbished two-bedroom apartment within easy distance of London's sites. Their main responsibility is to look out to the owner's beloved Siamese cat, Goo. It didn't take long for the couple to feel at home.
STEVENS: This is just the small second room. I had to move in because Goo and John took the other bedroom, so I'm sleeping in here. Suits me fine.
MILNE: They got the assignment through a house sitting Web site. They had plenty of e-mail and phone contact with the owners ahead of time to ensure each couple felt comfortable with the other. They also worked out the rules of the sit, including perks.
STEVENS: I know that they (unintelligible). Yesterday we went up to Oxford and (unintelligible) Palace, which I always wanted to see so.
MILNE: As for the cat snuggling in Stevens's arms, she doesn't sound like she's missing her owners too much. A reluctance to kennel pampered pets is part of what's fueling the growth in house sitting, says Gary Dunn, publisher of the tech space, The Caretaker Gazette. He says the second home boom is another factor, with owners unwilling to leave their properties empty for long stretches. Luckily for them, Dunn says, there are plenty of baby boomers eager for new experience. Some of his subscribers opt to house sit just before they retire.
GARY DUNN: They want to try out, say, three or four different locations, see how they like the environment, the people, the weather, etcetera. And then that can help them determine that they're going to relocate and move to Florida or Hawaii or outside the U.S.
MILNE: Many of the pads are regular family homes, but they run the gamut from 75,000-square-foot mansions in California to European villas with sprawling grounds and plenty of four-footed occupants. New Zealander Susan Holtham runs house sitting Web site MindMyHouse.
SUSAN HOLTHAM: We just had an advert posted to our site in Portugal - two weeks, five dogs, nine cats and a Shetland pony and some parrots.
MILNE: As an incentive to care for that menagerie, the homeowner is throwing in a week's vacation in their guesthouse after the sit ends. House sitting can be hard work. Sharon Ackland(ph) quit the corporate world more than a year ago. She's been house sitting up and down the East Coast ever since while she works on a book. She says some owners require you to complete a lengthy list of tasks while you're in residence.
SHARON ACKLAND: Things like forwarding the mail and watering plants and mowing and weeding and watering a garden, snow shoveling, errand running.
MILNE: It all odds up, but still, she says, house sitting is well worth the effort.
ACKLAND: It ends up opening doors that you never would have thought possible.
MILNE: From new friendships made with owners to seeing parts of the country and the world you never would have thought possible otherwise.
For NPR News, I'm Ashley Milne-Tyte.