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Attention Homeowners: Do You Leave Your Home Unattended for Months at a Time? Who are you going to trust with your keys?


Attention Homeowners: Do You Leave Your Home Unattended for Months at a Time? Who are you going to trust with your keys?

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Home watch services are an unregulated industry in Florida; Diane Westphal brings up important questions that should be answered before choosing a home watch professional.

There are a number of different reasons why a house would lie vacant for an extended period of time. Some scenarios may include: snowbirds who are absent for six months or even longer; an extended vacation; a family member who has left his or her home and is now residing in an assisted living facility; or perhaps a home that’s for sale while the owner is living elsewhere. Clearly, a home watch service should be employed for these situations. Phone books and Google list numerous home watch services in Southwest Florida with a range of prices and additional services.

However, there is a caveat you should be aware of in the home watch industry. When it comes to home watch services, did you know that it is a completely unregulated industry in the State of Florida? These businesses are not regulated by the state as are other professionals who do work around your home. For example, having a licensed carpenter or roofer is a must when considering home repairs. However, in the home watch arena, there are no requirements for insuring, background check, licensing, or requiring any specialized knowledge. The only requisite for hanging out a home watch business shingle is to obtain a business license or a ‘dba’ (Doing Business As) - which means all you need to do is register your business name.

You know what they say about a word to the wise, so be careful who you hire to check on your property. Still, you do need a professional to watch over your home while you are not present.

When looking to hire outside professional home watch services, a few good questions to ask might be: Who will have the keys to your property? Do you know the person or do they have references? How long have they been in the area? What does the home watch provider do if they take a vacation, have an illness or personal emergency? Is there a contingency plan so the visit is not missed? And is this their only job or will they be taking care of your home in their spare time? Wait a minute, you say; couldn’t a neighbor do the job? Well, neighbors are not a good choice, generally, because they do not possess an awareness or knowledge of the magnitude of things that could go wrong. At the end of the day, you need someone who is trustworthy and has the experience, resources, and knowledge to watch over your home.

It is estimated that about 30% of seasonal homes have something happen during the summer months. Insects, mold, storms, break-ins, a water leak, or electrical problems may surface to name a few. Mold, for example can begin to grow in 24 to 48 hours. Plus, your property may store personal, perhaps irreplaceable objects of either sentimental or monetary value, which need protection and care.

Besides providing basic home watch services, many companies have special concierge packages which include hurricane preparation, handyman services, coordination of vendors and projects, car drives, arrangement of airport transportation, forwarding your mail, performing errands, and even grocery shopping. Diane Westphal, founder of Your Home Watch Professionals, says, “We started Your Home Watch Professionals in 2005 in Naples and continue to gain market share on a consistent basis, even in these hard economic times. When we started, there were no industry standards. We are the first to establish home watch best practices in the industry.”

Westphal stated that they are unique among other home watch companies because of their “Danger Zone Home Watch Method,” a proprietary program she created to ensure consistency in home watch practices. She says compliance with the program results in zero problems going undetected. Another difference lies in the training of her personnel which she personally conducts. Westphal added that the company’s home watch specialists are trained and tested, insured and bonded, have passed background checks, and are required to participate in on-going education and training.

“You may have great friends and neighbors but are they qualified to watch your home?” Westphal questioned. “Hiring the right home watch company can be the difference between damage and disaster.”

Westphal’s company has been conducting seminars this season educating realtors, association boards, and property managers as well as local and seasonal residents about the importance of qualified home watch professionals. The “Who Has My Keys?” seminars were free to attend and produced a very favorable response from all attendees.

Kelly Capolino, local real estate professional with Keating Realtors, remarked, “I attend a lot of seminars and most of the time I wish I was doing something else, not so with Westphal’s seminar. It was outstanding. I learned a great deal of information and all my clients are being notified immediately -- I believe in sharing important and timely information.”

The purpose of the seminars is to inform not scare. When someone knows their options they are better equipped to make an educated decision. It’s the not knowing that can sometimes create the problem. Westphal said there are countless horror stories that run the gamut, from total flood damage to processed food bugs that made a home for themselves in the drywall. One of the worst started out small and could have been prevented with the watchful eye of a proper home watch service – it was an air conditioner malfunction that led to extreme humidity which caused mold in a matter of a few days. The remediation cost exceeded $30,000! All while the homeowner was away.

It is important that every resident reviews insurance limitations, and exclusions, with their agent. If there is damage and you have no proof that the property was properly looked after while vacant, there is a risk that the claim will not be paid.

In summary, when you are choosing a home watch company, look for one with the experience and the resources to handle any situation. In addition, be sure they are insured and bonded, have passed a background check, are fully committed to the resident, have strong relationships with service providers, and have a dedicated and experienced management team. Remember, things can and do happen – your home cannot be left unattended for an extended period of time.
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Attention Homeowners: Do You Leave Your Home Unattended for Months at a Time? Who are you going to trust with your keys? Home watch services are an unregulated industry in Florida; Diane Westphal brings up important questions that should be answered before choosing a home watch professional.