An Interview with Gary Dunn, Publisher of the Caretaker Gazette, “Caretaking” – An Innovative, Cost-Saving Concept in the Travel Industry

I am always on the lookout for innovative, unconventional, and first and foremost, cost-saving ways to travel. I recently came across the concept of “caretaking”, i.e. looking after other people’s (often beautiful) properties and estates, as a way of procuring rent-free living opportunities in interesting places. Read about this innovative concept in this interview with Gary Dunn, expert on “caretaking”, and see if you might be able to apply it yourself….

1. Please tell us more about the Caretaking concept.

For those who are not involved in the profession, the word “caretaker” may have numerous meanings. But for the growing number of people who are discovering the caretaking profession, a caretaker is a property caretaker: a person or persons who cares for a property in exchange for rent-free living accommodations, and with the possibility of additional compensation.

The caretaking profession includes positions such as housesitters, ranch sitters, Bed & Breakfast and Innsitters, property managers, Estate Managers, and hosts at resorts and campgrounds. A caretaker is generally distinguished from a “caregiver,” someone with health care skills who is employed to care for another person, often as a live-in aide.

Caretaking is a very old profession, rooted in the British tradition of land maintenance. In 1868, The Times of London defined a caretaker as “a person put in charge of a farm from which the tenant has been evicted.” Today that definition has been expanded to cover a multitude of landowner/caretaker relationships. The number and diversity of these relationships has increased during the past decade. The caretaking profession continues to grow in popularity as more landowners discover the benefits of having a caretaker(s) on their property.

2. How did you become an expert in caretaking?

By practicing what we preach! We started caretaking in the 1970’s via word-of-mouth, and soon learned how difficult it was to find new caretaking assignments, after completing a housesitting assignment somewhere. So we saw a real need for a way that property owners and property caretakers could find each other – thus the genesis of THE CARETAKER GAZETTE.

3. You are the publisher about a newsletter on caretaking. Since when have you been doing this and what does the newsletter contain?

THE CARETAKER GAZETTE has been published since 1983, and we now provide our subscribers with 1,000+ caretaking and housesitting assignments each year, worldwide. We keep growing year by year and provide our subscribers with more rent-free living opportunities each year, along with helpful articles and info about the property caretaking field!

4. What type of properties become available for caretaking?

Every kind of property you can imagine – from simple homes – to mansions on large acreage and even private islands! A sample listing of the types of properties is available on my website, this will give you an idea of the diverse and often gorgeous types of properties available. Caretaking opportunities can be found all over the world.

5. What qualifications does it take to become a caretaker?

To get across to the property owner that you will be trustworthy and reliable with their property and that you are in good health and have a lot of common sense!

6. What kind of people are usually attracted to the concept of caretaking?

People who are tired of making rent or mortgage payments and want to live rent-free, plus a lot of travelers who like to explore various locations and people thinking about the best location that they would like to retire to and spend their retirement years.

6. What type of activities does a caretaker perform? What are the duties of a caretaker?

Some caretaking situations involve simple housesitting assignments, in which all that is required of the caretaker is to occupy the property. Some landowners seek experienced caretakers with specific skills (e.g., maintenance, farming, ranching or animal husbandry) while others are willing to take on and train people with general backgrounds.

As with most other professions, traits such as honesty, common sense, reliability, and flexibility are key prerequisites. For caretakers who live and work alone on the property of an absentee landowner, the ability to function independently and fulfill one’s responsibilities without daily guidance and instruction from the landowner are important qualifications. Although a love of nature and solitude is important, having hobbies and interests (e.g., reading, writing, computers, photography) that can be pursued in what are often remote areas is extremely helpful.

7. There are “innsitters”, “island caretakers”, “wilderness caretakers” and other unique caretakers. Please describe some of these specialty caretaking roles.

The duties and responsibilities of a caretaker are as varied as the landowners and caretakers themselves. Some caretaking positions simply require persons to occupy a home and watch after it as if it were their own. Other caretaking assignments provide opportunities to work in dozens of areas, including: groundskeeping, land stewardship, gardening, and resort management.

While some landowners need a presence on their property and do not require any physical work, others need fences mended, snow plowed, gardens tended, animals cared for, and houses, roads and pastures maintained. Plumbing and electrical work may be part of a caretaker’s duties – or the caretaker may be responsible for hiring competent repair persons.

Caretaking positions on nature preserves may involve land stewardship, caring for land to ensure that it remains intact and productive for future generations. Caretakers act as land stewards when their responsibilities include preservation and maintenance activities.

8. How does one find out about caretaking opportunities?

By being in the right place at the right time to find an assignment via word-of-mouth, or subscribing to THE CARETAKER GAZETTE via www.caretaker.org

9. How do property owners and caretakers usually connect, how does the selection process work?

Either via phone, fax, email or snail mail. The prudent caretaker sets out to develop a strong working relationship with the landowner. If the landowner’s goals and philosophies are stated in the caretaker-wanted advertisement, prospective caretakers should consider whether these are in harmony with their own beliefs.

While skill and experience are important, most landowners are initially concerned with character references. When answering an ad, a neatly prepared resume should be accompanied by photographs of oneself (and family, if applicable) and personal and professional references.

Landowners often request a personal letter, where the prospective caretaker discusses such things as interests, goals and reasons for desiring a caretaking position. Both parties should be as open and honest as possible. Information regarding any special skills, interests, or experiences should also be included.

10. What practical advice can you give someone who wants to become a caretaker?

Inveterate travelers have discovered that caretaking enables them to live and work in a variety of interesting locales – both in the U.S. and abroad. Positions may be for the long or short-term (including two-week housesitting stints for a vacationing homeowner), seasonal or year-round.

Many newcomers to the caretaking field have been lifelong travelers. Most are motivated by the desire to explore another culture in depth. Caretaking offers travelers the opportunity to become a part of a community and experience life as the locals live it. Travelers can caretake resort properties during off-seasons, enjoying the use of the grounds and facilities. For travelers who are considering a move to another geographic area, caretaking allows them to experience life in a new location prior to spending time, money and energy relocating there.

Thank you, Gary, for enlightening us on this unique and definitely cost-saving way to travel. You have given me something to think about…..

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