London 2012 Olympics: how to stay in the capital for free

As questions go, "How can I stay in an expensive part of London during one of the world's biggest sporting events for nothing?" seems as pie in the sky as asking, "How can I get the body of an Olympian by next Tuesday?".

And yet living in the lap of luxury for two or three weeks during the Olympics, without paying a penny, is not only possible, it just got easier.

Housesitting company Trusted Housesitters reports a rise in the number of home owners in London looking for short-term housesitters in July and August.

"I think people were waiting to see if they got Olympic tickets and those that haven't have decided to go away. In the past week 10 new London properties have been added," says spokeswoman Lisa Logan.

Of the 584 homes on its books, 30 are within the M25, and another 40 within an hour of London.

Properties this summer include a fantastic Georgian terrace house in Kensington available for two weeks in late July/ early August, and a semi-detached Edwardian house in leafy Richmond with a 90-foot garden. As with all its homes, you don't pay anything except the ?19 sign-up fee (for three months).

The catch? The majority of owners advertising on the site are doing so because they want someone to look after their pets: in Kensington for example, you'll have to feed Arthur the cat twice a day, and in Richmond Teazel (a one-year old moggie) and some fish need looking after. This means you couldn't be out of the house for 15 hours a day.

If you're allergic to animals, this may not be the option for you. If you can be trusted with someone else's pet for a couple of weeks, and you like the idea of a free stay, you'd better sign up quick – Logan warns that these sorts of properties get snapped up fast, so be sure to choose the instant alert option which means you'll receive an email as soon as a house is listed, rather than the daily alert. She also advises creating a listing with as much biographical information as possible as owners like to know as much about potential sitters as possible – it's a good idea to post a video of yourself too, and character references.

Another housesitting site, MindMyHouse, has a number of assignments, including looking after a four-bedroom north London home and a dog (13-20 July), and sitting a four bed-room home (plus cat) in Herne Hill (4-26 August).

If pet sitting isn't for you, there are other budget options. Back in February we wrote about a number of companies offering the chance to rent a room, or entire property, in private homes. Airbnb still has availability in all sorts of properties, many of which are close to the Olympic stadium. See our gallery of 10 of the best here.

Vive Unique, a collection of over 200 private rentals in the capital, also has availability over the Games period including a Shoreditch penthouse that sleeps four from ?194 a night, and a Notting Hill family home from ?252, sleeping eight in three bedrooms.

While Housetrip says longer lets have been snapped up by foreign tourists visiting the UK there are plenty of shorter stays available. "For every property we rent out, another property comes on as a family or owner decides to list their home," said a spokesman for the company.

The latest private home rental company is Hester Gray which specialises in architecturally interesting properties in London. They come at a price (between ?100 and ?300 per person per night), and it's so exclusive the properties are not actually listed on the site; instead Gray, an architect herself, selects a small number of properties for each potential guest. The homes are envy-inducingly gorgeous and come with Egyptian cotton bedlinen, Cath Collins bath products and a welcome hamper – and a glimpse of a lifestyle most of us can only dream of.

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