Having a warm-weather home to retreat to during the cold winter months can be a wonderful thing. Who wouldn’t want to trade the gloom of a northern winter for the sunshine of a more southern locale?
Although buying a vacation home is a good way to ensure that you’ll have a place to escape to, you’ll need to take care of your investment, securing and sustaining it during its vacant summer months.
After all, your vacation home is a valuable asset that needs to be treated well. Make sure that your return is as worry-free as possible when you arrive next winter season.
Potential problems that might develop during your time away include bugs, mold, theft and vandalism and issues with your condo association, swimming pool care or lawn and landscape maintenance. But, thankfully, there is help.
Good homeowners insurance is a must, but you’ll also want to look at what services are available in your wintering community. Caring for a winter home differs according to location. For example, the issues in Florida are not the same as those in Arizona. Florida has heat and moisture concerns; Arizona has heat concerns, but it also has dryness and other climate-related issues. There are many commonalities, but each area does require separate treatment.
Electricity and Water
Make sure the heating and air conditioning system are properly maintained. In hot, humid areas, it is often a good idea to keep the air conditioning set to 78 degrees to 80 degrees to keep mold at bay and humidity down. Mold can be unpleasant and expensive to remove and electrical devices are particularly susceptible to damage by humidity.
Shutting off the water to the house when you leave the property is often advisable as it reduces the chance of water leakage and subsequent damage. Be sure to also turn off the water heater to prevent any damage to the water heater itself.
If you decide to leave the water turned on, make sure that any necessary sprinkler systems are either watched or maintained to ensure they don’t malfunction and create water drainage and damage problems for yourself or your neighbors.
If possible, keep the electricity running while you’re away. However, if you decide to turn the electricity off during your absence, leave the refrigerator door open to prevent mold growth. Make sure that essential systems, such as the fire alarms and security system, aren’t left without power.
Services and Pests
Grass and other vegetation grows very quickly in many snowbird retreats, so contract with a reliable grass cutting and/or gardening service to keep the grass trimmed and vegetation in line while you’re away. Not only will this keep your home looking attractive, it also presents an appearance of continuous habitation, which helps with security.
Pest concerns differ depending on the location and the type of accommodation. It’s a good idea to spray for bugs and termites periodically; also, make sure there are no easy entrances for squirrels or other rodents and unwanted visitors. You may be able to find a landscaping professional who can provide external pest control.
Security needs vary depending on your location and accommodation. At a minimum, ensure that there is no obvious evidence of your absence, such as newspapers or flyers collecting on your lawn or mail piling up in your mailbox. Make arrangements to have these removed regularly.
If you leave your electricity on, motion-sensitive exterior lights and timer-activated interior lights are good ideas as well, as is a security system. Some enable you to monitor your home via the Internet, to allow you more peace of mind while you’re away.
Although it is unlikely that you’ll leave your valuables behind, if you do, it’s best to use a safe or safe deposit box offsite to keep them secure.
Every home should have working smoke detectors, preferably with automatic notification to the fire department. Humidity detectors also can be installed. Test all detectors before leaving to ensure that they are operating correctly and install fresh batteries to keep them working in your absence.
Finally, prepare for any natural or weather-related occurrences: anchor outside items, put up storm shutters as needed, secure tall furniture and shelving to the wall in earthquake zones, and install moisture or water-level sensors in flood zones.
If you leave a car at your vacation home, remember to keep it covered—snowbird destinations can become extremely hot during the summer, which can affect the paint and headlight lenses. Store your car in a garage or carport, or use a car cover.
In addition to keeping your car physically covered, review your car insurance coverage. If your car won’t be driven while you’re away, you can suspend your collision coverage to save some money. Don’t suspend your comprehensive coverage, though. It’ll keep you protected just in case unexpected damage should occur. If you’re insured by The Hartford, you can go online to change your vehicle coverage.
You might also want to remove the car battery, as it will lose its charge over time. If you want to make sure that you’ll be able to start the car immediately upon your return, consider putting it on a solar charger; these are inexpensive and will help ensure that your battery is good to go when you arrive.
If your vacation home has a pool, it will need ongoing care and maintenance. Never empty the water in an inground pool yourself—this can create substantial problems when not done correctly. On the other hand, water left standing can breed mold and algae. This is treatable for brief periods with chlorine and other pool chemicals, but the best approach is to have someone look in on it from time to time. Maintenance services are available in most locations catering to snowbirds.
Summing Up: It’s All About the Community
Depending on your situation, there are numerous services available to maintain your winter home, including house-sitting, pool cleaning and security, for example.
Friends and neighbors who are permanent residents can be your best source of information, help and advice. At the very least, make sure they know how to contact you when you are away. You should also let the local police know that the house will be vacant.
These are just some suggestions for handling the care and feeding of your winter home. It is a starting point to ensure that your time away will be worry-free and your return will be without problems and regrets so that you can enjoy your winter holiday.
READ MORE: Resetting Your Life After a Long Vacation