Summer House Watch

It is definitely nice to have a special "someone" keeping an eye on your house while you are away.  We've received plenty of phone calls saying "Oh NO...we forgot our passports.  Please overnight them".   OR...."Would you please check to make sure I turned off the hot water heater?"   OR..."Darn.  I forgot my favorite hat.  Please send it."  

What happens to your home during our summer monsoon season with its strong winds and microbursts (miniature tornados)?  Yes, the resort security will notify the front office of any damage they see and you will be contacted.  But what happens then?  Does someone here have a key to go inside and see if there is damage?   We inspect our customer's homes immediately after a major storm so you get notified promptly if there is damage.  

If you have a house watch service, that person will be the liaison between the house, your insurance adjuster, repair agency, and you. 

Our summer house watch program is interesting to say the least.  I would be bored to death without it but at the same time, it is a LOT OF WORK in the HOT days of summer and requires many hours of computer time to follow up with emails and reports.  I really really like meeting all the new friends we've made through the program.  Thank you one and all for being our customers!

I thought you might like to hear some of our stories from past summers.  What kinds of things have we done as part of the program over the last 10 years?  What does the job entail?

Signing up:  As the season winds down and folks start to leave, our phone is very busy with people calling for an appointment.  We ask everyone to fill out a form giving us your contact information and outlining what can be expected from our service.  We ask for full payment in advance.   That alleviates the need for a lot of extra bookkeeping and we don't have to figure out if someone has already paid or  made a partial payment,  and I don't have to become a bill collector when people return.

Keys:  As people give us the keys to their home, I tag them with name, site number, and KEY BOX number.  All the keys are kept in a lock box in our home.  We ask for only one key as it makes our lives much easier.  Sometimes two keys are required with one for the regular lock and one for the deadbolt.   A key to the shed can be left in your home on the kitchen table where we will have access to it when we do our inside inspections.  Because we use a security lock box to keep all the keys, we can't handle a big key tag....just the keys please.  If you leave a car on premise, leave a key in the house in case of emergency where the car would need to be moved.

Decisions for you as the home owner:

1.  AC on or off?  That's your choice.  A technician from Cavco (company that manufactures park model homes) recommended that AC remain on and set at 90.  He said that protects the glue in the woodwork and flooring.  There are owners who shut the AC off and say they've never had a problem so it is entirely your decision.  It gets HOT inside your home without AC running.  Your thermostat only reads to 97 or 99 and that's where it stays for a couple months of summer.  Rarely will it cool below 90.  The temp outside may be 95 or over 100 when we enter the house and it still feels hotter inside than out because the air does not circulate.

We watch a truck that stays here for the summer.  Inside = 125  Outside = 112 

I really like it when customers have a thermometer in their home so I can take a photo each time we do an inspection.  That truly shows the date and time we were there plus the current temps. 

Ah yes....the Arizona sunshine. 

2.  Use antifreeze in the drains or have us flush the drains?  Again, that is your choice.  Based on our experience, if it were my home, I would  have us flush the drains with fresh water each month.  We've seen some ugly mold growing in toilets with the antifreeze and some that dry out anyway.  Then again, some homes have  great experience with the antifreeze and their toilets remain clean.  Entirely your decision.  Either way, always cover the toilet bowl with a heavy duty saran wrap to prevent evaporation.  Glad Press and Seal seems to work best.

The insects and larvae you see are drain flies.  They're completely harmless but still a nuisance unless drains get covered and flushed regularly. 

Sometimes a toilet breaks for no known reason.  We will contact the owner and ask if we should get it repaired (by a local handyman or plumber) or just wait until they return. 

If the homeowner doesn't cover the toilet with cling wrap, we do.

 Antifreeze sometimes dries out.

Sewer roaches can somehow suddenly appear even with a monthly flush.  If they come up in the sink or toilet, they usually can't get out.  Another reason to cover that toilet bowl! 

Yup.  They're ugly.

Scorpions look for water and can occasionally be found in a bathtub or sink.  

3.  Leave buckets of water to evaporate?  Your choice.  The Cavco technician says if the AC is left running, water buckets aren't really necessary.  If water is left, just a one or two containers will suffice.  Don and I DO, however, have a mandate on the issue.  If you leave containers of water for us to rinse and refill, please do NOT use those big orange or white 5 gallon buckets as they're too heavy and cumbersome for us old folks to carry around.  They're big and hard to rinse out.  If those big containers are left, we will not rinse or refresh them.  Sorry.   They will be right as you left them.  A small pail that fits in the kitchen sink is perfect.  We can rinse and refill it with ease and it holds plenty of water to last for one month until our next visit.

On that same subject....A great idea is to leave a small handled brush and a spare towel on the kitchen counter for us.  Then we can scrub out the container and keep it nicer for you.  Evaporation leaves a heavy crust in the pails.  

Smaller buckets are easier to handle and carry.  Remember -- it is almost always over 100 degrees out there!

4.  Refrigerator on or off?  Your choice.  If left on, you can raise the temperature since the door will only be opened once a month during our inspection.  A full refrigerator will work more efficiently because the contents hold the cool temperature better than empty air.  Fill the space with bottled water so it is cool and waiting for your return.

There is always the wild chance (and it definitely has happened) that for some reason the electricity is shut off  by accident, unintentionally left off after construction in the area, or a storm outage.  I wouldn't leave much in the way of perishable items either in the refrigerator or freezer.  We only enter the home once or twice a month (depending on the program you sign up for) and food won't last long without electricity.  Here is a great tip to use so you know if the power has been off for any length of time.

Put some colored water or juice in a plastic bottle and freeze it.

When you're ready to leave, keep the bottle in the freezer upside down.

If the ice is still at the top, you are assured that the power has been on and your food is safe.

5.  Batteries:  It is always a good idea to install fresh batteries in your smoke detectors, AC thermostats, and ESPECIALLY the sprinkler systems.   Even a fresh battery can expire out there in our desert heat.  

If the batteries in your thermostat die, many of them kick back to factory default setting which is somewhere in the 70s.  We get a phone call from that customer when they receive their high electric bill asking us to check the problem.  It meant your AC unit was cooling to the low 70s costing you many mega dollars....just for the want of $1 worth of batteries.

Occasionally an AC unit dies a natural death.  When the thermostat isn't the problem, we immediately contact the owner and ask if they have a preferred vendor for repair.  We're only in the house for a few minutes during inspection so it's hard to catch AC problems.  Watch your APS bill and alert your housewatcher if there are sudden or unusual changes.  Sometimes it can be fixed and other times a new unit is the correct answer.  We're the liaison until the problem is solved. 

We are greeted in many a home that has a beep beep beep low battery alert from their smoke alarm.  We can't replace them so you will be greeted with that when you return and are tired from the trip and unpacking.  Much better to put in fresh batteries before you leave.

When the homeowner shuts off ALL the electricity and buttons up the house to keep out the sunshine, it gets DARK inside.  We ask that some circuits remain open so we can turn on a light while we work inside and as a safety precaution as some houses have a step between add on rooms.  Obviously, we can do a better inspection if we can see.

Over the years, we have replaced many batteries in the sprinkler timers and on occasion have had to replace the entire timer (at owner's expense).  Even new batteries can deteriorate in our summer temperatures.  Hoses spring leaks, sprinkler heads pop off, and lines can become clogged.  If the repair means more than a simple sprinkler head, we can contact the owner and suggest a handyman repair but we are not an outside contractor so repairs of that nature must be done by an approved vendor.

6.  BBQ Covers:  On the checklist we leave with our customers, we remind them to please  remember to tie down those BBQ covers.  When they fly off in a windstorm....if we recover them....they are always dirty or wet and its ugly to cover them once again.  

Please tie them down tight like this. 

7.  Car or Vehicle Covers:  Unless your car is protected from the wind, you'd better really tie down that cover securely.  The ropes and/or bungee cords fray as they rub and eventually break.  Due to age and sore knees, we're not able or willing to climb around, under, or on top of a car to replace the cover.  We'll take it off and safely store it though.

8.  Plants:  We have a nice water meter that we stick in the ground at the base of plants to make sure they're receiving adequate moisture from your irrigation system.  If they appear dry, we'll contact the owner for permission to adjust the sprinkler timer to allow more water.  We absolutely cannot guarantee that plants will be happy and healthy when the owner returns.  We'll do our best to watch them but there are no guarantees because Mother Nature is stronger than we are. 

9.  Garbage Disposals:  Sometimes a garbage disposal will lock up when it hasn't been used for a long time.  If the electricity is left on, we will run the disposal if we flush the drains but this doesn't guarantee against lockup.  The internet experts say you can spray a bit of WD-40 in the disposal to help prevent lock up.

10.  Confidential:  Personal information about your home is confidential.  We do not talk about our customers or their homes with anyone except on a "need to know" basis.

We will communicate at least once a month via email when it comes time to inspect a home.  We take pictures inside and outside.  Then we email them with a short message with any issues we may have encountered.  It is always much appreciated if you hit the "reply" button and say hello just so we can confirm that you received your report and it didn't get lost in cyberspace.
There are other "watchers" here in the park besides us.  If our roster gets too full, we can give you names and contact info for someone else who can help you.  

When fall and cooler weather finally arrives, that phone starts ringing again so folks can arrange for access to their home.  We open the house for water conditioner people, housekeepers, furniture deliveries, and various repairmen so the work can be done before you arrive.  Yes, I have my own personal list of recommended vendors based on our experience.  Need a cleaning person, handyman repair, air conditioning check, etc....we can give you the contact information.

If you're coming back when the temperatures are still high, let us know and we can turn down the AC or start the refrigerator before your arrival.  It makes "coming home" even nicer.  

If you need to have a package delivered to your site before you return, you can have it delivered here to our home so we can receive the package and put it inside your house where it will be safer than leaving it unattended on your porch.

We hope to see you on our roster for next season!