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How does house sitting work? Are there any fees involved either way?

House sitting can be a mutually beneficial and free exchange of goods (accommodation) for services (house and pet sitting). The house sitter agrees to occupy the home owner's property for a given period of time. Generally the house sitter is required to be in the property most of the time (although, like everything, this may be negotiable), giving the property its usual occupied appearance to deter burglars, squatters and vandals. Often, there will be one or more animals to care for (these can be fish, rabbits, cats and dogs, hamsters, goats and horses!)

House sitters may find themselves in a converted barn in Tuscany, a mews flat in London's Notting Hill, a pick-your-own kiwifruit farm in New Zealand's Bay of Plenty in the off season or just –keeping an eye on things' in a log cabin in an isolated forest park in Utah.

While the home owner is away everything continues in the property as usual (that's where the house sitter come in!). Bills need to be paid, plants need watering, gardens, lawns and trees need to be maintained, mail and phone messages may need to be forwarded, and pets remain as demanding of love, care and companionship as ever.

This kind of house sitting shouldn't involve either the payment of rent to the home owner or the payment of fees to the house sitter for services rendered. However, both parties need to sit down and negotiate a house sitting agreement between them to spell out who is responsible for which bills (for example, any vet bills should remain with the owner, while the sitter takes care of their share of utility bills). A security deposit may also be required by the home owner to insure against any damages. This is negotiable but shouldn't be more than the cost of a month's rent for a similar property in the area.