Leaving home UNattended for 1 year - advice please

PomonaMay 9, 2006

If anyone can suggest a better place to put this query, please let me know...

I have the opportunity to live abroad for a year - starting in summer of 2007. I would never (EVER) have someone live in my home, but I may be forced to ask my neighbor to look in on the place every few weeks, just to make sure a family of racoons hasn't set up shop in the Livingroom.

I'd like to hear from anyone who's done this, because there are a zillion things to consider, like what do you do with the cars: put them on blocks in the garage with batteries disconnected? Something like that? And I guess the neighbor will have to adjust heat in the winter so pipes don't freeze. I really don't know where to begin, so if you've done this or you know of any good resource materials that I could consult, I'd really appreciate it. Thank you.

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Unless you and the neighbor are really, really close--this goes way beyond neighborly "looking in" on your place. Since you won't let anyone live there, line up some back up people who you trust to check on the property. A great deal of damage can occur if something like a window gets broken and no one notices for a few weeks. In some communities you can notify the police and fire dept. that the house in unoccupied. A family of racoons wouldn't please me, but a group of teens using it for a party house would really upset me.

You could also check with the property management companies in your community. They should be able to keep track of the house, security and yard for a period of time. If you have any security systems in place, like for fire you want to be sure they are notified so that a phone call isn't made and they actually send someone out to the residence.

I don't know why you would need to have a car up on blocks or disconnet the battery. We put a sports car out in the backyard for 9 months at a time and do neither. Have a low level of gas in the car, so you don't have to worry about expansion or fumes. Make sure there is no gas left around from lawnmowers, etc.

The house will really need to be checked more often than every few weeks. Too hot in the summer and you could easily end up with mold and mildew problems from being all shut up in the humidity. Too cold in the winter and your furnture will fall apart. Pipes can be winterized so they don't freeze. If you don't know how to do it, a plumber can come in and empty toilets and pipes and fill with an anti-freeze solution. Drain the hot water heater. Unless your home is so well insulated that you'd swear they wouldn't freeze, you'd be suprised how much heat is generated by things like running hot water for dishwashing and cooking and just having people in the house. We found it difficult to regulate the heat in our home which was empty for 6 months before selling and I was over there at least once a week.

Ask neighbors to use and park in your driveway. Lights inside on timers and request the timers be changed every couple of weeks.

Double check with your insurance company. Many have policies against a home being not lived in for more than 30 days. You may need a different policy. I have insurance with State Farm and it didn't matter, but not all companies have the same policies.

Appliances which aren't used often get balky when left sitting. I would leave the fridge on, but empty and at a higher temp than normal. It's best if someone can run the disposal and dishwasher once a week. Washing machines don't like to dry out so running that a little bit every couple of weeks helps. Problem is--if the pipes are winterized you can't do this. Personally, I'd rather have to replace a dishwasher or disposal than take a chance on the pipes.

I've never left a home for a full year, but ex-DH and I would frequently leave places for several months at a time. We would winterize the pipes in the winter and turn off the heat since we had a gas furnace and hot water heater.

I would get a notebook started and jot down any ideas. This is pretty similar to moving. Mail, utilies, bill forwarded, hiring someone to mow and trim. How people can reach you in an emergency and check with your attorney to see if you need to give someone power of attorney regarding the house. If repairs are needed quickly, who would do that and how would they get the money? It may allow someone to work with the insurance company if something like a tree fell over in a storm or shingle blew off the roof.

If you know any real estate agents/travel agents they may know of additional resources since they deal with people who have to leave a home unattended.

Living abroad for a year sounds like an adventure. You really may want to consider putting most of your personal goods in storage and allow someone to housesit for you. I can understand you not wanting them to go through your things, but the house will most likely be better off if someone is there.


    Bookmark   May 9, 2006 at 7:40PM
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Your homeowner's insurance may require you to have someone check regularly on the place--in other words, daily or weekly.

In that case, you don't want to be relying on someone who's doing you a favor. You want someone bonded, who is earning money by doing it. And whom you can sue if they can't prove they were there.

(I also can't imagine the neighbor who'd cheerfully cut your grass twice a week for an entire season--I know I wouldn't, not even for my siblings!)

I know someone elsewhere on one of these forums (Kitchen Table? a post about the neighbor boy taking care of the cat?) said they had a system where the house-checker had a notebook they had to fill out, and sign and date, to prove that they'd toured the house.

You're going to want someone to check the pipes (though you could have the water to the house shut off), the electrical, every window, the eaves & gutters, look for water damage because of a failing roof, etc.

I will also say that my in-laws have a "country place" that's quite isolated, and everyone around knows it sits empty most of the time. A neighborhood kid used it as a crash pad, being very careful not to have a light that could be seen from the outside. Can you imagine if he'd used a candle, and burned the place down?

I like the idea of a property management company. Normally, they manage rental properties for absentee owners, but they could certainly manage an empty property for one.

And I'm w/ Gloria--I'd consider finding someone to house-sit, or even rent it from you semi-furnished. Might be harder to find someone, but it could be better than leaving it completely empty.

Here is a link that might be useful: the thread on the Kitchen Table

    Bookmark   May 9, 2006 at 10:39PM
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Gloria: Jeez - that's one comprehensive list you've put together. I can't thank you enough. You're right - this is way beyond "a favor" and I meant to also ask for ideas regarding compensation. We're not very tight with the neighbors - just basic friendliness - so this would definitely be a paid job.

As far as the gut-wrenching thought of the neighborhood teens finding out about it - that IS my number 1 concern. Our neighbors have a 15-yr-old son. BINGO!

The car concerns come from our having a sports car in winter storage. Actually, it wasn't on blocks. We were told to lower the tire pressure and disconnect the battery. Go figure.

You've brought up so many excellent points that I am now a bundle of nerves & will have to rethink the whole thing. (sad but true) Thank you for your time & interest.

Talley Sue: Thank you, too, for your contributions & advice. I've printed out both entries, which will come in handy when I share my concerns with my husband!

    Bookmark   May 10, 2006 at 12:15PM
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Can I chime in as someone who has done a lot of house-sitting? I saved a lot of money during grad school by house-sitting for professors--they got to go and teach in Europe for a year; I got to stay in their houses rent-free and walk the dogs.

It would be a shame for you to give up this opportunity to travel because of your house. People can and do leave their houses for a year or more. Please consider researching more ways to accomplish this.

But I also want to give you my perspective as a house sitter. I only house-sat for professors who knew me at first and who knew that I was a reliable person. Then my "reputation" spread and I started getting more offers than I could accept.

I let the homeowners decide what they wanted to put in storage and what they would let me use. Some packed away all the good china and stuff, which was a relief to me--if anything happened to it, it was not going to be my fault. Some did not want to go to the effort of packing away their everyday dishes, pots & pans, etc., and wanted me to use them. I would warn them that I could not guarantee that I wouldn't break a glass or a plate--accidents do happen. But they were fine with that.

One family had just redone their kitchen and added a gorgeous family room on to it. They cleared out all their spanking new furniture from the family room and asked me to put just a chair or two of my own in there for me to use. Again, not a problem--I wouldn't have to worry about spills or other accidental damage.

Some families packed personal stuff away in one or two bedrooms and locked the doors. Some just told me not to touch certain things--a collection of art pottery, some expensive books. I simply didn't go near anything that I was told was off limits.

One family had an oriental rug in the living room that they were very careful of--the dog had been trained to stay off it. I just never went into the living room except to vacuum and dust occasionally--I just didn't want to take a chance on damaging the rug. And there were both a perfectly good family room and an office I could use.

I kept the house and yards in good shape, mowing, weeding, shoveling snow. The house looked lived in--car in the driveway every night, lights on at appropriate times--so that no one would get the idea that the house was empty and open for burglery. I cleaned up after hurricanes came through. I forwarded mail, returned forgotten library books, sent a lonely little girl pictures of her dog frolicking in the woods so that she would be sure he was OK.

In one house, where the husband had not wanted anyone in the house (he wanted to put their very active dog in a kennel for 9 months), the wife overruled him and I moved in, with a lot of restrictions as to what I could and could not do. The second day I was there, a pipe sprang a leak--in the ceiling of the closet where they had stored all the clothes they weren't taking, including a couple of fur coats. Even though I had been told that closet was off limits, when I heard a dripping sound, I did eventually open it because I had to find the source of the sound. If I had not been there, the leak would have lasted for 9 months and all their clothes would have been ruined by mold and mildew, as well as the carpet, ceiling and walls. That was the only problem that occured while I was there (and in fact the only real problem I ever encountered) but I feel that I earned my keep on that one.

You can set rules about visitors and guests. Some people showed me the guest room and where the extra linens were; some people didn't want anyone else in the house ever.

I completely understand your reluctance to have someone else live in your home. But you can put things in storage to prevent damage or someone looking at your private life. You can carefully screen the people who look after your home--whether they come once a week or live there. There are people like me out there who will respect your privacy and take good care of your house.

I guess I just don't want you thinking that the house is such a burden that you can't take this chance to live abroad. I got the opportunity to do that for a year while I was in grad school. I spent a year in London and had a wonderful time. So I hope you will have the same chance.

    Bookmark   May 11, 2006 at 11:53AM
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I'm with camlan on this one. You should put anything really valuable in storage anyway--you don't want someone walking off w/ grandma's diamond ring while the house is empty. So, why not sublet the house to someone so it will be looked after? Have an atty draw up a contract--spelling out who's responsible if something bad happens--make sure your insurance is updated, and then go for it. It'd be too bad if years from now you regret what you didn't do because you were burdened w/ a house.

    Bookmark   May 11, 2006 at 12:37PM
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Absolutely, have someone live in the house. You can be selective. Give it a try, and if you don't find someone you like, then go to having someone check the house very regularly.

    Bookmark   May 11, 2006 at 12:43PM
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Most housesitting services do thorough background and criminal checks. Some housesitters are bonded.

    Bookmark   May 27, 2006 at 11:44PM
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