Caring for a Second Home: Proper Upkeep While Away is Key

While sales of all homes in 2020 increased 5.6 percent, sales of secondary vacation homes shot up 16.4 percent, a trend that is continuing through the first half of this year, according to recent sales figures compiled by the National Association of Realtors (NAR).

From January through April 2021, vacation home sales catapulted 57.2 percent year-over-year. The uptick compares with a 20 percent growth for total home sales over the same period, NAR’s figures state.

Many people are snapping up second homes because of the rise in the value of their existing homes, which increased 23 percent nationally in the first half of 2021. Unlike one’s primary residence, however, vacation homes pose a greater risk of property damage since the premises are vacant for significant portions of the year.

Everything that can happen to the primary residence—a leaky faucet, a damaged roof, broker sprinkler system, a break-in and fires and windstorms—also can happen to a vacation home. The difference is these events are often undetected, making a bad situation worse as time wears on and damage piles up. The last thing a hardworking homeowner needs is a vacation home that fails to provide a vacation.

These risks explain the prudence in hiring a caretaker or property management firm to ensure regular upkeep, routine maintenance, and ongoing monitoring. The challenge is finding someone with the skills, qualifications, and solid reputation to provide trusted vigilance and care of the home.

The good news is there are ways to ease this process. To begin with, most real estate agents can direct a homeowner to area specialists they know and provide recommendations. It’s up to the homeowner to interview the candidates, preferably in person, to determine the best fit.

Selecting a Caretaker

Ask how long the caretaker or property management firm has been in this line of work and the services they provide, such as garden and lawn maintenance, tree debris removal, spa and pool servicing, and how often they check power, water, sewage, sprinklers, and other utilities and functions. Ask for this information in writing so there are no questions about expected service levels.

Inquire about their skill levels in each regard. What services will they provide and what services would they contract third-party vendors to perform? Ask for the contact information for all third-party vendors to assess their skills and reputation.

Also inquire how many homes the caretaker or property manager firm looks after in the local area. An overabundance of customers may limit their ability to quickly repair everyone’s damaged homes at like quality in the aftermath of a major windstorm.

Other information to gather includes: 

  • How have they responded in the past to a major property damage incident?
  • How can you reach them in the event communications channels are disrupted during a power outage, storm, or other catastrophe?
  • How they winterize and summerize the home, such as checking sprinkler systems are operable, the thermostat is working, shutters have been installed or removed, and so on. Ask for the processes to be documented.
  • References to at least two current customers. Interview these people, referring to the questions above.
  • Conduct a background check.

A structured and disciplined approach in retaining the optimal caretaker or property management firm will provide greater peace of mind that a vacation home is ready for rest and recreation. 

Suzanne Moyers is AVP, Catastrophe Communications & Program Manager at Chubb Personal Risk Services

The opinions and positions expressed are the authors’ own and not those of Chubb. The information and/ or data provided herein is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional advice. Insurance coverage is subject to the language of the policies as issued.