Maintain Your Vacation Home

Plan to spend time and money to maintain your vacation home, no matter if you hire a property manager or local caretaker, or do the work yourself.

A basic keyless entry system costs less than $100 and is essential in case of an emergency. Image: Kwikset

How you’ll maintain your vacation home might not be at the top of the list as you shop for a beach cottage or mountain cabin, but it should be. You’ll need to devote time and money to handling routine home maintenance and responding to emergencies.

Hiring a professional property manager can ease the maintenance burden, but not the price tag. An informal arrangement with a local caretaker can be cheaper. Doing the work yourself can be cheapest of all, but the logistics get complicated if your vacation home is far away.

Property managers: Convenience at a price

Hiring a property management company for your vacation home can be costly, but it can save a lot of effort (and headaches) on your part. A property manager can open and close your vacation home, and screen and hire a staff to make sure your house is well-maintained inside and out. If you plan to rent out your vacation home, a property manager can advertise the rental, check in guests, and handle payments.

A property manager acts as your eyes and ears, doing regular drive-bys and responding in emergencies. This is especially important if you live far from your vacation home. Ask owners of nearby vacation homes for referrals. Membership in a trade group like the Vacation Rental Managers Association adds to credibility.

Property managers don’t come cheap. According to Christine Karpinski of HomeAway, a vacation rental website, property managers typically get 20% to 60% of the rental income from your vacation home. So if your ski chalet rents for $1,000 per week, expect to hand over anywhere from $200 to $600 of that income to the property manager.

Local caretakers can be cheaper

A cheaper alternative to a property manager, especially if you don’t plan to rent out the house or will handle rentals yourself, is hiring a local housecleaner or handyman to maintain your vacation home. Again, other homeowners are the best source for referrals. Even during the offseason, it’s a good idea to have someone local who can go to the house once a month to turn on faucets, flush toilets, and inspect for damage.

How much you pay will vary by location and the nature of the caretaking tasks. A recent survey of cleaning fees put the cost between $69 for a 1-bedroom home and $199 for a 6-bedroom. A rule of thumb for calculating cleaning fees is to multiply the number of bedrooms and bathrooms combined by $20.

Since you’re entrusting cleaners and handymen to go in and out of your home unsupervised, check references and ask for proof that they’re bonded and insured. A fee-free option is to rely on a neighbor. Work out an arrangement to check on each other’s properties regularly, rather than hiring someone.

Prepare for maintenance emergencies

Preventive home maintenance reduces the likelihood of emergencies, but a pipe is bound to burst eventually. As the owner of a vacation home, especially one that’s hundreds of miles away, the most important thing you can do is be prepared for the inevitable.

If you don’t have a property manager, caretaker, or year-round neighbor you can call, at least have a list of local repair companies at your fingertips. Invest three or four hours into assembling a list of plumbers, electricians, exterminators, and the like. Ask other homeowners for recommendations, or, if too few are forthcoming, turn to a service like Angie’s List or even the phone book.

Having a keyless entry system for your vacation home is critical in the event of an emergency. A basic touchpad model costs less than $100. You can give the 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.