How you maintain your Florida part-time or vacation home might not be at the top of your list of worries when searching for a snowbird retreat, but it should be. Smart home buyers will devote time and money to handling routine home maintenance issues year-round as well as establishing the proper contacts for responding to emergencies.
When planning for year-round maintenance of your home you have a few choices. You can hire a professional property manager, which can certainly ease the maintenance burden, but the budget has to support this kind of arrangement. An informal arrangement with a local caretaker can be cheaper, especially if he or she is able to arrange for lawn maintenance and handle minor repairs for you. Doing the work yourself is the cheapest route, but the logistics get complicated if your other home is hundreds of miles away.
Property managers: Convenient but Costly
Hiring a property manager (or management company) for your part-time or vacation home in Florida can be pretty costly, but it can save a lot of effort and worry on your part. A property manager can open and close your home for the season as well as hire staff (like cleaners, carpenters and lawn maintenance people) to make sure your house is well-maintained inside and out. If you plan to rent out your home while you are away, a property manager is a must-have, as they can advertise the rental, check in guests, handle payments, etc.
A property manager acts as your eyes and ears, doing regular property checks and responding to emergencies, which can be especially important if you live far away from your second home. The easiest way to find a trusted property manager is to ask your neighbors who they use.
Using a well-trusted local caretaker/handyman/person is usually a cheaper alternative to a property manager, especially if you don’t plan to rent out the house to travelers and vacationers looking for a Florida vacation home to rent. or will handle rentals yourself. Again, your neighbors and other homeowners are the best source for referrals. Even during the off-season it is a really good idea to have someone local who can stop by your house at least once per month to turn on faucets, flush toilets, and inspect for damage. How much you pay for a caretaker will vary by location and the nature of the tasks that need to be completed.
Since you’re entrusting cleaners and handymen and others to enter and leave your home unsupervised, be sure you check references and ask for proof that they are bonded and insured. If you have a neighbor you can trust they may agree to look after your home for you for little or no money.
Prepare for maintenance emergencies
Preventive home maintenance reduces the likelihood of home emergencies, but a pipe is bound to burst or a tree is bound to fall eventually. As the owner of a part-time or vacation home, especially one that’s hundreds of miles away (and sometimes deals with hurricanes), the most important thing you can do is be prepared for the inevitable.
If you are unable to hire a property manager or caretaker for your secondary home you should, at the very least, have a list of local repair companies at your fingertips (and hopefully a neighbor that will call you if something happens). It is well worth your time to invest three or four hours in assembling a list of plumbers, electricians, exterminators, lawn maintenance companies and the like that you can call in case something needs to be repaired in an emergency. Ask other homeowners for recommendations or check out an online service like Angie’s List or the local yellow pages.
Bonus tip: Installing a keyless entry system on your part-time or vacation home is a very good idea. A basic touch-pad system costs less than $100, and will allow you to give the entry code to a repairman over the phone. A wireless system, which allows you to use a computer or cellphone to change the entry code, can cost three times that amount plus a monthly service fee of perhaps $10 to $15.