Demand for second homes surged during the pandemic as homeowners sought to escape from the anxiety and uncertainty of everyday life and find relief in larger homes outside of the city with lots of green spaces.
Although second-home demand started to decline during mid-summer 2021, real estate agents may still have more second homeowner clients this year than in the past. Those still-green clients will also likely have trouble thinking of all the little things they should do for their primary home — and themselves — before leaving it for several months this winter. That’s where an agent can step in and provide some helpful intel about what second homeowners can do prior to their departure to make sure all remains well at the home front.
Give your clients these savvy tips as they prepare to fly the coop for the winter, and you’ll solidify their trust as a second-home expert.
Clean out the refrigerator
Urge clients to do a thorough sweep of the refrigerator and either dispose of or bring along items that won’t last through their time away. Then, encourage them to actually make the time to clean interior shelves with soap and water — a clean fridge is much more pleasant to return to than a grimy one.
Take out the trash
Remembering to take out the trash is another simple, but crucial, step that homeowners will deeply regret if forgotten. Remind clients to also give cans a quick spray with Lysol to prevent bacterial (and odor) growth while they’re away.
Set light timers
Purchasing some basic light timers is an affordable, easy investment that can do a lot to deter any bad actors that might be lurking while you’re away. Even just setting up a few sporadically throughout the house can help give the appearance of activity.
Test security cameras
A few days in advance of departing, make sure homeowners confirm their security cameras are operating as they should be and are still positioned at key access points. No one wants to learn after-the-fact that one camera’s been accidentally nudged out of place.
Make sure outdoor motion-censor lights are working
Like indoor lights, outdoor lights sensitive to motion can be a great deterrent to both intruders and pests. Make sure all lights are operating as they should be, and refresh with new batteries, if necessary.
Schedule periodic lawn care
Establish a schedule in advance with your lawn care specialist to regularly maintain the yard, or for those who don’t have a professional already, recruit a responsible neighborhood kid to do the job. Homeowners should also be sure to consider covering, moving indoors, or taking with them any sensitive plants that might need extra attention during a cold snap or other inclement weather.
Turn off the water main
Turning off the main water line to the house is a smart idea for any homeowner planning to take a week or more away from a residence. Leaks almost always happen unexpectedly, and finding one days or weeks after its sprung just leaves a bigger mess to clean up.
Turn down the water heater
There’s really no need to keep a water heater turned up to normal use levels when homeowners are away. Most have a “vacation” or “low” setting that are made for when homeowners vacate a property for an extended period.
Empty and detach hoses
Especially as cooler temperatures become more frequent in most places, homeowners should be sure to empty any water hose lines and detach hoses to help prevent pipes from freezing. For a little extra protection, faucet covers, which can be purchased at any hardware store, are also very affordable and easy to install.
Set smart thermostats to away status
In most climates, setting indoor thermostats to about 60 degrees Fahrenheit is a good middle-of-the-road temperature where nothing is at risk of freezing and heating units won’t need to run constantly. Remind homeowners to get their smart thermostats programmed and scheduled in advance so that they don’t forget about this energy saver.
Unplug unnecessary appliances
Unplugging most appliances and other electricals is also a smart move in case of storms and power outages that could potentially damage these items. Once again, it’s also an energy (and energy bill) saver, which is another bonus.
Reminding homeowners that prepping trees for late fall and winter weather is another helpful precaution that can save their property and any other nearby properties from damage in the event of high winds and winter storms.
Close chimney flues
For homeowners with fireplaces in use, reminding them to close all chimney flues will save them from future worries about random debris, and small animals like birds, bats and squirrels, making a little home in their property while they’re away.
Disconnect car batteries
If leaving a car parked in the garage for a few months, homeowners will want to disconnect car batteries to prevent them from draining unnecessarily. TruckCamper also recommends even putting a car on jacks so as to avoid flat tire spots while cars are out of use.
Establish pet care, if needed
Homeowners who do not plan to bring pets along with them will likely need to plan well ahead for pet care, either booking pets at a kennel or scheduling one or more neighbors or friends to care for them. If the latter, encourage pet parents to make a detailed schedule that includes who is caring when, how much food/pet cleaning needs to take place on a daily/weekly basis, and contact information for multiple caregivers (and primary vets), so they can connect with one another if necessary.
Make contact with local doctors, vets
Not everyone will need to establish care with another primary care doctor in their second city, but depending on the length of stay, individuals with pre-existing health conditions, young children or sensitive pets may want to research doctors in their insurance network in advance, and establish a connection in the event that something happens health-wise.
Talk to a tax professional about your domicile
Many second homeowners started spending much more time in what used to be their second home over the course of the pandemic largely due to remote and hybrid work options, blurring the line between primary and secondary homes, a recent story in the Wall Street Journal pointed out.
Real estate agents with clients for whom this is true will do a real service to their clients by reminding them that it’s probably time for them to touch base with their tax professional or accountant about determining which property is their “domicile,” or primary residence that will weigh more heavily when it comes to taxes.
Set up mail hold/forwarding
Tell clients to schedule mail hold and forwarding in advance so that they won’t forget about it at the last-minute. USPS makes it easy to manage mail holds by creating an online account.
Sign up for other delivery alerts
Most other major package delivery servicers (FedEx, UPS) also allow users to create accounts and receive notifications when packages arrive. Even if clients are planning to get any deliveries, encourage them to take this simple step to avoid porch pirates by asking a neighbor to pick up any unexpected packages instead.
Sign up for e-bills
Encourage your rare breed of client who does not already receive e-bills to sign up for them so that no bill is lost in transition. Being able to simply log into a portal to view bills is incredibly easier than searching for that piece of paper that hopefully didn’t get thrown out while packing.
Run the Roomba
“If you have a robot-vacuum, I find this to be a great time to run it, as it’ll clean the house without any interruptions and will return to its docking station once completed,” Martin Schrimpff, co-founder and CEO of luxury vacation home company Kocomo, told Inman in an email.
Shut and lock all windows and doors
It’s common sense, but for a busy family trying to run out the door with everything in tow, forgetting to lock the doors and windows happens all too easily. Remind clients to double check all windows and doors on their way out, so as not to leave their home vulnerable.
Notify a trusted neighbor
Even if clients are on good terms with most people in their neighborhood, remind them to refrain from announcing to the entire neighborhood association that they’re going out of town for five months. Instead, encourage them to entrust this information with one or two discreet and trustworthy neighbors nearby who can keep an eye on things without giving their absence away.
Create a checklist
Encourage clients to create a master checklist of to-do’s as they go through the house for future reference and ease of mind.
“When in doubt, I find it useful to work off of a ‘vacation home check-list’ like [Dumpsters.com’s],” Schrimpff said. “Or curate your own that caters specifically to your needs!”